Battling “August Angst” and the “Back to School” Brain Drain

Newswise — Come August, many kids get bored and even more parents get frustrated. Summertime signals freedom for most kids, but too much of a good thing can create problems once school starts.

Mary Muscari, associate professor in the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University and the author of Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood, offers a few simple ways you can help your kids stay sharp while still keeping things fun – and affordable.

Talk politics Talk about local politics. What type of government do you have? Encourage your children to search the web to find out. Do you have a mayor? A city council? Or are you in a rural area with town supervisors? Have them check out They can read the latest news or ask a question on the interactive page. Make plans for them to run for class office. Help them choose an appropriate position and then let them develop a campaign strategy. Bring in their friends for an “Elect Jane/John for Class President” party, and encourage your child to give their first campaign speech. Trade TV for books Reading expands skills, which allows children to begin the school year with a better grasp of language and the world around them. It also enables them to discover the joy of reading. And, the more children like to read, the more they will read. When summer comes, they don’t have to dive into textbooks; they can read whatever interests them – novels, newspapers, magazines or comic books. Just remember to balance sedentary time – a.k.a. reading - with active time – a.k.a. play. Make the library or bookstore a favorite hangout by scheduling trips around events, such as book signings, story-time, writing groups, concerts and workshops. Bring your child’s friends along, challenge everyone to a read-off, and offer prizes to those kids who read the most books before school starts. Brain-stimulating activities promote learning and help ward off the familiar “I’m bored” whines.

Rest Up Make sure your children get enough sleep. No matter what the season, school-age kids and teens need an average of nine hours’ sleep per night. Summer activities wreak havoc on sleep patterns. The sleep problems that crop up can cause crankiness, learning difficulties and accidents, and can even make some children more prone to depression. Better sleep means happier kids. Indulge your child with later bedtimes balanced with later wake-ups, but stick to a regular schedule to avoid disrupting sleep patterns. Sticking to a vacation sleep schedule helps ease your kids into the school-time sleep schedule, especially if you start at least a week before.

Young children have an easier time transitioning their sleep back in the fall; once puberty strikes, the ease of this shift comes to an abrupt halt. Pubertal changes in the sleep hormone melatonin encourage later sleep and wake-up times by shifting the circadian rhythm. That’s why, according to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s tough to get your teen up in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep. To help your child get more ZZZs, make sure he or she avoids bright light at night (including computers and TVs), and brighten the morning wake-up with plenty of sunlight. Eat Right Watch your kids’ waistlines! New National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data shows that the prevalence of obesity and overweight among children and adolescents has not changed significantly between 2003 and 2006. This news is encouraging, but we can’t allow this new data to make us complacent. Rates have hit a plateau, but they’re still too high. Summer picnics and barbecues can be as fattening as they are fun. Create tasty meals and snacks that can easily become fall favorites. Hold the mayo and try avocado in your tuna or chicken salad, or try switching to flavored mustards. Keep fruit salads in your refrigerator; go for berries and melon now, then apples with walnuts once school starts. Pasta works anytime. Cold pasta salads are always ready, and older kids can quickly heat up spaghetti with sauce. Nonstick panini makers cook up great grilled cheese sandwiches and pocket pizzas without the need for greasing pans with added fat. Trade the candy dish for a bowl filled with yogurt-covered raisins and nuts. But, what’s summer without watermelon and ice cream? They just aren’t the same come September, so allow some treats when the temperature soars. Have those family dinners - just keep them simple so you can spend less time in the kitchen. Order healthy take-out, or better yet, make it a true family meal by having everyone help with the planning, cooking, and clean up, as well as the eating. You’ll get so good at it that you’ll be able to rev up family mealtime all year round! Summertime play Most parents don’t have the luxury of extending summer vacations, but you can still make time for your kids as the days get longer. Take day trips, go to the movies, walk around the neighborhood, take a bike tour, or simply relax at home. Computer game play is okay, but keep it to a minimum, even though there’s no homework. Instead, get your child out of the house. Active play combats obesity, stimulates thinking, aids in a good night’s sleep, and is just plain fun. Your child needs to play with friends to improve his or her relational and problem-solving skills. Summer is the perfect time to catch up on play, especially since many schools have decreased recess time or eliminated it altogether. Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So let your child make the most of the lazy, hazy days of summer. Let him or her get dirty sliding into home plate, digging in the garden, or building castles in the sand. Once summer slips away, your children - and you - can ease into the school year because you’ve all maintained a happy and healthy schedule during summer break. Be upbeat about the change – your enthusiasm will help make the shift back to school easier. About Mary Muscari:
 Mary Muscari is an expert in child health and mental health with more than 30 years of experience working with children and teens. She has written or coauthored more than 100 publications, including Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood