Getting serious about getting back to school

Tips for helping your family tackle “back to school” with ease, from pediatrician Stephanie Goodson

Last night, as I negotiated the terms of bedtime with my fourth grader (who has managed to push his bedtime back by almost an hour and a half over the course of the summer) I had a moment of panic when I realized the school year, and the early mornings that accompany it, were almost upon us. 

No longer will I be able to give into his pleas for one more TV show, book or snuggle session. Unless I was prepared to handle the crankiness of a sleep-deprived kid come the first week of school, I was going to have to get serious.

Unfortunately, it’s time to face the facts. Summer is winding down and it’s time to prepare our kids for the beginning of the school year. 

As a pediatrician, I know that preparation is key for making sure kids start the school year right, but just like any mom, I, too, struggle to make sure both me and my three kids have all the tools needed to tackle the school year with ease. 

I thought I would share some tips that make it easier for my family to snap into the school-year mindset. 

Preparing their attitude

It’s important for us to acknowledge the wide range of emotions our kids may feel  as the school year approaches, whether it’s anxiety, nervousness, excitement.  To settle nerves, try to guide kids through an imaginary run-down of the first day. First-day jitters are often a case of “fear of the unknown,” so a breakdown of the activities they may encounter on their first day might help sooth their anxiety.

I always assign my kids a “task” to complete during their first day. By doing so, I’m shifting their focus away from their nerves and giving them a clear goal for the day. For example, I always ask my kids to tell me the names of two new friends they met. Not only does it provide distraction, it gives us a chance to also re-cap the day over dinner.   

Preparing their lunch

While our busy schedules can sometimes make it nearly impossible to include our children in the process of grocery shopping and putting together school lunches, it’s key to ensuring they eat a balanced meal.  I sit down with my kids and we review the school lunch menu in advance and that way we are prepared for when a sack lunch is needed.  Letting children choose the healthy items they want to include in their lunch gives them a sense of ownership and makes them less likely to miss the foods loaded with sugar and fat. 

My advice: set out a couple of healthy snacks and let your kids choose what they would like to include. By the time they’re finished, you’ll find there is hardly room in the lunch bags for the processed foods or candy. 

Preparing their sleep schedule      

I know; easier said than done. The trick to getting kids back into their school-year sleep schedule is starting early. If you’re already wondering how in the world you’re going to get them out of bed and in class for the first bell, chances are you need to start adjusting their schedule now. 

Most kids will respond well to 15 minute changes to their bedtimes/wake-up times.  Each day, slide their bedtime 15 minutes earlier (and wake them up 15 minutes earlier) until you’ve reached your goal. 

Most important thing: don’t forget to leave enough time in the morning for breakfast. Forgetting to leave time to eat will only leave your child struggling until lunch time.

Preparing your home

First, create an organized space in your home (mudroom, foyer, etc.) where all school-related materials are kept.  This “spot” helps your family easily locate things during hectic mornings, and it teaches your kids the importance of being organized, a trait they just may hold on to.

To have some fun with this idea, try letting your kids decorate the space, picking out color-coded or patterned storage bins and funky wall hooks.  My kids have really enjoyed this.

Second, designate a space in your home where your kids can spread their homework out. Providing a flat surface and ample lighting (to keep them awake after a long day) is important, but ensuring this zone is free of distractions like music, video games and TV is key.  A lot of families, mine included, find the dining room table to be the perfect spot.  I’m able to work on dinner while the kids study nearby; that way, I’m available should they need help, but still able to continue with my day.

I hope these tips help you and your children have a wonderful school year!    

Don’t forget to leave a comment below with your own back-to-school tips.

More information:

About Dr. Goodson

Dr. Stephanie Goodson is a pediatrician and clinical instructor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan.  She sees patients at Brighton Health Center.  Learn more about Dr. Goodson and watch her video bio.


About Mott Children’s Hospital 

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked as one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” including third in the country for heart and heart surgery. In November, the hospital moves to a new state-of-the-art facility that will be home to cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.