For a smooth return to school-year schedules, start now

The school year begins soon, and parents and guardians can start now to help students adjust their sleep and general schedules, and make everyone’s lives easier later.

Coming off summer break and a year of virtual or hybrid learning, it will take about two weeks to successfully transition into new routines, said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Burke, Virginia. “The key point in this is: it cannot happen overnight.”

She advised parents to “start providing some sort of structure during the day.”



Students should get back into the habit of having set times devoted to academics, homework or reading.

“There needs to be scheduled time for play, or, for older kids for socialization; there needs to be designated meal times similar to how it will be during the school day,” she said.

It’s also time to look at what’s happening with bedtime,” she said — advice that also might apply to parents transitioning back to in-person work at the office.

But don’t flip an immediate switch.

“If your kid is staying up till midnight, it’s going to be very hard for them to start at 9 o’clock right away, which is why you slowly bring the bedtime close to 9 o’clock in 30- to 45-minute intervals,” Patton-Smith said.

Talk with your student and explain to them that they have to begin waking up earlier. Then, implement the plan gradually.

“You don’t wake them up at 7 a.m. when they’ve been sleeping till two. We slowly start waking them up about an hour earlier each day to get them ready for that 7 to 8 a.m. start time,” Patton-Smith said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations for how much sleep is needed for children of various ages. You can find that online.

August 4, 2021 | Back to school adjustments (Dr. Asha Patton-Smith with WTOP's Kristi King)

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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