first day first gradeIt’s the first day of school for us today. This time of year is momentous.

The photostream on Facebook this morning is striking: children in pressed shirts with clean backpacks. It’s obvious the cameraman for each photo is smiling, just so much pride… There is something clearly resonant with we adults about a clean slate, a new day, a first moment of each new grade level. We have our memories tucked neatly into our pockets (yes, I know my 1st grade teacher’s name) and this first day often represents an important line in the sand. First day of school is clean, hopeful, and sincerely wondrous for most. I told someone yesterday I’d move a mountain to be present for first day drop-off.

I know today is also complicated for some parents. Not everyone can get time away from work for the drop-off at school or the bus pick-up. Some parents have doctor’s appointments or illness that prevents an easy morning and send-off. Nearly 1 out of 10 children are living with their grandparents. So today isn’t all white-picket-fence-two-parents-at-the-door perfect for all children in the US. But for most, it’s a very exciting transition.

I also know amidst the sparkle of the fresh start  today we have to remember that the beginning of anything does come with significant anxiety for many children and teens (and their parents). The rapid ramp-up to full speed this week required by early start times and homework schedules with afternoon +/- sports practice can incite anxiety and real fatigue for children, especially those with social phobia, underlying anxiety, depression, or learning challenges. Here are a few quick reminders that may ease the September transition for us all.

4 Tips When Starting School

Sleep is essential. 

  • Preschoolers: 10-12 hours of total sleep (night time sleep + naps). Most children naturally get tired and ready for bed between 7pm and 9pm at night. Most 4 year-old phase out their nap prior to turning 5.
  • School-age children: 10-11 hours total sleep. Most children get to bed around 8pm but as they near age 12, they may naturally “phase shift” later into the night. That means as they age and go through puberty, many tweens aren’t really tired until around 9pm or 10pm.  Puberty brings on changes to their sleep cycle and thus shifts them later.
  • 12 year-old to teens: 8 1/2-9 1/2 hours total sleep. Most teens aren’t tired until 9pm or later. To get the amount of sleep they need, you really have to help them prioritize bedtime. Between the lure of Facebook, the average of >100 text messages sent daily (!), and the academic demands of school, coupled with extra-curricular activities,  it can be tough. Learning to value sleep is life skill. If you’re having trouble getting these hours in, you’ll see your teen catch up on sleep during the weekend. This is sleep debt. They can fill the bank and replenish the sleep debt by sleeping in on weekends, but it’s imperfect. Allow them to sleep in, but help them also keep the same bedtime Friday and Saturday as best they can.

Schedules help.

  • Create a daily schedule with wake-up times and meal times for your children. Post it on the fridge — even if you have teens.
  • Print out the class schedule or activities for the month of September at school and put that up too. Let information ease tensions and stress. Let children know where to look when they lose sight of the horizon.

Check in every day.

  • “Nobody likes nobody on the first day,” my husband’s school-age classmate told him on the first day when joining a new elementary school circa 1983. If your child is making a big transition this year, check in today but each and every day in September. Ask about specific periods during the day if they don’t offer up much and inquire about challenges at lunch. In clinic I hear from children that lunchtime is one of the hardest parts of the day for many. Ask them directly how you can help support them and make it easier for them (drop off 1 block away–ha!). Listen more than you talk.

Digital detox may help.

  • Smartphones, DS, video games, tablets, and laptops often find their way into children’s bedrooms and sleep spaces during the summer. Do your best to mandate that all screens (including cell phones) are turned off 1 hour prior to bedtime. Explain to them that viewing the screen in the hour or so before bed may make it more difficult to sleep. Enforce rules for keeping cell phones in the kitchen, not the bedroom overnight. Check in with driving teens about making sure as things speed up this fall they avoid texting and driving.
  • Consider a day offline this weekend after the busy week. I’m certain you and your children won’t regret it. More on that tomorrow…