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Ages & Stages

Back-to-School Tips for Families

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Before it's time to head back to school, use these tips to help ensure your child has a safe, healthy and happy year.

Make the first day of school easier for kids

  • Take your child to visit the new school or classroom before the first day of school. Attend any available orientations and take an opportunity to tour the school. You can also bring your child to school a few days prior to class to play on the playground to help them feel comfortable. Many children get nervous about new situations, including changing to a new school, classroom or teacher. It can be helpful to rehearse heading into the new situation.

  • Remind your child that teachers know that students may be nervous about the first day of school; they will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible. If your child seems nervous, ask them what they are worried about and help them problem-solve ways to master the new situation.

  • Point out the positive aspects of school starting to help your kids look forward to the first day of class. Talk about how they will see old friends and meet new ones, for example.

  • Find another child in the neighborhood you child can walk to school or ride with on the bus. If you feel it is needed, drive your child (or walk with them) to school and pick them up on the first day. Get there early on the first day to cut down on unnecessary stress.

Develop a healthy sleep routine

  • Help your child adjust to earlier bedtimes a week or two before the new school year starts, just to help them ease into new routines. Set a consistent bedtime for your child and stick with it every night. Getting enough sleep is critical for kids to stay health and be successful in school. Not getting enough sleep is linked with lower academic achievement, as well as higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness. (See Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?)

  • Create a bedtime routine that is consistent to help your child settle down and fall asleep. For example, a calming pre-bedtime routine may involve a bath/shower, reading with them, tucking them in and saying goodnight.

  • Have your child turn off electronic devices well before bedtime. Try to have the home as quiet and calm as possible when younger children are trying to fall asleep.

Plan for safe travel to & from school

Review the basic rules with your student and practice any new routes or modes of transportation:

Taking the school bus

  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb. Kids should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building. Make sure your child walks where they can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see them, too).

  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street, just in case somebody does not stop as required. Encourage your child to actually practice how to cross the street several times before the first day of school.

  • If the school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus. (If your child's school bus does not have lap/shoulder belts, encourage the school system to buy or lease buses with lap/shoulder belts). See Where We Stand: Safety Restraints on the School Bus for more information. Your child should not move around on the bus.

  • Check on the school's policy regarding food on the bus. Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergies and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.

  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan. If possible, do this before the first day of class.

Safe driving & carpooling to school

  • All passengers should wear a seat belt or use an age- and size-appropriate car seat or booster seat. Keep your child riding in a car seat with a harness as long as possible and then ride in a belt-positioning booster seat. Your child is ready for a booster seat when they have reached the top weight or height allowed for their seat, their shoulders are above the top harness slots, or her ears have reached the top of the seat.

  • Have your child ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4' 9" in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age). This means that your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with their legs bent at the knees and feet hanging down and the shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat; the lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, not the stomach.

  • Children younger than 13 years old should ride in the rear seat of vehicles. If you must drive more children than can fit in the rear seat (when carpooling, for example), move the front-seat passenger's seat as far back as possible and have the child ride in a booster seat if the seat belts do not fit properly without it.

  • Remember that many crashes happen while novice teen drivers are going to and from school. Remind your teen to wear their seat belt, limit the number of teen passengers, and do not allow eating, drinking, cell phone conversations (even when using hands-free devices or speakerphone), texting or other mobile device use to prevent driver distraction. Familiarize yourself with your state's graduated driver's license law and consider the use of a parent-teen driver agreement to facilitate the early driving learning process. See here for a sample parent-teen driver agreement.

Biking to school

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.

  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.

  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present, and use appropriate hand signals.

  • Make sure kids know the "rules of the road," respect traffic lights and stop signs.

  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.

Walking to school

  • Make sure your child's walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.

  • Be realistic about your child's pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age.

  • In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a "walking school bus," in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.

  • Bright-colored clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.

Provide health eating options during the school day

  • Children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better. They do better in school, and have better concentration and more energy. Some schools provide breakfast for children; if yours does not, make sure they eat a breakfast that contains some protein. If your child does not have time to eat, send them to school with a grab and go snack like a granola bar.

  • Many children qualify for free or reduced price food at school, including breakfast. The forms for these services can be completed at the school office. Hunger will affect a child's performance in class.

  • Many school districts have plans which allow you to pay for meals through an online account. Your child can get a card to "swipe" at the register. This is a convenient way to handle school meal accounts.

  • Look into what is offered inside and outside of the cafeteria, including vending machines, a la carte, school stores, snack carts and fundraisers held during the school day. They should stock healthy choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products and water. Learn about your child's school wellness policy and get involved in school groups to put it into effect. Also, consider nutrition if your child will be bringing food to eat during school.

  • Choose healthier beverage options such as water to send in your child's lunch. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%.

Consider backpack safety

  • Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.

  • Organize your child's backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10% to 20% of your child's body weight. Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items to keep it light.

  • Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Adjust the pack so that the bottom sits at your child's waist.

Prevent bullying at school

Bullying or cyberbullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood or through mobile devices like cell phones.

When your child is bullied

  • Alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions.

  • Teach your child to be comfortable with when and how to ask a trusted adult for help. Ask them to identify who they can ask for help.

  • Recognize the serious nature of bullying and acknowledge your child's feelings about being bullied.

  • Help your child learn how to respond by teaching your child how to:

      1. Look the bully in the eye.

      2. Stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation.

      3. Walk away.

  • Teach your child how to say in a firm voice:

      1. "I don't like what you are doing."

      2. "Please do NOT talk to me like that."

  • Encourage your child to make friends with other children.

  • Support outside activities that interest your child.

  • Make sure an adult who knows about the bullying can watch out for your child's safety and well-being when you cannot be there.

  • Monitor your child's social media or texting interactions so you can identify problems before they get out of hand.

When your child is the bully

  • Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK.

  • Set firm and consistent limits on your child's aggressive behavior.

  • Help your child learn empathy for other children by asking them to consider how the other child feels about they way your child treated them. Ask your child how they would feel if someone bullied them.

  • Be a positive role mode. Show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.

  • Use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges.

  • Focus on praising your child when they behave in positive ways such as helping or being kind to other children as opposed to bullying them.

  • Develop practical solutions with the school principal, teachers, school social workers or psychologists, and parents of the children your child has bullied.

When your child is a bystander to bullying

  • Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Encourage your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop.

  • Help your child support other children who may be bullied. Encourage your child to include these children in activities.

Secure before & after school child care

  • During early and middle childhood, children need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and supervise them after school until you return home from work.

  • If a family member will care for your child, communicate the need to follow consistent rules set by the parent regarding schedules, discipline and homework.

  • Children approaching adolescence (11- and 12-year-olds) should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age.

  • If alternate adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance. Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbor or with a parent by telephone.

  • If you choose an after-school program for your child, inquire about the training of the staff. There should be a high staff-to-child ratio, trained persons to address health issues and emergencies, and the rooms and the playground should be safe.

Build good homework & study habits

  • Some children need extra help organizing their homework. Checklists, timers, and parental supervision can help overcome homework problems.

  • Create an environment that is homework-friendly starting at a young age. Children need a consistent workspace in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study.

  • Schedule ample time for homework. Build this time into choices about participating in after school activities.

  • Establish a household rule that the TV and other electronic distractions stay off during homework time. Supervise computer and internet use.

  • Take steps to help ease eye fatigue, neck fatigue and brain fatigue while studying. It may be helpful to close the books for a few minutes, stretch and take a break periodically when it will not be too disruptive.

  • If your child is struggling with a particular subject, speak with their teacher for recommendations on how to help your child at home or at school. If you have concerns about the assignments your child is receiving, talk with their teacher.

  • If you believe your child would benefit from special education services, submit a request to your school for an Individualized Education Program evaluation. Your pediatrician can help draft a letter of this request.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health (Copyright © 2023​)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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