Preparing Your Child for Getting Back to School

Boy Sitting in His Desk in Class

If you watch television, you know that it’s “back-to-school” time.  If you are sending children back to school, there is some preparation involved.  Aside from new clothes, backpack and school supplies, planning should also include things like vaccinations, physical exams, and establishing a routine. Following are the top things you should have on your list for preparing your child for school.


Your pediatrician has undoubtedly reviewed your child’s vaccination schedule, but you can also check the recommended schedule online. In addition, this year, Maine’s seventh-graders are required to receive a second dose of a vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (Tdap).  Maine has one of the highest rates of pertussis (whooping cough) in the country, reporting 21.1 cases per 100,000 in 2015, compared with the national average of 10.3.1 Getting vaccinated against pertussis is most important for those who spend time around babies.

School Sports

Back-to-school also means sports.  Johns Hopkins offers these suggestions for those who participate in sports:

  • A preseason or back-to-school physical is a great way to determine if your young athlete is fit to play. Sports physicals help assess any areas of concern for athletes before they start an activity, and in turn keeps them from further injuring themselves during play if a condition is present and needs to be treated.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor. Most school sports require a physical is performed before participating. There will be many other parents trying to get in before school starts!
  • It’s important for athletes to change the sports or activities they are doing so they are not continuously putting stress on the same muscles and joints. Parents should consider limiting the number of teams their athlete is on at any given time and changing up the routine regularly so that the same muscles are not continuously overused.

The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital offers these tips on preventing sports injuries:

  • Ask your child’s coach about the appropriate helmets, shoes, mouth guards, athletic cups and supporters, and padding. For racket sports, field hockey, lacrosse, basketball, softball, and baseball, ask about any protective eyewear, like shatterproof glasses.
  • Check that playing fields are not full of holes and ruts that might cause kids to fall or trip. Kids doing high-impact sports, like basketball and running, should do them on surfaces like tracks and wooded basketball courts, which can be more forgiving than surfaces like concrete. If conditions seem unsafe, discuss your concerns with the school’s athletic director.
  • Kids should be adequately prepared with warm-ups and training sessions before practices and before games. This will help ensure that they have fun and reduce the chances of an injury.  They also should drink plenty of fluids and be allowed periods of rest during practices and games.

Should your child sustain an injury, many injuries can be treated with RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

  • Rest. Reduce your regular activities. Take weight off of the injured body part.
  • Ice. Use an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes, four to eight times a day. Take the ice off after 20 minutes to avoid cold injury.
  • Compression. Put even pressure on the injured area to help reduce swelling. You can use an elastic wrap, special boot, air cast, or splint depending on the type of injury.
  • Elevation. Put the injured area on a pillow, at a level above your heart, to help reduce swelling.

See a doctor if the symptoms don’t subside after home treatment.

Sleep Schedules

The first day of school is no time for a drastic adjustment of household sleep schedules. Instead, ease children back into a school year routine gradually. During the last two weeks of summer, re-introduce a school-year bedtime. Begin waking late sleepers earlier and earlier, closer to the hour they’ll need to rise when school begins.

What About Your Teenager?

Sleep deprivation in teens makes it more difficult for them to do well at school and puts them at a greater risk of accidents on the road and injuries on the playing field. Sleep-deprived teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior (such as alcohol and drug use). They’re less likely to eat well and exercise regularly, and they’re more likely to be overweight. They’re also more prone to moodiness, anxiety and depression. When teens begin closing the sleep gap, they will be amazed at the impact on their daily lives, says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Laura Sterni, M.D.2


Everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s especially important for kids going to school. Starting the day with a little food in their stomach can improve cognitive performance, test scores and concentration. The best option is a low glycemic breakfast containing high protein, fiber and fat. This type of breakfast is metabolized more slowly allowing you to stay full longer. Oatmeal with walnuts, bran cereal with raisins or  a smoothie are great choices. Having smoothie ingredients ready to go will make it easy for your child to make throughout the week and they’re easy to carry around with them while they get ready for school. If your child won’t eat breakfast, find a good bar that they can eat on the go. Be sure to add these items to your pre-school grocery list.

Coping with Stress

Regardless of a student’s age, there is a certain amount of anxiety caused by starting a new school year. A first-grader may be worried that their new teacher will be mean.  A sixth-grader might hate the idea of having a locker.  A high school student might be overwhelmed by changing classrooms.  Change and the unknown are great sources of stress.

The American Psychological Association suggests that families practice the first day of school routine:

  • Establish a sleep routine
  • Organize things ahead of time: backpack, binder, lunch, etc.
  • Walk through the school and visiting the child’s locker and/or classroom

The APA also recommends the following:

  • Ask your child about their fears or worries about going back to school. Talk about what they liked about their previous school or grade.
  • Empathize by letting your child know that you are aware of what they’re going through and will be there to help. Nerves are normal, but not everything that is different is necessarily bad.
  • Getting involved in the school and community will foster support for both you and your child.

Some signs that may indicate that your child is stressed:3

  • Frequently complains of headaches or stomachaches, with no medical reason.
  • Refuses to eat in the school cafeteria or other public places.
  • Changes eating habits suddenly.
  • Cries often.
  • Becomes cranky or angry for no clear reason.
  • Is afraid of making even minor mistakes.
  • Can’t handle any criticism, no matter how constructive.
  • Avoids participating in class activities.
  • Remains silent or preoccupied when expected to work with others.
  • Refuses to go to school.
  • Begins to have explosive outbursts.
  • Starts withdrawing from activities they once loved.

If you feel your child needs help, start with your pediatrician or a school guidance counselor. Either one should be able to refer you to a clinician who specializes in child and adolescent depression. For behavior problems, you’ll want to consult a mental health professional who can help diagnose and treat behavior disorders. You can consult a behavioral psychologist who specializes in children and adolescents, a child psychiatrist or a social worker with expertise in treating young people.


  1. Maine seventh-graders will need a new vaccine next school year. Portland Press Herald. January 3, 2017. Accessed 8/11/17.
  2. Teenagers and Sleep: How Much Sleep Is Enough? John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 8/11/17.
  3. Signs Your Tween or Teen Might be Struggling with Anxiety. Understood. Accessed 8/11/17.

About the Author

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Our staff specialties range from pharmaceuticals to nutritional health and wellness, to sports nutrition. We are here to share that knowledge. If we don't know immediately, we'll find out. Stop into the pharmacy or nutritional health and wellness department to ask questions relating to your specific needs, or send us an email.


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