Most of the pediatrician-blogs and online mainstream mom/parenting pages are filled with back-to-school stuff and “best practices” for kids as they head back to the classroom. And it’s all important, right: which immunizations your child needs to get, how to get a school year bedtime routine back in place, which healthy options are best for school lunches … the list goes on. Very kid-focused, and rightly so. But I want to assert that this transitional time is tough for both kids and parents. It’s stressful! The parental responsibilities can easily rival the kid ones, so I thought I’d write a quick piece that gives a tip of the hat to all my fellow moms and dads out there who are at once craving the predictability of the school year, and dreading the added expectations of evening academic consultations, more trips to and from various extracurricular activities, and school year contagious illnesses.
Here’s a sampling of what I witness and hear each year:
1. “I can’t do my kids’ homework anymore.”
2. “Why does practice end so late?”
3. “Why is my child always sick the first week of school?”
4. “I don’t think my child is eating any of his lunch.”
I can’t do some of the homework either. How about you? And this year, I have to do Geometry. I say this jokingly, but want to raise the issue of how much homework help is optimal to give. There is, of course, a different answer for every child. But I think as kids transition into middle school, it’s important to rethink how much hovering and assistance you really want to give. While it’s tempting to check every math problem, it may make sense to insist that your child problem solve their way out of homework confusion or missing assignments on their own. It’s better to learn how to navigate this now when the stakes aren’t quite so high. I do believe in the importance of the home-school connection, and I think getting involved by offering to do a practice oral spelling test or help edit an essay sends a good message about the value of academics. I do see a lot of parents who over-assist, and I’m not sure that’s beneficial in the end. So I ask you: Can you loosen up the reigns a little this year? Just a food for thought.
My 13-year-old has practice that ends at 9 p.m. or later some nights. My 10-year-old finishes at 8 p.m. Does that seem late to anyone else? I know that field space availability or theater or dance space is an issue, but when you figure in extra homework some nights and the necessary time to wind down and fall asleep, that doesn’t leave enough hours for a full night’s sleep. I worry my kids will be chronically tired and suffer all the consequences that go along with that: poor ability to focus, low energy, bad mood, etc. In order to maximize sleep-hours, I have a firm rule that homework starts right away after a snack when my kids get home from school.
In acute care, we always see a bump in our patient visits during the first month of school, and there are several reasons why. First, getting kids together in an enclosed space, such as a classroom, means germs can exchange quickly in a very direct way. So if one child comes to school with a virus, even if she isn’t sick yet, she can be transmitting that virus to others. Also, kids seem to fire up their daredevil moves on the playground at recess when they’ve got some energy to burn, so injuries tend to increase as well. So you’re not imagining things if you think that your child tends to be sicker during the school year. Before the start of the school year, I think it’s wise to remind kids of all ages not to share food or drinks, and to avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing or sneezing or seems sick.
When I volunteer for lunch duty at my kids’ school, I’m amazed at how much food gets thrown away and not eaten. My kids included. I really encourage parents to be low energy about this in front of their kids (so it doesn’t become a control issue), and ask them to bring home anything they don’t eat like it’s no big deal. Then, you’ll know what seems to hit the spot and what doesn’t, and you can adjust the contents of the lunch box accordingly. Perhaps, you may even learn why they come home “hangry.” My kids are always ravenous when they first get home, and their personality reflects it.
So what are some other universal back-to-school stressors that parents face every year? I hear these four a lot, but by no means are they the only ones. Just think, in a month we can start worrying about Halloween parties, the flu and then Christmas. Oh, the joys of parenting!
Dr. Christina Johns is senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics, the largest provider of pediatric urgent care in the country, with more than 30 child-friendly locations across NY, NJ, Long Island, CT, PA and D.C.