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3 Ways Doctors Help Their Own Kids Deal With Back-to-School Stress

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The kids are back in the classroom — and dealing with a host of minor ills, from back-to-school stress to stomachaches to anxiety and more. So we asked top doctors how they treat their own children’s seasonal symptoms — naturally. Here's what they said.

1. To calm back-to-school nerves... play pretend.

“One year my daughter was panicking in the weeks leading up to school, saying she wasn’t going to get out of the car on the first day,” says Cora Collette Breuner, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a mother of three. “She was nervous about not knowing anybody in her class or her teacher.” 

To ease her fears, Dr. Breuner turned to role-play, pretending to be a teacher and having her daughter introduce herself. “This technique, called ‘exposure and response prevention,’ is proven to help overcome anxiety,” she says. “I start by tackling the least scary scenario first, then gradually and gently expose her to more stressful scenarios, like finding her desk, making new friends and getting dropped off in the morning,” explains Breuner. “By the time we finished, my daughter was proud of herself and excited to start school.”

2. To end constipation... try these snacks. 

“This time of year, my kids struggle with constipation: They’re dealing with schedule changes, eating more processed snacks and avoiding using the bathroom at school,” says mother-of-three Danine Fruge, MD, associate medical director at Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami. 

Her easy Rx? Good old-fashioned prunes. “I give them 3 to 5 small, whole, pitless prunes once a day,” she says. The fruit contains sorbitol, a natural laxative, plus plenty of fiber to keep food moving through the GI tract. “The kids’ digestion usually returns to normal that same day,” says Dr. Fruge. For kids who don’t like the taste of prunes, she says eating fiber-rich baby carrots, berries, and apple slices can also help.

3. To outsmart sleep struggles... a bedtime tweak.

“In the first days of school, children often get ‘overtired,’ where they’re a mile past tuckered out but too revved up to sleep,” says Jack Maypole, MD, director of pediatrics at the South End Community Health Center in Boston. 

His surefire remedy? A routine his kids named “Snugs.” “Snugs is just having a quiet, mindful chat before bed,” says the father of three. “We also do progressive relaxation: They tense a specific body part, then relax it, moving from head to toe.” According to Dr. Maypole, “It helps quiet wandering thoughts and promotes relaxation, which is conducive to sleep."

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