Back to School
Back-to-school season comes with mixed emotions. This means your children’s schedule-free, relaxing summer days have come to a close, but school doors are open bringing much anticipation and excitement for a new school year.
It also ushers in a little anxiety for us as parents—even for the most experienced. The what-ifs that plague us when we aren’t there for an immediate assist to help our kiddos when they need it. Giving them a quick dust off, clothing adjustment, hug and wink of reassurance, before sending them back on the road of life. Let’s face it, we all worry!
One key to a less stressful and safer academic year is setting up or reviewing your family’s back to school safety plan. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s challenging to keep our kids safe and empower them to be their own people as well. I believe if we prepare our children with tools for making good decisions, then they’ll make good, safer choices when we aren’t there to protect them.
So as mom, I’d thought I’d share with you some of my family’s safe behavior guidelines. These are a great launching point to have an open discussion about safety with your children. Encourage your kids to include some of their own thoughts and concerns too. They’ll be more inclined to take ownership of their safety if they are included. And they might bring some ideas to the table that you hadn’t thought of.
1. Before they even head out the door…
Be sure your children know their full name, home phone number and address, your cell or work phone number, and the number of another trusted adult. I like to write my contact information inside their backpacks or one of their notebooks for their easy reference.
2. Backpacks—weighty stuff to consider.
When selecting a backpack, make sure it is ergonomically designed for kids. Ensure that it’s never wider or longer than your child’s torso, hanging no more than 4 inches below their waist. Look for reflective material and padded back and shoulder straps. Consider rolling backpacks to lighten their load, if they are a better choice for your child. Make sure backpacks with wheels are acceptable at your child’s school.
Tune in to your instincts if you have concerns about the extra-weight might being too much for your child’s still-growing body. Hefty backpacks can cause back and shoulder pain, and poor posture. In fact, the concern is so widespread it has the attention of lawmakers in some states, setting legislation requiring school districts to lighten the load for students.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says nearly 7,000 children are injured every year due to the heavy load of textbooks in their packs. Sadly, it’s common to see children carrying as much as a quarter of their body weight. The American Chiropractic Association recommends backpacks weigh no more than 10 percent of a child’s weight.
Encourage them to use both straps when carrying their backpack. The ‘one strap carry’ favored among the older kids, causes the weight of the backpack to shift to one side, creating muscle strain and pain, and posture problems.
Make the time to go through your child’s backpack throughout the school year, even if it’s just for a good cleaning to rid it of tag-along germs from school. Help them to determine what is absolutely necessary to carry, what can be left in their school desk or locker. If it’s not essential, leave it at home.
3. Staying connected the safe way.
With more and more children and teenagers owning electronic devices, they need to be aware of their safety as pedestrians. A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study from 2011 reported that 1,152 people of all ages were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained while walking and using a cell phone or other electronic device.
According to statistics from Safe Kids Worldwide from their “Heads Up, Phone Down.” initiative, sadly, 40 children are hit by cars every day in the United States.
So teach and remind your children often to focus on safety when walking to and from school, around school buses and cars in any setting when traveling on foot. A few guidelines to give your children include:
- Don’t walk, talk, and text. Stop, then step out of the way of others, such as the side of the sidewalk or walkway.
- Do not walk with headphones or earbuds on or in. They won’t be able to hear honking horns, emergency sirens, or any traffic cues that could keep them safe.
- Don’t cross or walk in the street while using an electronic device.
- Be aware of their surroundings at all time, especially in congested areas.
4. Getting to school safely.
Teach your children, whether biking, walking, or riding the bus to school, to obey all traffic signals, signs, and to listen to crossing guards, safety patrols, and their bus driver.
Make sure your children wear brightly colored clothing to make them more visible to motorists. If riding a bike to school, they should always wear a helmet. Make sure they know the rules of the road, how to use crosswalks, to ride on the right-side of the road, in the same direction as traffic, to use appropriate hand signals, respect traffic lights, and stop signs.
Crosswalks do not always guarantee their safety, so teach them to look both ways for oncoming traffic before crossing the street. Walk on sidewalks when they are available.
Be sure your child walks to and from school with a sibling, friend, or neighbor, never alone. Check out Nextdoor to see if other parents in the area are also looking for a walking buddy for their child. Remind them not to talk to or accept ride from strangers. There’s increased safety when children walk together in groups.
Set a check-in time for them to call you when they get home from school.
5. The wheels on the bus…
If riding the school bus, remind your kids to always stay with a group while waiting at the bus stop. Teach them to wait on the curb and for the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching it. They shouldn’t play around the bus or behind it. If they can’t see the bus driver, the driver probably can’t see them. Once on board, they should not move around on the bus while it is in motion.
6. Be present.
This one might be the hardest to pull off, especially for single-parent families who can’t be there as often as they would like. When you are with your children, watch for changes in your children’s stress levels, mood, eating or sleeping habits, particularly in the first month of school. Changes in behavior may signal that something is wrong. So keep those lines of communication open. You’ll be more apt to pick up on any issues they may have from adjusting to a new school, teacher, classroom, schedule, or changes in friendships. You’ll have a better gauge of when you need to encourage your child to address problems on their own, or if you need to look more in-depth, and get engaged to remedy any continuing concerns.
Ask your child open-ended questions. Routinely ask your child questions about their day, make it part of your after-school routine. Try asking questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no. If you have specific concerns or you’re getting zero information from your child, bring it up with their teacher. The teacher can provide valuable insight and share what he or she is seeing in the classroom.
Most importantly, teach your child it’s OK to talk to you or their teacher about their needs or worries. You can do that by taking time to listen carefully to whatever they have to say. Carve out a special time for each child to talk to you. Maybe it’s at bedtime, or after you pick them up from the sitter or school. Maybe during dinner works best for you. Make it a routine, and your child will too.
Be familiar with how your children’s school handles emergencies. Educate yourself on procedures and notifications regarding school lock downs, lock outs, the differences, and other emergency procedures. Let your child know who is listed on their emergency contact form, in the event you can’t pick them up immediately.
Choose a password that only you and your child know so that if pickup plans change and the backup person is unavailable, they can still go with whomever you’ve tapped to pick your child up. You can let that person know the password if it’s someone your child wouldn’t typically go with.
Raising Kids Isn’t for the Faint of Heart
While we can’t always be there to be sure our children are well-cared for and protected, we can empower them to be confident and conscious of their safety. Being better prepared and having those important conversations with our kids reassures them and calms our own parental back-to-school jitters.
The school year is a busy one—you aren’t going to be able to do it all. So give yourself grace, stay tuned-in to your children, be involved where and when you can, and focus on quality rather than quantity.
From my family to yours—we wish you a fun, safe, and rewarding school year!