Back to School Tips

Written by: Adapted from the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Backpack Safety

Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles.

However backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. Share these guidelines to help your family use backpacks safely.

Choosing the right backpack. Look for the following:

· Wide, padded shoulder straps - Narrow straps can dig into shoulders. This can cause pain and restrict circulation.
· Padded back - A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.

To prevent injury when using a backpack, do the following:

· Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's body weight.
· Always use both shoulder straps. Slingling a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder may increase curvature of the spine.
· Organise the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the centre of the back.
· Use a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried upstairs. They may be difficult to roll in snow.

Parents also can help in the following ways:

· Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack.
· Consider buying a second set of textbooks for your student to keep at home.
· Do not ignore any back pain in child or teenager. Ask your paediatrician for advice.
Starting a new school

· Your child may need some extra support if he is starting a new school. Talk with your child about his feelings, both his excitement and his concerns about the new school.
· Visit the school with your child in advance of the first day. Teachers and staff are usually at school a few days before the children start. Peek into your child's classroom, and if possible, meet the teacher and principal.
· Try to have your child meet a classmate before the first day so they can get acquainted and play together, and so your child will have a friendly face to look for when school begins.
· Don't build up unrealistic expectations about how wonderful the new school will be, but convey a general sense of optimism about how things will go for your child at the new school.
Making the first day easier

· Remind your child that she is not the only student who is a bit uneasy about the first day of -school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
· Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun. She'll see old friends and meet new friends. Refresh her memory about previous years, when she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because she had a good time.
· Give your child some strategies for coping with bullies. He should not give in to a bully's demands, but should simply walk away or tell the bully to stop. If you have to, talk with the teacher about a persistent bully.
· Find another child in the neighbourhood with whom your youngster can walk to school or ride with on the bus. If your child is older, have him offer to walk with or wait at the bus stop with a new or younger child.
· If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up on the first day.

School avoidance

· Sometimes when an adolescent loses interest in school, the signs and symptoms of this apathy may go beyond a poor report card. He might have severe anxiety attacks whenever he approaches school. He may complain of stomach pains, backaches, chest pain, and fatigue.
· The physical symptoms, although real, are occurring in response to psychological distress. Some of the factors that contribute to this school avoidance may be familiar to you by now--from an intimidating bully at school to a problem with a teacher, from relationships with parents and difficulties at home (marital strife) to stress about entering a new school environment (starting junior high or high school).
· Also, keep in mind that whether your youngster is concerned about violence or difficulties with a teacher, you may not be able to completely prevent him from experiencing pain in such a situation. But you might be able to help him see and choose alternatives that can ease his anxiety or make the problem less stressful.
· One more point about school violence: if your teenager is the aggressor in such situations, you need to intervene immediately. Teach your youngster, through your words and actions, that violence is never an acceptable form of behaviour.

School bus safety

· Wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
· Do not move around on the bus.
· Check to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing.
· Make sure to always remain in clear view of the bus driver.

Homework tips

· Provide a positive homework atmosphere for your child that is free of clutter and distractions, including television.
· Show your child you are interested in her work. Re-explain assignments if necessary, and check to see that homework is completed.
· Having trouble fitting homework into your child's schedule? You may need to cut back on his activities, or see that after-school care includes supervised homework time.
· If your child is struggling with a particular subject, and you aren't able to help her yourself, a tutor can be a good solution. Talk it over with your child's teacher first.

Before and after school child care

· During middle childhood, youngsters need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and watch over them after school until you return home from work.
· Children approaching adolescence (the eleven-and twelve-year-olds) should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age.
· Although being physically present is the best way to supervise a child, sometimes that is not possible. If alternative adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance. Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbor or with a parent by telephone.
· When evaluating child-care options, determine whether other family members can handle these responsibilities. For example, does a grandparent or other relative live nearby, and is he or she available and willing to help? Is there a responsible teenager-perhaps an older sibling-who can supervise your child for a couple of hours in the afternoon until you arrive home?
· If you choose a commercial after-school program, inquire about the training of the staff. There should be a high child-to-staff ratio, and the rooms and the playground should be safe.

TV tips

· Set limits on the amount of TV your child watches. Be firm. Limit children's TV viewing to an hour or two daily. Before children watch television, they should do their homework and chores, but TV should not be used as a reward. Helping children find things to do instead of watching TV, such as sports, hobbies, or family activities, can make setting limits easier.
· Help your child plan TV viewing in advance. Choose programs from TV listings at the beginning of each week. Keep copies of the family viewing schedule where everyone can see them (by the TV, in her bedroom, or on the refrigerator) as reminders.
· Know what television shows your child watches. Watch TV with your child. When programs show sex, alcohol or drug abuse, or violence, talk about what you see. Help your child understand what he is watching. This is a good time to reinforce your own family values.
· Do not permit TV watching during dinner. Dinner is often the only time that families are able to be together during the day. If the TV set is on at the same time, it will get in the way of talking to each other.
· Do not allow your child to have a TV set in his bedroom. Not only will he tend to watch more TV, but he will probably stay in his room away from other family members. When a child watches TV in his own bedroom, it is harder for parents to guide his programme choices. He may get less sleep, causing him to be tired at school the next day.
· Set an example of behaviour you wish to instil. If you want your child to read more that is what you should do. If you would like him to go outdoors for physical activity, make it a part of an enjoyable family exercise program.
· If TV causes arguments or fights, simply unplug it for a while. Children can be creative when TV is not taking up all their time and attention.