It's August, and "Back-to-School" is steadily approaching (if it hasn't already happened in your area). What are some things that parents can do to help their kids transition smoothly into the school year? I asked Nina Fekaris (MS, BSN, RN, NCSN), president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses, for her best tips. Based on her 27+ years on the frontline as a school nurse (her full bio follows below), here are her top 4 tips for parents:
Tip #1: Reset Your Child's Clock
His or her internal clock, that is. Ms. Fekaris recommends being proactive and getting an early start to adjusting your child's bedtime. She advises shifting your child's bedtime in small increments -- say 15 minutes earlier each night. Ideally, by the time you're one week away from the start of school, your child is going to bed and waking up when s/he'll need to for school. When children are tired, it is challenging for them to perform at their best -- both cognitively and behaviorally.
Tip #2: Be Mindful of Your Child's Eating Schedule
Ms. Fekaris also suggests that parents see what time their child's lunch period will be during the school year, and to try to start giving them lunch at that time -- before the school year starts. "A child's lunch period could be anywhere from 10:50am to 1:10pm at my school," she says. "That's a huge range, and if a child is used to eating at different times, that could have a big impact on his or her school day." A disruption to children's eating schedule can make it hard for them to concentrate and behave well in class. Children often don't realize that they're unhappy or unfocused because they are hungry, and thus they need adults to help them remedy the situation.
She recommends that parents start "practicing" serving meals to their kids at the times they would eat during the school year. Then parents can also observe whether their child needs a snack to get through the morning or afternoon. "Parents can help by being proactive, especially in the younger grades, where lunchtime adjustment can be a big deal," says Ms. Fekaris.
Tip #3: Stay Up-to-Date on Immunizations
Parents should also make sure that their children are current on all their immunizations, says Ms. Fekaris. They can obtain a list of required immunizations from their child's school. Schools have experienced a revival of previously-suppressed illnesses, such as measles, in recent years.
What if a parent prefers not to have his or her child vaccinated? Focusing on making an informed, fact-based decision is important, says Ms. Fekaris. "Parents need to understand that if there's an outbreak, any non-immunized child may be quarantined to limit transmission and prevent the child from contracting the illness," she explains.
Tip #4: Know Your School's Attendance Policy
When is your child too sick to go to school? Your school's attendance policy and "too sick for school" policy are helpful guidelines for deciding whether to keep your child at home. "It's important for parents to feel comfortable about knowing when to send their kids to school," says Ms. Fekaris. If parents are unsure of their child's school attendance policy, they should check in with their school for the most up-to-date policy.
In the next column in this series, I focus on the major health trends and issues -- and the impact on kids' learning -- that school nurses such as Ms. Fekaris are seeing from their posts at the frontlines of school health.
About Ms. Fekaris: Nina R. Fekaris, MS, BSN, RN, NCSN is the president-elect for the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). She became a Nationally Certified School Nurse in 2008 and was recognized as National School Nurse of the Year by NASN in 2009. She has been a practicing school nurse in the Beaverton School District in Beaverton, Oregon for the past 27 years. She works with students in all grade levels, supervises nurses who provide one-to-one care for medically fragile students and provides direct school nursing services to 4,000 students. Over the years, she has seen the dramatic rise in chronic and acute health conditions being diagnosed in children and the impact those conditions have on the child as they attend school. It is providing a "level playing field" for these students that has driven her advocacy efforts and inspired her to work at a national level. She believes by working together, we can reduce barriers and help improve academic achievement. Better Health. Better Learning.™