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Back-to-School Preparation

What You Need to Know

Girl wearing a backback
  • Eating well at school can be difficult—sit down with your children and discuss the menu to help them make smart choices.
  • Using digital devices late at night can severely hinder the ability to sleep, leading to poor results in school. Shut off devices a few hours before bedtime.
  • Bullying now extends beyond the playground and classroom. Cyberbulling is serious and can have a drastic effect on your child's emotions.
  • Encourage your children to nurture their self-esteem. Teach them to walk away from bullies and find a teacher or other adult they trust. 

Patient Resources

Ask the Experts

How can I make sure my child eats healthy at school?

Girl holding a food tray

“Bad food choices in grade school can escalate into unhealthy eating habits by middle and high school that are hard to break,” says Tiffani Hays, a pediatric nutritionist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

“Eating a school lunch will not be anyone’s demise, but if you eat pizza at school every day and then stop by McDonald’s after soccer practice, the cumulative long-term effects could be pretty serious. It’s all about learning to balance,” she says. Here are a few tips from Hays to help your children make healthy selections in the cafeteria:

  • Discuss the lunch menu with your children and help them make smart choices. If children buy lunch, they should purchase and eat only one serving of any item.
  • Packing a healthy lunch is always a good idea. Teach your children to look for foods with less sodium and to watch their sugar intake—and decrease it if necessary.
  • Allow limited purchases at the cafeteria, especially for younger children. Some schools don’t control how much children spend on meal credit cards. Don’t give kids extra money to spend beyond the daily meal credit.
  • Encourage your children to eat three meals a day and plan an afternoon snack. Skipping breakfast and/or lunch will only make them famished and send them foraging in the pantry after school.

Learn more about how you can help your child make smart food choices in the Johns Hopkins Health Library.

What can I do to help my child get enough sleep?

Teenage boy playing video games

More and more children are losing sleep because of the overuse of digital devices like cellphones, computers and other tech toys. The consequences include being late for school, missing school and sleeping in school, as well as difficulty with memory, attention and decision-making, all of which spell substandard academic performance and grades, says Laura Sterni, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center Pediatric Sleep Clinic. Here are a few points to reinforce when trying to establish a healthy sleep schedule with your children:

  • Turn off the cellphone, computer and TV one hour—or, ideally, two hours—before bedtime. The light—particularly the blue light—that comes from computer screens and digital devices and the stimulating interactivity involved in using them will otherwise keep their brains active long after they should be resting.
  • Encourage your children to read a book or listen to quiet music as they wind down for the day. Avoid exercise, a warm bath or a hot shower shortly before bedtime.
  • Children should not go to bed hungry. A light snack before bed can be beneficial, but avoid heavy meals or snacks within one to two hours of bedtime, as well as food or drink that has caffeine, which can disrupt sleep. 
  • Most healthy children need between eight to 10 hours of sleep each night.

Learn how you can help your child establish healthy sleep habits in the Johns Hopkins Health Library.

How should we handle bullying?

Girl at desk with laptop and phone

Bullying has been going on for a long time and has unfortunately reached an epidemic level in schools. It can lead to low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades and even suicidal thoughts for its young victims. Children’s Center mental health counselor Jami Margolis offers some tips for parents of children who are bullied or are bullies themselves:

  • Bullying usually becomes more noticeable in November and December, after kids have settled into their cliques.
  • Children feel deflated and demoralized when they’re being bullied. Paying close attention to your children’s behavior can make all the difference.
  • Social media exacerbates an issue that was once found only in the school yard. Bullying over social media takes a private problem and makes it very public. Cyberbullying is a well-known issue that often leads to depression and, occasionally, suicide attempts. 
  • If your child is being bullied, he or she needs to be able to talk about those experiences and feel safe—and he or she needs your support.

Advancements in Related Research

Researchers Identify Brain Differences Linked to Insomnia

Johns Hopkins researchers report that people with chronic insomnia show more plasticity and activity than good sleepers in the part of the brain that controls movement. "Insomnia is not a nighttime disorder; it's a 24-hour brain condition," says study leader Rachel Salas.

Researchers Pinpoint Protein Crucial for Development of Biological Rhythms in Mice

By identifying a protein essential to the formation of the brain region in mice that coordinates sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms, researchers take an important step toward understanding how to better manage the disruptive effects of sleep disorders.

Four Lifestyle Changes to Protect Your Heart

Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, abstaining from smoking and eating a Mediterranean-style diet protect against heart disease and a number of other health issues, according to a large, multi-center study led by Johns Hopkins researchers.

The Johns Hopkins Children's Center

Whatever your child needs, the Johns Hopkins Children's Center offers one of the most comprehensive pediatric medical programs in the country. Our specialists are committed to provide the highest quality of care possible.

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