Ask a Doc: Back to School Tips

August 13, 2015


10 Tips for a Successful School Year

Once again the school shopping frenzy has begun and this week our youngest, and last two, are off to college. Watching them leave is “bitter-sweet” for my wife and I but also a time to reflect back on the past years' positive, and sometimes not-so-positive, outcomes. I’ve learned some lessons from all these Septembers as a pediatrician and father of five. I offer this list, my top ten steps for success in school-age parenting, but with full disclosure that, sometimes I failed to follow all of these tips and thus learned the consequences of not doing so myself. That said, I think all of our children, despite my failures, turned out to make us proud.

  1. Sleep:
    Starting class in September is similar to traveling two or three time zones east. Students are used to staying up late and sleeping-in. It seems logical that this new schedule could be improved with a gradual change in the sleep pattern and perhaps starting school bus routes and the opening bell an hour later, especially in high school... Sleep clears the brain of neuron debris and really is the key to learning.
  2. Food:
    The brain requires a steady continuous flow of glucose to perform. Pop tarts and donuts deliver a short burst and then just “fumes” until the next meal. Breakfast is the most important meal and should be a complex carbohydrate meal, perhaps oatmeal with a protein, like yogurt, milk or eggs to sustain a good brain fuel supply.
  3. Team work:
    Success in education happens when parents, teachers and students all work toward the goal as a team most of the time. Education failure is not the fault of the teachers but the failure of this team to work together. Successful students all have parents or grandparents or even older siblings involved in their education.
  4. Problem Solving:
    All students, at one time or another, will have problems. Success in solving those problems is achieved when the cause is really understood, NOT assumed. Don’t just take your child’s version as fact. Often, the school has a version of the adverse event that has important differences and might be more accurate. Plan the fix as a team not as an adversary.
  5. Homework:
    There is always homework, even if it is not assigned. When and how it is accomplished is different for each student. Find what works for them but stick to it and verify that it’s getting done. It is the homework, not the IQ, that seems to separate the top students from the pack. Consider this global economic fact: there are more top students in India than there are all students in America.
  6. Mental Health:
    Turmoil, abuse, violence, drama, alcoholism, drugs or any instability at home will always affect learning at school. Tell the school nurse, counselor or a trusted teacher if any of these are occurring to happen at home. They may not have a solution but can often help by opening a dialogue with a troubled student. That dialogue can be the difference.
  7. Physical Health:
    Sometimes school problems can be caused by a medical problem such as: a hearing loss from chronic ear infections, ADHD, lead toxicity, anemia or another condition. Sometimes a serious problem like Leukemia or Diabetes may have its first subtle sign as a school issue. There are good reasons for a physical exam periodically during the school years or certainly if problems come up during the academic year.
  8. Sports:
    Every student from grade 9 on should be involved in at least one sport, club or extracurricular activity; every student should be involved in at least one. It is really that important.
  9. Hygiene:
    This may sound old-fashioned but students who have poor hygiene, who don’t brush their teeth, wash or groom their hair become outcasts and targets for bullies. It just takes some simple steps (and a caring adult) to avoid that risk point of poor hygiene.

    Finally the most important step to success….
  10. Family Time:
    At least once a day, perhaps for just 20 minutes at the dinner table, there should be no phones, no screens, no TVs. Take the time to be a family and eat together or just talk about the day. Even if things are not going well, or your student didn’t follow through on a task or an expectation, that communication link can never be broken for more than a day. That link is the “life line” for your child in what can be a dangerous, threat filled world. This is that important.

JordanMichaelMichael Jordan, MD, MS-HQSM, chief of Pediatrics of Newark-Wayne Community Hospital is board-certified in Pediatric Medicine. He attended the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University and completed his residency training at the University of Rochester. In addition to his leadership role as chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne, he is the medical director of Rochester Regional Medical Group and is also chair of Rochester General Medical Group’s Quality Committee. He works in the Sodus Rochester General Medical Group Pediatric office. To send questions on children’s health, please email Wendy Fisher, Pediatrics’ Practice Manager at and write “Ask a Doc” in the subject line. To schedule an appointment, call (315) 483-3214.

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