Back-to-School Success Tips for Parents

The transition from summer to fall can be challenging for children of all ages. Knowing how to address common back-to-school topics can help parents and caregivers set the school year off to a great start for their children! Lurie Children's Primary Care – Town & Country experts, Jenny Youn Hong, MD, and Aliza Jaffe Sass, PhD, offer some back-to-school success tips for parents.

Get the right amount of sleep

It's no secret that good sleep is necessary for your child to have a productive and healthy day, both academically, and socio-emotionally. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends the following amount of sleep for school-aged children: 

  • Ages 3-5: 10-13 hours per day  
  • Ages 6-13: 9-11 hours per day  
  • Ages 14-17: 8-10 hours per day

Keep a consistent bedtime 

Early mornings will be here before you know it. If your child is going to bed too late for them to receive the recommended amount of sleep, help them get in the habit of gradually going to sleep earlier across a couple days or weeks to ease the transition back to school. It can be helpful to incorporate calming activities 20-30 minutes before bedtime that move in the direction of the bedroom, like reading a book or picking out pajamas. Try to keep bedtime consistent every day (with only 1–2-hour adjustments over the weekend) to promote positive sleep habits and reduce difficulties getting back into a sleep routine between weekends. 

Avoid stimulating activities before bed

Stop screen time 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime (e.g. watching TV, playing video games). Diet and nutrition are also important to keep in mind to help your child feel comfortable and sleepy at night. Be sure to avoid giving your child caffeine (sodas, iced and green teas) in the late afternoon or evening, especially if they have trouble falling asleep. A small nutrient-rich bedtime snack, or dinner leftovers, may be helpful to offer to children who still feel hungry before bed.

Incorporate movement into each day

Staying physically active during the school year has benefits for your child’s physical health, mental health, and social development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an hour of physical activity per day. This can look different for everyone, whether it's participating in sports, organized classes or playing at the park. Work with your child to find activities that make them feel happy and engaged. You can even work it into your everyday routine, like bringing along their scooter and helmet at school pick-up! 

Plan nutritious meals

Diet plays a big role in how much energy we have for the day. Be sure your child is eating filling and nutritious food in the morning or on the way to school. Plan ahead for those busy mornings and afternoons by preparing simple and nutritious options that are quick and easy to eat on the go, like shelf-stable milk varieties or protein shakes.  

Make family meals a priority 

Having meals together during the week is a great time to check in as a family and create healthy eating and communication habits during the school year.  Make mealtimes a "phone-free" zone (parents too!) so everyone at the table can connect. Encourage younger and older children to participate in preparing (and cleaning) the meal to make it a family task and offer opportunities for cooperation.

Build good homework strategies

Have a specific location in your home for your child to do homework, with minimal distractions. If your child has difficulty concentrating for a long period of time, consider having them complete homework items in timed chunks with short breaks in between to help improve attention and make longer tasks more manageable. It can also be motivating to have your child pick a fun activity or privilege they can earn after homework is completed, such as getting extra playtime, or picking a special food or drink to eat during dinner. 

Validate worries and praise brave behavior

It is normal for parents and children to feel worried before the start of school. You can help your child feel brave and capable of going to school by developing a consistent morning routine and validating worries or uncertainties they may express (in words or behavior). Praise your child for going to school, or even talking about school, if it is hard for them to do! To minimize before-school jitters, some children will want to talk about school on the way there or anticipate fun activities; others may want to engage in calming activities before they arrive or talk about something unrelated to school. Follow your child’s lead! 

Plan special one-on-one time 

Plan weekly individual time with your child by doing an activity they enjoy, either in the house or around the neighborhood. Let them lead or pick the activity! This helps build your relationship with your child and boost your child’s confidence. It also creates a safe and reliable space for your child to talk to you about school or anything on their mind. 

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