Back to School


Get a Smart Start on the School Year

“It’s important to get the school year off to a good start,” says Michael Bauer, M.D., a pediatrician with Lake Forest Pediatrics. Here’s a quick refresher course on how parents can help their children get a smart start to the school year.

  • Calm jitters. Some kids are excited about the start of school; others are nervous. Either way is perfectly normal. If your child is nervous, mention the positives, such as seeing friends they’ve missed all summer.

  • Get there safely. If your child walks or bikes to school, practice the route in advance and make sure he or she knows where and how to cross any streets. If your child takes the bus, review safety rules such as: stay in your seat; stand away from the curb to look if the bus is coming; if you must walk in front of the bus make sure you can see the driver so the driver can see you.

  • Immunizations are important, safe and required before your child can enter kindergarten,” says Dr. Bauer. He notes that Illinois recently moved the requirement for a physical exam from 5th grade to entering 6th grade, to coincide with new immunization recommendations. Check with your pediatrician or family doctor on your child’s vaccination schedule or if you have any safety concerns. (To learn more about immunization safety and why they’re so important, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website at Free or low-cost immunizations also are available through community or county health clinics for children who are not insured.

  • Eye Exams. Dr. Bauer notes that Illinois also added a new requirement for kindergartners to have an eye exam by an eye professional, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, before school starts.

  • Get a flu shot. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) now recommends flu shots for all children ages 6 months through 18 years so they don’t spread the virus to someone who is vulnerable. Some years up to 70 percent of the population can be infected with influenza.

  • Check the backpack. Overloaded backpacks can cause back pain and problems. “Choose a backpack with padded straps and a padded back, and show your child how to wear it properly, with both straps to distribute the weight,” says Dr. Bauer. “A filled backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10-20 percent of a child’s weight.”

  • Breakfast makes a difference. “Your mother was right—breakfast really is the most important meal of the day,” says Dr. Bauer. “Research shows that kids concentrate better when they’ve eaten breakfast. So make sure your kids are awake in time to sit down for breakfast, rather than grabbing something on the way out the door.”

  • Pack a healthy lunch. Whether your child takes a lunch or gets it at school, stress nutritious choices, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and limited sugar.

  • Set up good homework habits. “Good homework habits should begin in elementary school,” says Dr. Bauer. “Your child needs a work environment that is quiet, somewhat private, and away from distractions like TV or people walking through. Stay close by in case your child needs help or guidance, but don’t hover.”

  • Be ready for bedtime. “You can’t expect your child to be running around, playing video games or being otherwise active and then suddenly shut down and go to sleep,” says Dr. Bauer. “And remember that most kids consider a bath as play rather than relaxation, so don’t be surprised that the evening bath doesn’t get your child ready for sleep.” He recommends wind-down time before lights out—an ideal time to encourage reading. “Try to keep a similar wakeup schedule on weekends, too,” he recommends. “It’s hard to sleep until 11 on Saturday and Sunday and then wake up early Monday for school.”

  • Be prepared for special medical needs. “If your child has food allergies, asthma, diabetes or another medical issue, be well-prepared in advance,” advises Dr. Bauer. “In addition to completing all the medical forms, make sure your child’s teacher and the school nurse have an action plan for a medical emergency. And, be sure the teacher, substitutes and other adults know about your child’s food allergies so birthday treats and holiday parties don’t become a medical crisis.”

  • Know your child and watch for changes. “If your child complains of a tummy ache or another excuse to stay home, question the symptoms. Consider whether your child is struggling with separation issues, finding it hard to make friends, or may be the victim of bullying. “Many children won’t tell you outright what is bothering them, so look for changes in your child’s behavior or demeanor,” says Dr. Bauer.

Most of all, Dr. Bauer advises parents to be supportive of your child as school begins and all year long. And use your common sense to help your kids have a successful school year.