Beautiful Beginnings – Preparing for Back to School

It’s that time of year again.  Camp is l-o-n-g over and now is “Bayn HashMashos.”  The lack of structure is not an easy time for most families.  How much time can Daddy and Mommy take off from work?  Thankfully, it’s not open-ended.  School begins imminently.  And there’s much to be done.

Each school has its own protocol for nit-check, forms and uniform pickup as each teacher will inform parents and students about notebooks, folders and binders, and other school supplies.  That’s not our focus here.  Rather, I am offering my viewpoint, as a pediatrician, on what families can do to structure the beginning of the school year for a “win-win” for all.

We learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that children are more likely to learn, thrive and develop appropriately when attending school in person, alongside their peers.  Let’s begin with the basics.  These basics include ensuring that students get nutritious meals, sufficient sleep (a future topic to be covered in more depth) and physical activity.  These are key building blocks to academic and social success.

Is your child, from the youngest age through the college years, up-to-date with their well visits?  Some call it the routine check-up.  Your pediatrician wants your child to be healthy.  In addition to making sure all systems are working normally, patients might have blood tests.  Adolescents should have depression and substance abuse screenings.  It’s amazing how kids will open up.  For the most part, they all want to have and celebrate success.

And then there are the vaccinations.  They should be up-to-date.  There is no reason for them not to be.  The recent case of polio in Rockland County, combined with the polio virus in the wastewater, is concerning.  Enough said.

A word about mental health.  It’s no secret that today’s world presents our children with challenges in this area.  Many children and teens have experienced mental health struggles over the past few years.  Be on the lookout for any concerning changes in behavior or signs of anxiety or distress.  Ask your pediatrician if your child has taken a vacation this summer from their ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression or whatever kind of medications.  Now – meaning this week – is the time to resume them.  Kids need time to adapt to them.

What if your child has not had a medication check up in a while?  Trust me, this happens.  Ideally, there should be regularly scheduled medication appointments because kids grow and circumstances change.  You want to make sure that the medications are efficacious so your child can have that “win-win” mentioned above.

Presently, there’s an avalanche of requests for medication appointments.  At this 11th hour, despite the importance of these medications, your physician cannot just fit you in for “but-it’s-only-a-5-minute-conversation” type of visit.  Doing these visits thoroughly and correctly will pay dividends.  Promise.  And if this means missing some school and work to make these appointments happen, then so be it.  I’m happy to discuss this with any Rosh Yeshiva, head of school, or principal.

No discussion about children and adolescents and mental health can omit the topic of bullying.

Bullying or cyberbullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly.  Bullying can be physical, verbal or social, and it can happen in school, in the playground, on the school bus or anywhere, including in shul, in the neighborhood, over the Internet or over phones.

Bullying is never to be tolerated.

If 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.  Further, recognize the serious nature of bullying and acknowledge your child’s feelings about being bullied.

Teach your child to look the bully in the eye, to stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation and to walk away.  Also, teach your child to say in a firm voice, “I don’t like what you’re doing.  Please do not talk to me like that.”  Encourage your child to make friends with other children.  Support outside activities that interest your child and validate his feelings.

Also, make sure that an adult who knows about bullying can watch out for your child’s safety and well-being when you cannot be there.  And monitor your child’s social media or texting interactions so you can identify problems before they get out of hand.

What if your child is the bully?

Make sure that your children know that bullying is never okay.  Set firm and consistent limits with your child’s aggressive behavior.  Use non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges.  Role model how children can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.  If the behavior persists, consult a mental health professional.

By now, most parents and kids have received bus cards and have set up carpools.  Some kids also bicycle to school or use electric scooters.  Please assure that your child has a properly fitting helmet on at all times when using these modes of transportation.  A traumatic brain injury should be avoided at all costs.

Electric scooters are not just a sophisticated bicycle.  Just like a motorcyclist has to have a license to ride, which means that he knows the rules of the road, so, too, do our children need to know the rules of electric scooters and bicycles.  It is not an innocuous vehicle.  Used incorrectly, it can bring harm to self and to others.  Further, make sure that the tzitzis strings are tucked inside the pants and that the long skirts are somehow secured so they do not get caught in the spokes.

Helmets.  Please.

And please make sure that your children do NOT have on headphones or ear pods while using these modes of transportation.  It distracts them from their surroundings to which they should be paying the highest level of attention for safety reasons.  They can catch up on the Daf or Parsha later.

Invest the time to practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure that your child can manage it.  Know the Rules of the Road.  Emphasize to your child to “Ride on the Right,” in the same direction as the cars.  Use bike lanes of they are present as well as appropriate hand signals.  And please respect traffic lights and stop signs.  The rules are there for us all.

A commercial for handwashing with soap and then drying them.  This is excellent, basic hygiene that promotes good health and can prevent the spread of viruses.  This holds true for washing hands in school, in shul and when coming home from wherever.   Sometimes, it may be beneficial for your younger children to change their clothes when coming home from school – especially if you have small babies or toddlers in your home.

For some people, beginnings are hard.  But proper preparation with a good mindset can bring us and our children far.

As always, daven.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.