Whether your kids are starting the school year virtually, in person or some combination of the two, there’s no doubt that back-to-school looks a lot different for most families this year.
We asked several Beaumont experts including pediatricians, nutritionists and child life specialists the top things parents need to pay attention to and how they might differ from previous years.
Well visits and vaccinations
Many parents use the required school sports physical as a reason to get their child to the doctor for an annual checkup. But as fall sport seasons get canceled or postponed, that important visit is easy to overlook.
Beaumont pediatrician, Dr. Richard Weiermiller, said sports or no sports, children should be seen yearly. “There are so many important developmental issues in these years to be discussed, and too often the kids who don't play sports don't come in,” he said.
Dr. Evelyn Laskowski, Beaumont pediatrician, said many pediatricians are also seeing an increase in mental health issues, unhealthy weight gain and eating disorders because of the changes brought on by COVID-19.
“Vaccinations, depression screenings, exercise and nutrition counseling are all just as important as they have always been,” Dr. Laskowski said. “A visit to the pediatrician for a well visit can help parents identify problems that had previously gone unnoticed.”
A visit to the pediatrician for a well visit can help parents identify problems that had previously gone unnoticed.Dr. Laskowski
Team sports, recess and other scheduled physical activity may be non-existent for kids starting the school year virtually. Yet staying active is just as important as it’s always been.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toddlers and preschoolers have at least 3 hours of physical activity daily, and school aged children and adolescents have at least 60 minutes.
Dr. Laskowski suggests breaking the recommended activity time up into smaller increments to keep it manageable. “Something as simple as playing catch, hop scotch or a quick walk around the block can meet these needs.”
Dr. Weiermiller says to participate in the activity with your child. “Go for walks or bike rides, or even do an online exercise class,” he said. “There is nothing that reinforces the importance of exercise better than doing the activity with your child.”
A healthy, well balanced diet is always important for children. But a lack of structured meal and snack times makes it easy to get off track.
Beaumont dietitian Megan Husek said consistency is key for both parents and kids. “Try to keep breakfast/lunch/dinner times consistent if possible and allow children to follow internal cues about how much they can eat at each of these meals,” she said. “A bonus of being at home more is you can include kids in the meal prep process as they are more likely to eat foods that they helped pick, wash, cut or cook.”
Husek suggests starting the day with a brain-boosting breakfast that includes at least three food groups; for example, a slice of whole wheat toast, an egg and a banana. She said kids and adults can have difficulty concentrating when they have low energy, specifically glucose, which is the exclusive fuel for our brain.
“Avoid high sugar foods and beverages like candy and soda as these can affect mood and offer no nutrition.” Husek said. She also suggests avoiding food as a reward.
“Using food as a reward interferes with a child's natural ability to determine if they are hungry or not and can enable emotional eating,” Husek explained. “Reward foods are often high-fat, high-sugar foods which can lead to weight gain and cavities.”
Setting a routine
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted all aspects of our lives and has thrown many of us off our regular routine. Getting back to school may be a good time to establish a new schedule for your family.
“Children, especially young children, thrive with a routine,” Dr. Laskowski said. “While going back to school may look different this year, continuing with a routine and built-in schedule of a typical school year will be helpful for children of all ages.”
Dr. Weiermiller said part of that routine should include a sleep schedule . “Humans (and especially kids) are creatures of habit,” he said. “We need to give a framework to the day with regular bedtime and waketime.”
Also consider scheduling time for school work, exercise, meals and play make sure nothing gets overlooked.
We need to give a framework to the day with regular bedtime and waketime.Dr. Weiermiller
“Eventually schools will reopen, and the transition back will be much smoother if your child is used to following a structured schedule,” said Janis Traynor, Beaumont child life specialist.
Quarantine and COVID-19 have caused significant increases in screen time for both adults and children. And now with many kids attending school online, there’s no getting around the role laptops, tablets and other devices play in our lives. But there are a few things you can do to help balance the amount of time your kids spend online.
- enforce screen-free zones (bedrooms, the dinner table, etc.)
- set a media curfew to limit devices after a certain time
- organize screen-free activities such as outdoor activities, play, family game nights, puzzles or reading a book
“Unfortunately, we can't get around some of the enormous screen times our kids have been having in the last 6 months,” Dr. Weiermiller said. “However, getting away from the screens and getting outdoors, whether it’s taking school outside, reading a book on the porch or doing chores in the yard can help provide balance.”
While children may not be as affected by the COVID-19 virus itself, the stress of the pandemic has been especially difficult for kids and adolescents.
“The stress we are all feeling from the pandemic is immense, but the total disruption to our children's lives may be the worst,” Dr. Weiermiller said. “They are not getting needed social interactions with other kids their age. This means they are lonely and stressed in ways those of us who are older can't fully understand.”
Dr. Laskowski said warning signs like becoming more withdrawn, isolated and spending more time on screens (social media, games, etc) could indicate that your child is struggling. “Sometimes warning signs can be difficult or impossible to notice,” she said. “Getting in to see the pediatrician for a well visit can potentially uncover some of these issues.”
Dr. Weiermiller suggest daily conversations with your kids about how they are feeling, and Traynor recommends limiting exposure to news and information about COVID-19 to help decrease confusion, fear and anxiety.
While this is an exceptionally challenging time for children and parents, social distancing does not have to mean social isolation.
“Connect with other parents to share experiences and ideas for keeping kids engaged in learning and to simply encourage one another,” Traynor said. “We are in this together.”