Healthy Habits for School-Age Kids

It’s that time of year again – kiddos are leaving behind the carefree summer lifestyle and heading back into the classroom. This transition from summer fun back to the busy schedules of homework, fall sports and after-school activities can be a stressful time and hard to navigate for kids of all ages. Elizabeth Sayles, LCSW, a psychotherapist and clinic coordinator at UnityPoint Health – Meriter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry facility, shares some tips on helping kids transition back to school and how to prevent burnout throughout the school year.

Some tips for transitioning back to school:

  • Gradually return to school bedtimes for children in the one to two weeks prior to school starting. This may involve actively waking them up at the time they need to get up for school to start. Practice good sleep hygiene routines and stay off screens at least one hour before bed.
  • Children may feel anxious returning to school. Check in with them periodically in the weeks leading up to and after school starts. A great time to talk with your child is in the car or during times where they don’t feel like they’re being grilled (i.e., no direct eye contact). Going for a walk or spending time playing with the family pet are great times for children to open up more about their fears or worries regarding returning to school.
  • For some children, visual reminders are very helpful. If you are able, obtaining a copy of their school schedule and setting up a visual calendar in a central part of your home may help to familiarize them with the upcoming changes. This should include morning and after school routines.

Tips for preventing burnout:

  • Be aware of your child’s stress points. For some children, being over-scheduled is stressful. If possible, make sure your child has times throughout the week and weekend to be at home with a caregiver. Children need time to recover and recharge.
  • Help your child spend time outside each day. Children are increasingly losing unstructured free time in nature, and many studies verify the negative impact on pediatric mental health when children cannot regularly access the outdoors. Find a time to go to a local park, go on a walk or simply sit outside for a period of time each day, if possible. This can go a long way in decreasing symptoms of burnout.
  • Limiting screen time and spending time together as a family unit is important. This can be done at mealtimes or other times when you are home together. Parents often say their children (especially teenagers) don’t want to spend time with them — this is generally untrue. Having a trusted adult give undivided attention to a child is a powerful antidote to burnout for kids of all ages.

Learn more about Child and Adolescent Psychiatry services at unitypoint.org/madison/child-and-adolescent-psychiatry.aspx.

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