by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care
As summer wanes and the school bell starts to beckon, this is a good time to start instituting good habits to facilitate the transition from the laid-back vacation days into the more hectic school year. Yadira Torres, PsyD, one of the dedicated licensed psychologists at Central Florida Health Care, works frequently with children and parents to help families deal with various types of stress in a healthy manner. Dr. Torres has worked in Polk County schools, and she has some advice for parents who are seeking to start the school year on a positive note.
“Taking the next few weeks to prep the kids is one of the best ways we can help them for the beginning of the school year,” Dr. Torres recommends. “By that, I mean starting to establish routines.”
It’s common for a family’s regular routines to become more relaxed during the summer break from school, with many children being allowed to stay up later at night. Easing back into their school year schedules during the last few weeks of their vacation can help minimize the stress and anxiety that often accompanies those first days of school.
“During the later portion of summer, we want to start reintroducing nighttime routines and morning routines,” Dr. Torres explains.
Moving the bedtime up by 30 minutes to an hour each week is a good way to ease back into the regular routine. All electronics should be shut off at least half an hour before bedtime. It’s a good idea, especially for teens, to put cell phones and tablets in another room to charge, so kids aren’t distracted by the devices as they are settling down to sleep.
The amount of sleep children need to feel adequately refreshed varies by age, with younger kids needing about eight to 10 hours each night, while teens require less sleep, usually about seven to nine hours. Caffeinated beverages or foods should be avoided for at least two hours before bedtime.
Planning ahead can reduce morning stress on the whole family. Determine what time everyone needs to walk out the door and allow an hour to an hour and a half for getting up and ready each morning. Parents may wish to wake up a few minutes before the kids in order to reduce chaos by setting out breakfast and doing their own hygiene tasks first. School bags should be packed and placed near the door the night before for an easy grab and go.
In addition to the normal stressors of going back to school that we’ve all experienced, kids now can have a host of concerns about school that were not issues in previous decades. Navigating these worries can be challenging.
“We know that there can be a lot of anxiety going back this particular school year, given current events that have taken place,” acknowledges Dr. Torres. “Talk to kids about how they can help themselves feel safe, teach kids how to do deep breathing, and limit the amount of media they watch associated with current events.”
How parents respond to media reports on violence and other frightening topics has a major influence on the children, and parents need to discuss these issues with kids in a manner that helps reduce their anxiety.
“Allow kids a space to ask questions,” advocates Dr. Torres for handling these difficult subjects. “When we talk to kids about sensitive topics, stick to the facts of it and try to stay as neutral as possible because kids will oftentimes feed off of how we react to things. Trying our hardest, as adults, to keep things as neutral as possible definitely helps kids.”