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Archive for August 2011


Eight Tips for Back to School

This time of year we all feel a sudden jolt of stress. We go from summer, with its long care-free days, to waking up early, rushing out the door, keeping up with homework, and juggling multiple activities. The transition is tough. Attending a new school is particularly anxiety provoking for children. Here are some tips to help make these transitions back-to-school a bit easier for all.

1. Look for the warning signs that your child may be stressed. Younger kids show it differently than older kids. Younger kids will be more clingy, tantrum, may have problems falling asleep, and may complain of headaches and stomach aches. Older kids may become quiet, withdrawn, irritable, and more uncooperative.

2. Sit your kids down and acknowledge what’s happening. Tell them this is a tough time for everyone… parents, teachers, and especially kids. Just labeling it – giving it a name – will help.

3. Try to get bedtime to a reasonable hour before they start their first week of school. All too often we want to hold onto every last moment of summer and looser schedules, but it takes a week or more to get sleep routines back in place. Start by putting kids to bed a few minutes earlier each night, 15 minute or half-hour increments work well, so the transition is gradual as you lead up to the first day of school.

4. Exercise and good outdoor activity tends to abruptly stop when kids first enter school. Try to preserve some outdoor time everyday that makes up for being indoors several hours a day. Even a few minutes walking to and from school, or a half-hour playing outdoors in the afternoon, will help kids get natural light and set their biological clocks. Daily exercise also helps reduce stress, and keeps everyone’s mood more positive.

5. If your child is anxious about their first day back, do a “dry run”. Go visit the school and grounds a few times in the week or so leading up to school. Plan something fun afterwards. Just seeing the school under less stressful circumstances can help kids feel much more relaxed.

6. Check in with teachers to make sure your child is getting at least 15 minutes of recess (preferably outdoors) every day. Studies show these 15 minutes pay off. Kids focus better and are better behaved.

7. Ask teachers to give students short breaks between lessons. It really helps kids digest what they have learned, and lowers the stress that builds throughout the day.

8. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Keep your stress level in check. Worry is contagious and kids pick it up easily from us.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Back to School Can Mean ADHD Diagnosis

Back-to-school can mean an ADHD diagnosis for many kids, especially active boys. Diagnoses like these spike a few weeks into school when teachers find kids can’t sit still or pay attention. Sometimes it’s helpful, but many times diagnoses aren’t correct (I estimate 25-30% are incorrect). How can you help your child not accidentally get tagged with an incorrect ADHD diagnosis? Here are some things to consider:

-Don’t rush to evaluate. Wait 4-6 months. Often, behavioral struggles are part of normal ups/down of development.

– Get a second opinion if medication has been recommended. It’s surprising how often a more thorough evaluation (by a qualified child specialist) yields a different result.

– Get more outdoor time/physical activity (before, during, after school). Boys show fewer ADHD symptoms after healthy exercise.

– Demand your child have recess, as many behavior problems result from not having enough physical activity to begin with.

– Ask your school to give kids “mind breaks” which are brief 5-10 minute breaks between long lessons. Kids can read, play a game, sing, dance, take a short walk, and they’ll return to classwork more focused and able to learn more – boys also squirm less and listen better. Studies show it helps.

Why Is This Happening?

– In the fall, boys suddenly transition from outdoors to indoors. Sudden drop in activity is stressful for them.

– Demands are up. There’s more sitting, longer school days, less physical outlets – that frustrates them and goes against grain of a boy’s natural, high drive for healthy activity.

– More demands and stress are being put on children these days – we’re teaching more to tests/standards (e.g., MCAS) and packing the day with this type of tedious learning.

– Doctors are rushed. Kids get diagnosed and medicated often in fast 15-20 minute pediatric visits.

– Making an ADHD diagnosis requires no objective tests – no blood tests or medical exams exist to confirm it – it’s easy to mistake ADHD for a number of other common things (e.g., vision and hearing problems, learning challenges, anxiety, sleep problems, parenting and marital problems, allergies, to name a few)

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.