Get Your Game Plan!

This fall, kids will (hopefully) be heading back to class after an extra-long break from their routine. Try these proactive tips to help smooth the transition 

Written by Bridget Venatta

The shift from the salty beach days of summer to the school year’s structure is never a walk in the park. But 2020 has taken things to another level. School-age children have been out of the classroom since March and social distancing practices have profoundly interrupted seasonal and family rhythms. For parents, kids and teens alike, heading back to school on the heels of this health crisis may be a source of anxiety.

“Whether you’re a newborn or an adult, routines are good for all of us—and COVID-19 has definitely thrown a wrench in things,” says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated internist and pediatrician Dr. Matthew Kornegay of Generations Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. To help your kids cope, he suggests paying special attention to sleep and nutrition throughout the summer and reintroducing a steady daily routine at least a week or two before school starts.

If bedtimes have been more relaxed over the spring and summer, don’t wait until fall to adjust. Young children should snooze for 10 to 13 hours each night, while middle-schoolers and teens need eight to 12 hours. “Sleep helps kids manage stress,” Dr. Kornegay says. “The less we stray from that, the better.” To help, parents can cultivate predictable bedtime routines and limit screen use for at least an hour before lights out. It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet with plenty of lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the season. Dr. Kornegay suggests planning regular family meals to ward off mindless snacking and skipping desserts with refined sugars in favor of frozen fruits or low-fat yogurt.

As school approaches, consider peppering kids’ schedules with proven stress-busters, including exercise and time in nature. Simply slowing things down can help, too. “Children need quiet time so they’re not on the go 24/7,” Dr. Kornegay says. “Find a block of 30 minutes or an hour each day for something quiet kids can do by themselves, like reading or drawing. These activities reduce anxiety.”

Routines have inevitably slipped over the last few months, so be gentle with yourself and your kids. Try to strike a healthier balance as we near the return to more structure and do your best to model calm if—or when—you encounter hiccups along the way. “We’re all human,” Dr. Kornegay says. “We’ve got to extend grace to ourselves and our loved ones.”

Does Your Child Need Support?

This pandemic has been stressful for adults and kids alike, but there are certain signs your child may be suffering from a more severe case of anxiety

During the COVID-19 crisis, kids’ comforting routines have been interrupted. Many changes—like wearing masks and being isolated from family and friends—may be deeply unsettling and difficult for little ones to process. While some stress can be expected during times like this, some children may need additional support.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are diagnosable medical conditions that affect one in eight children. “Anxiety is probably underdiagnosed among children because they display it a little differently than adults,” says Dr. Kornegay. If you recognize the following symptoms in your child, Dr. Kornegay recommends reaching out to your pediatrician to discuss next steps, as additional help may be warranted.

Social Studies

Good news! A new study suggests that, despite the pervasiveness of phones and social media, our kids are as socially adept as children of previous generations

It’s a common gripe among older folks: Kids these days don’t know how to talk to people! Social media is ruining their ability to socialize! Maybe you have sighed a similar refrain. A few years ago, a sociology professor at Ohio State University voiced this opinion to his teenage son, who asked to see some data to prove it. The researcher couldn’t find any, so he, along with a professor from Brigham Young University, set out to study the topic. Their results ran earlier this year in the American Journal of Sociology. The team used data gathered by the National Center for Educational Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to examine elementary-age students’ social skills, as evaluated by teachers and parents. They compared data gathered on 19,150 students who started kindergarten in 1998 and 13,400 students who started it in 2010 (the year the first iPad debuted and six years after Facebook hit the scene). Not only was there not a decline in social skills among the younger generation, as gauged by the evaluations, the 2010 group actually received slightly higher scores on interpersonal and self-control skills than the 1998 group, and trends held among students with the highest levels of screen usage.

Photographs by (girl with backpack) shutterstock/Mladen Zivkovic; (kids with phones) shutterstock/Syda Productions