Back to school tips for parents and carers
Have the back-to-school jitters set in at your household? Are you stressed about getting your kids back into routine and packing their lunch boxes Monday to Friday?
Experts from our Network are here to help, sharing simple tips to help you prepare your kids to kick-start Term One of 2023.
Read on for advice on managing hot weather and environments, helping ensure your child is asthma ready as well as top tips on nutritious lunch boxes and developing healthy habits.
Back to school time often coincides with the peak of summer heat in NSW, so it’s important for parents and carers to stay alert for heat-related illnesses and take proactive steps to help keep kids healthy and safe.
In hot weather, it can be very easy for children to become dehydrated and suffer from heat-related illnesses, which include dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Young children overheat quickly as they produce more body heat, sweat less and have more rapid rises in body temperature, reducing their ability to cool down.
Dr Shefali Jani, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said it’s important for parents and carers to teach children about the importance of hydration and sun safety to help prevent heat-related illnesses.
“A child can lose fluids and become dehydrated through various means including exposure to the sun or getting sunburnt, high temperatures and high humidity, being very active, and consuming drinks that contain caffeine, which is contained in many soft drinks.”
“While enjoying outdoor play is a great way for children to stay active, it is important for parents and carers to teach and regularly remind children about the importance of sun safety and staying hydrated. Encourage children to take regular breaks to relax and cool off in hot weather conditions, always wear sunscreen when playing outdoors and play in the shade during the day as much as possible, to ensure they stay healthy and help them develop sun protection skills for life.”
Most mild and moderate symptoms of heat-related illness can be managed by drinking plenty of water or an oral rehydration drink and moving somewhere cool, however, if symptoms persist, seek medical advice.
Top 5 tips to manage the heat this back-to-school season:
- Teach kids to go indoors, rest and hydrate right away when they feel overheated
- Teach kids to always drink plenty of liquids – water is always recommended – before and during activity, particularly in hot, sunny weather – even if they don’t feel thirsty
- Kids should wear light-coloured, loose clothing on hot days and use sunscreen when outdoors. When possible, children should cover up with lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts to provide protection from UV rays
- Children should wear a hat which shades the face, scalp, ears and neck when outdoors
- Apply sunscreen with SPF 50+ protection to children before school, and encourage them to reapply at school before playing outdoors
For more information on heat-related illnesses and signs and symptoms to watch out for, visit NSW Health.
The start of the new school year is also the time when children living with asthma are most at risk of flare-ups, thereby increasing hospital visits and days off school.
Australian studies have shown up to 25 per cent of children’s hospital admissions happen in February, coinciding with the first few weeks of the school term.
“With changes in the environment or allergens, sharing a new set of cold and flu bugs with classmates, and different asthma management during the holidays, being back in the classroom can trigger asthma in the first month of the school year,” Clinical Nurse Consultant, Melinda Gray said.
Top tips to ensure your child is asthma ready:
- Make sure your child is taking their asthma preventer medicine as prescribed.
- Schedule an asthma review for your child with their local GP.
- Provide a copy of your child’s up-to-date Written Asthma Action Plan or School Asthma Action. Plan with school staff and outside school hours carers which can be accessed via the links below.
- Make sure your child feels comfortable asking for help or telling school staff/carers when they have asthma symptoms.
- Check that your child knows how to effectively use their asthma inhaler by themselves (if old enough), or with help. Tell teachers and school staff if your child needs help using their puffer and spacer or their inhaler device.
- Provide the school with an in-date reliever medication and spacer in your child’s school bag clearly labelled with your child’s name, date of birth and expiry date of reliever medicine.
"Asthma shouldn't hold children back from doing what they love - attending school, doing sport, going on playdates and sleepovers, but it does require a bit of a time investment to keep it under control and reduce chances of flare ups,” Dr Louisa Owens, Head of Respiratory Medicine, said.
“Now is an ideal time to have a full asthma check-up including a review of your child’s Written Asthma Action Plan, medications and inhaler technique for relievers and preventers ahead of the February back-to-school asthma spike.”
For more information, head to Aiming For Asthma In Children Program, Asthma Australia or National Asthma Association websites.
Nutrition and healthy habits
Back to school means back to the routine of daily lunchbox packing.
Alicia Grunseit, senior weight management dietitian from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, says that it’s important to pack a healthy, balanced lunchbox to support children’s growth and development, provide them with sustained energy to concentrate and learn at school, and to set healthy eating habits for the future.
"A healthy lunchbox should include a combination of foods from the Five Food Groups, which will give your child a variety of nutritious foods to help keep them satisfied and energised. It’s also important to include water to drink to help children stay hydrated," Alicia said.
For parents and carers, Alicia said that simplicity is often the key to success, particularly when juggling a busy schedule.
"A healthy lunchbox does not have to be complicated; keeping it simple is often best. Healthy eating can be enjoyable for children, particularly when you get them involved in the process of preparing and packing their lunchbox."
Alicia reminds parents and carers that a healthy lifestyle includes not only healthy eating, but also incorporating healthy lifestyle choices.
"Daily physical activity, limiting screen time and getting enough sleep are all important for optimising your child’s health. For school-aged children, this means limiting screen time to no more than two hours a day and being active for at least one hour a day, every day."
"When it comes to sleep, 10 to 13 hours is recommended for children aged 3 to 5 years, 9 to 11 hours is recommended for children aged 5 to 13 years and 8 to 10 hours is recommended for children 14 to 17 years."
Top 5 tips to help pack a healthy, balanced lunchbox:
- Include a source of protein such as lean meat, tuna egg, cheese, or chicken in your child’s lunch. This will help keep them full throughout the school day.
- Always pack some vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks, cucumber slices, either as their Crunch n Sip or in their lunch. This helps your child get closer to achieving their five serves a day.
- Try swapping snacks that are high in fat, sugar, salt and low in fibre for quick and easy healthy snacks. Healthy snacks don’t have to be boring, and getting your kids to help prepare snacks can help get them more interested in trying something new. Check out this resource created by NSW Health for healthy snack swaps.
- Kids don’t need juice poppers or cordial at school – water is all they need to drink throughout the day.
- Check out this resource created by Western Sydney Local Health District for a simple breakdown to assist in packing a nutritious, balanced lunchbox.
Check out these eight healthy habits to implement into your school-aged children’s routine.
Back to school anxiety
The start of the school year can be an exciting time for children and adolescents, but it can also be filled with anxiety.
This is a very common experience for both children, adolescents, parents and carers alike, especially if they’re entering kindergarten, high school, or going to a new school.
"Feeling nervous around the start or return to school is normal and understandable for both students and parents. There may be anxieties around separation, entering a transition year, making friends, having a new teacher, and workloads,” Jodie Caruana, School-Link Co-ordinator, said.
“As with many situations that may increase stress and anxiety, preparation is key to help alleviate this transition.”
Preparing for the first week in advance can help ease families back into the school routine. Beyond Blue recommend the following strategies and tips to make the transition back to school a more positive experience.
Top tips for primary school:
- Get back into the school-day routine at least a week early, such as waking up, eating and going to bed at regular times.
- Get your child involved in planning out their lunches and snacks for the first week back.
- Talk through the steps of returning to the classroom in plenty of detail as for anxious children, this can be calming.
- Stick to familiar routines as much as possible.
- Help your child pack their bag the night before.
- Allow some extra time to get ready on day one so you’re not rushing.
Top tips for kindergarten (in addition to above):
- Do a few trips to and from school with your child in the lead up to their first day, so they are familiar with the route and know what to expect.
- Set up some playdates with local children who are also starting kindergarten.
- Visit the school beforehand.
- Invent a fun routine to make saying goodbye easier.
- Give your child positive reassurance and remind them where you’ll be at pick-up time.
- Keep goodbyes brief.
- Try to limit other activities during the first few weeks.
- Schedule a family celebration on the weekend to mark the milestone.
“Starting kindergarten is a significant milestone for children and their families. For some parents and carers, it is the first time they are leaving their child in someone else’s care and letting go can be difficult,” Jodie said.
“One of my favourite tips to help alleviate anxiety that may come from separation is having a ‘hug button.’ This comforting technique is the act of drawing a heart on yours and your child’s hands, so when they’re feeling anxious, they can press the heart and send a ‘hug’ to the other.
“It is also important to plan ahead for the first day of school drop off as the final goodbye, for kindergarten and other grades alike, can be difficult. The Getting On Track In Time – Got It program has some great strategies to help parents prepare such as creating a goodbye ritual, organising a buddy to walk into school with them, or having an item that makes them feel brave.
“Remain calm, confident and be consistent when saying goodbye at the gate. Perform your goodbye ritual once and provide reassurance to your child regarding pick up and that school staff will be able to help them throughout the day.”
Top tips for high school:
- Encourage your teenager to take responsibility for getting back into setting a routine the week before school starts.
- Help them set some realistic, achievable goals for the year.
- Talk through any issues or fears they might have about the return of school.
- Have a couple of practice runs at getting to school together, especially if your teenager will be using public transport on their own. If they have a mobile, add the 131500 transport website to their favourite pages for easy access.
For more information visit the Beyond Blue, NSW Department of Education, and NSW Health websites.