Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

Back-to-school stress and some solutions

House Call

Going back to school can be an exciting yet stressful time for children and teens.

Remember when you were a child or teen starting a new school year? As a young child, you may have been scared about leaving mom and dad, or with the possibility of getting a mean teacher. As a teen, you may have been concerned about making friends, fitting in or doing well in classes.

The good news is that parents can help their children prepare for the change, making the transition less stressful.

Common problems, some solutions

For some children, anxiety about going back to school can manifest into physical distress, such as headaches or abdominal pain. If your child has a recurring physical complaint, it may be time for a gentle investigation.

For a young child, talking about the upcoming school year and its unknowns may be all that's necessary. If this doesn't work, you might try taking the child to the school to meet a friendly teacher and talk to children who enjoy school.

Older children and teens may be anxious about their ability to perform at school. To help your child do well in school, you can become aware of poor performance and help your child get organized early. You may decide to ask your child's teacher to inform you if your child is having any trouble. It may also help to structure regular study times in a quiet place or arrange for tutoring.

Eat, sleep and be healthy

Children or teens will enjoy better overall health and reduced stress levels if they eat well and get plenty of sleep. Parents can help keep their child's sleeping and eating habits consistent.

Because summertime tends to be more relaxed than the school year, children tend to go to bed late and wake up late. Making sleep a priority - by aiming for 10 to 11 hours each night - can prevent a youth from being over-tired and over-stressed.

A healthy diet, including a nutritious breakfast, is essential for an alert mind and healthy body. Children and teens need three to four servings of calcium daily: a cup of milk or yogurt, a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice or an ounce of cheese. Protein is essential for brain and muscle development: pinto, black or soy beans; meat; chicken; fish and eggs. Adequate iron from red meat, beans or iron-fortified cereal prevents anemia, which has been found to impair learning, is also important. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and other nutrients and are a good source of fiber.

Change is stressful for all of us - including our children. These tactics will help keep your child as stress-free as possible as a new school year begins.

Martino is a pediatrician at the Los Altos Center of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. This monthly column is provided by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi.

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