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'Expecting students will be anxious' | Tips to help kids get back into school routine after virtual learning

Doctors say the stress of the pandemic has led to bouts of insomnia.

WASHINGTON — Families across our region are gearing up to send their children back to school in the next few weeks. But after more than a year of virtual learning, then summer break, how do you get your child back into a routine? 

WUSA9 brought that question to Brittany Wagner-Friel, principal at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in D.C. and Dr. Danny Lewin, the Associate Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Hospital.

Wagner-Friel said outdoor play is more important than ever and getting kids together in real life will help them transition back to the classroom. 

“Children have been more isolated the past year and a half,” Wagner-Friel said. "So really finding opportunities between now and the start of school for them to interact with peers.”

The principal also suggested parents talk to their children about their fears or concerns going into the new school year.  

“I think we're expecting a range, right?" she said. "Like I am expecting students to be excited to return. And then I'm also expecting students will be anxious or scared, or there might be some more tears.”

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Pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Lewin said the insecurity that plagued parents during the pandemic may have also infiltrated the minds of their children, causing sleep troubles.

“This has been such a disruptive period for everyone and for so many, there's been so much loss and financial insecurity," Lewin said. "All of that burden has a negative impact on sleep."

Lewin said stress has led to bouts of insomnia throughout the pandemic. Allowing children to express themselves and their concerns will help lead to better bedtime, he said. 

“A worry time where there's a period where a child journals, pull that away from bedtime," Lewin suggests. "Do it in the late afternoon, early evening or talk to them about what they've journaled about to really help them download a little bit as they go through this very unusual transition back to school."

Here are a few other tips from the experts to implement one week before school starts:

  • Scale-up bedtimes and wake-up times
  • Establish a calming bedtime routine
  • Cut caffeine 12 hours before bed
  • Shut off all screens before bed

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