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Parent Advice / Back to School

Contributor Dr. Elise Herman

As summer winds down, parents and children are well aware of the approach of the new school year. Some kids are very excited about learning and seeing their teachers and friends again, while others have more reservations. COVID and recent school shootings complicate this often emotional transition. There are steps parents can take now to make this go more smoothly.

Sleep

If sleep schedules got lax over the summer, start now to get back on track. To make bedtime earlier, adjust the wake-up time, moving this up by 15 minutes a day. Kids ages 3-5 years need 10-13 hours total sleep daily, those ages 6-12 years should get 9-12 hours, and teens need 8-10 hours. Remember, no ’screens’ of any kind for at least one hour before bedtime. Reading to your child before bed (or kids reading on their own) aids in falling asleep and is an excellent habit to develop now.

Nutrition

Ensure your child gets up early enough to have a healthy (not sugary) breakfast, improving attention and mood. If your child is taking lunch to school, review what they would like to bring—plan on including fruits and veggies and avoiding processed foods. Water is much better than juice; if they drink milk, nix the chocolate milk, which has as much sugar as soda. Family dinners are a great way to connect during the school year and have been shown to improve nutrition and emotional health. Although it can be tricky to have family dinners with kids’ sports and activities, try to make this a priority.

School Prep

For younger kids, being able to go to school and play on the playground now is very reassuring. Some schools will allow a visit to the classroom and a brief meeting of the teacher as well. You and your child can look at their school online, where they can see photos of the building and the school staff. Review transportation plans and always spend 10 minutes of “getting ready” time on school mornings so your child can be on time with less stress.

School Supplies

Look at the list for your child’s school and classroom (schools often post this on their website) and buy supplies early. Have your child practice packing their backpack and designate a place at home where it goes at the end of the day. All papers and notebooks should come out of the backpack daily so homework gets done and other things don’t accumulate. Pack the backpack with completed homework and any needed items the night before to help mornings go smoothly.

School Safety

In view of recent events, your child may have questions or concerns about school safety. Reassure them that a school is a safe place and that you are comfortable having them there. Although there may be a spike in COVID this fall, we have good tools (vaccines, treatment, etc.) to help. As tragic as school shootings are, they are rare, and schools continue to work on security to help prevent such violence. We must display confidence in our child’s safety at school, even if we are concerned.

Back to school “nerves”: If your child feels a bit nervous about the return to school, let them know they are not alone. This is common, especially if they are going to a new school (as will be true of many kids in Ellensburg with the new attendance zones). Talk up the positives of learning new things, making new friends, and meeting their teacher. If you recall feeling the same way, share that with them and how your nervousness dissipated over time.

Going back to school in the fall is a big deal for you and your child; let them know you have confidence in their ability to rise to this challenge. Planning a fun post-school activity and a special family dinner after that first day will give them something to look forward to and be a terrific way to celebrate this transition.

Local School Districts

Below is a list of Kittitas County school districts and their Facebook pages. Schools often post supplies lists, drop-off/pick-up info, scheduling, and other important information for parents and students.

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Dr. Elise Herman

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Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.

Sibling Rivalry

Contributor: Elise Herman, MD, KVH Pediatrics

If we have more than one child, we hope they will get along and be good friends, and more than likely that will happen one day. But before that time and almost as soon as the second child arrives, sibling conflict and rivalry can start. Especially now with so much family together time given the COVID pandemic and its restrictions, it is helpful to understand sibling rivalry and to have strategies to help your kids live (somewhat) peaceably together.

Sibling rivalry occurs because kids are vying for their parents’ attention, and negative attention (attention for bad behavior) is better than none. Often times, parents give much more attention when behavior is troublesome than when it is ‘what is expected’.

Children also want to ‘become their own person’; to stand out and make a name for themselves within the family. Squawking the loudest and trying to be better than their siblings accomplishes this. Sibling rivalry is more common if family members don’t have functional ways to solve conflicts and resort to yelling and getting very angry. If life is stressful and parents are tired (thanks, COVID!), behavior may worsen. Likewise, hunger and fatigue may contribute as well.

So how can we our help kids get along?

  • Give lots of positive attention to functional behaviors and they will increase– being kind, helping a sibling, letting someone else go first, etc. Practice these skills as they take time to develop.
  • Teach kids to use “I” messages (“I feel upset when…”) instead of “you” messages (“You make me so mad!”) which make people feel defensive.
  • Help kids understand that things may not always be exactly equal, but they will be fair. For example, kids at different ages will have different chores and privileges.
  • Do not compare your children as this just fuels competitiveness.
  • Establish ground rules: no name-calling or physical aggression, etc. and clear consequences if these rules are broken.
  • Try to stay out of conflicts and let kids know that if you do step in, it will be the same ‘solution’ for all. Turning off the TV if they can’t agree what to watch solves the problem and teaches kids that they are better off resolving their own conflicts.
  • Have routine family time that is positive like family meals and getting outside regularly as this helps minimize the negative impact of occasional conflicts.
  • Try to have at least 10 minutes alone with each child daily and let your child choose the activity (within reason). Even a few minutes of your time one-on-one helps that child feel valued. No cell phones or distractions during this precious time.
  • Help kids learn to resolve conflict by discussing the issue when calm, troubleshooting what happened and having strategies to do better the next time
  • Teach your kids to say 3 nice things to each other every day; simple things like, “Good morning!” with a smile counts, as does “Thanks for helping me with…” and “You are nice to be with!”. Remember to do this for your kids as well, and everyone will have a more positive attitude.
  • Take heart that most siblings do become friends as they get older. Learning how to solve conflicts with siblings is very useful for future relationships be they with a coworker, spouse or boss. These important lessons from growing up certainly come in handy later in life.