The end of a relaxing summer and the start back into September routine can be a stressful time for all of us, and likely more so this year due to the pandemic. School is going to look a little different in 2020 and that may be causing some uncertainty and anxiety for many children, not to mention parents. One way to manage these feelings is to try to find some normalcy and get back into a schedule and routine. Here a few things to consider:
1. Sleep—in the summer, we can quickly get out of our usual sleep routine, staying up late and sleeping in more. In the week leading up to the start of school, try to make the usual bedtime a priority and inch closer to the wake-up time that will be required for September. We may sleep less overall in the summer with longer daylight hours, but it’s so key for optimal mental and physical health to get the appropriate hours of sleep. The Canada’s 24 Hour Movement Guidelines recommend children 5 to 13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep and 14 to 17 year olds need 8-10 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times. Lack of sleep can make anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating worse.
2. Activity—ensuring we get the recommended amount of activity each day can set us up for optimal health, both physical and mental. It can also tire us out so we sleep better! In the summer, there may have been more time for family activities like swimming, hiking and biking, but as we head into the fall, work and school priorities may get in the way. This fall, sports may look a little different and the opportunity for children to be active at recess and lunch may also change. Children 5-17 need 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity each day that gets their heart rate elevated. If that’s not going to happen through sports and activities, it needs to happen at home and after school is the best time to do it. Do you have space to set up a small home gym or a basketball hoop? Is there a yoga or dance class that they enjoy doing online? Or can you get out to your local park for a run or a game of catch? Creating an afterschool routine of activity will help to shake off any anxiety or stress that has accumulated through the day.
3. Screen Time—the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of 2 hours of recreational screen time per day, although many families find that restricting recreational screen time Monday-Thursday can allow for a better routine of homework, physical activity and family mealtime.
4. Eating—packing a healthy lunch is a great way to ensure kids have the energy they need to learn and be active at school. Get them involved from the earliest age to help build their food literacy and get their buy-in about what gets packed. Use the Canada’s Food Guide (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/) plate model to pack a balanced lunch with half coming from vegetables and fruit. Prep these the night before to save time in the morning or choose produce that comes ready-to-eat like mini-cucumbers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, apples, pears and oranges. Include a protein source like smoked or baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, hummus or a sandwich made with canned salmon, tuna, cooked chicken, nut or seed butter (depending on the allergen restrictions in your child’s classroom). Be sure to choose whole grain bread or crackers as the fibre and nutrients will provide more lasting energy and overall better health than refined grain products. As a change, try a hot lunch by sending a thermos of leftovers like pasta, curry or stew. Don’t forget a water bottle, as drinking fountains may be closed due to the pandemic.
Then prioritize a family dinner where you can come together and share the positives and negatives from everyone’s day. Talking through the changes can help to alleviate the anxiety that may be building.