Keeping Your Kids Healthy Throughout the School Year
By now your kids are probably geared up for school, and everyone is
in the process of getting used to a new schedule (hopefully). The last
thing you need is to have your child wake up one morning with a high
fever or, even worse, that dreaded call from the school nurse telling
you to pick up your ill child ASAP.
Come on! School just
Still, many parents find themselves dealing with a sick child early
into the school year. Think about it: Schools are filled with kids (some
of whom may be sniffling and snotting), and as any mom knows, when one
kid comes down with something…anything … it can and will
spread like wildfire.
it's not uncommon for kids to miss school (and for to you miss work, by
extension) within the first couple of months due to colds, strep
throat, the flu or stomach bugs.
To keep your child healthy throughout the school year–from the beginning to the end–here's what you need to do.
Schedule These Appointments
You may have booked these doctor visits over the summer to get them out of the way (kudos!), but if you didn't, do it now.
- Well-child exam.
One of the easiest ways to know your child is off to a healthy start is
to take him in for a visit with the pediatrician or family doctor.
"Routine physicals will vary based on age, but as a standard, your child
should be examined from head to toe," says Nancie Fitch, D.O., Regional
Medical Director at MedExpress in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The doctor
should check your child's eyes, ears, nose, throat, listen to his heart
beat and breathing, check reflexes, do screenings for vision, hearing
and hernias, and possibly perform blood and urine tests, Dr. Fitch
says. Any needed immunizations will also happen during this visit, so
don't forget to bring the shot record. As feared as they may be,
immunizations protect your child again common childhood diseases and
illnesses. (Plus, getting them done now means you won't get the
"deadline" letter from the school nurse!)
- Sports physical.
Speaking of letters, if your child participates in sports, expect to
provide a doctor-signed note of approval to the school. The sports
physical, performed during the well-child exam or at a visit to a
clinic, is extremely important for children preparing for competition
and practice, says Kevin R. Campbell, M.D., assistant professor of
cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of
Medicine. The exam screens students for cardiovascular abnormalities,
lung problems and hernias, which may make sports unsafe for them, Dr.
- Eye exam.
Although the general checkup included a brief eye exam, it's a good
idea to have a more thorough screening performed by a specialist, as a
child's eye health is critical to her learning experience. "The health
of the eye can affect how the brain processes visual information, which
in turn, can affect a child's ability to focus and digest information,"
says Cal Roberts, M.D., a clinical professor of ophthalmology and the
Chief Medical Officer at Bausch + Lomb. An eye exam can also possibly
detect non-eye-related health issues. (We talked more in depth about children's eye health here.)
- Dental exam.
Your child's oral health can affect her academic life in a number of
ways. Cavities can be painful and may cause difficulty concentrating,
and black or discolored teeth may put kids at risk for teasing or make
them feel self-conscious, says Shehzad Sheikh, DMD, a family dentist at
Dominion Dental Care in Sterling, Virginia. Kids should have a dental
exam every six months. (There's more about your kid's dental health here.)
Keep Up the Good Health
- Specialty appointments.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology,
allergies and asthma account for more than 14 million school day
absences annually. If your child suffers from allergies or asthma, an
appointment at the beginning of the school year to discuss any concerns
or needed medication changes can help prevent or reduce flare-ups and
school absences. Other appointments to consider scheduling (if they're
needed) may include the dermatologist or an ear, nose and throat
- Suds up.
Handwashing is one of the most important parts of preventing illnesses.
Teach your child to wash his hands for at least 20 seconds (have him
sing or hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice) before eating foods or
snacks, after using the restroom, after recess, and after blowing his
nose, coughing or sneezing. For those times when there is no soap and
water available, give him a small bottle of hand sanitizer to keep in
- Feed 'em right.
Children who eat a well-balanced diet are less likely to get sick and
more likely to have quicker recovery times when they do. To ensure your
child is getting the nutrients she needs, follow the USDA's MyPlate
guidelines and have her drink plenty of water. Breakfast is especially
important for students. "After a night of rest the body needs fuel to
get all our systems going," Dr. Fitch says. She recommends kids
jumpstart their day with a meal that consists of protein, carbs and a
fruit. (If you have a picky eater, try these healthy food substitutions that your kid will hardly even notice!)
- Work up a sweat.
As with proper nutrition, exercise helps boost the immune system. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children and teens
get at least one hour of physical activity per day. However, with many
schools reducing recess time (or slashing it altogether), a lot of kids
aren't getting enough exercise. To get your child's heart pumping, make
it a habit of engaging in some type of physical activity–a family bike
ride, a dance-off, a game of volleyball–on most days of the week.
- Get some shut-eye.
During sleep, the body releases hormones that aid growth, build muscles
and repair cells and tissues. So, if your child is short on slumber,
her body won't work to its full potential, meaning it may have a harder
time fighting off infections. The National Sleep Foundation says
children ages five to 12 need 10-11 hours of sleep and teens need 8 ½ – 9
¼ hours of sleep. You can encourage healthy sleep habits by maintaining
a consistent sleep schedule, making cell phones, TVs and other
electronic gadgets off limits an hour or two before bedtime and
establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Prevent lice.
The CDC estimates 6 to 12 million lice infestations occur each year
among children ages 3 to 11 in the U.S. You can reduce your child's
chances of catching these tiny critters by telling her not to share
scarves, hats, combs, brushes, hair bows or other hair accessories.
- Watch their backs. Sure,
backpacks make it easier for kids to tote essentials to and from
school, but Joshua Evans, M.D., a pediatrician at the Children's
Hospital of Michigan, says some kids experience back pain because
they're lugging around an entire locker's worth of books, school
supplies and personal items. To keep your child's back straight, pick a
backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps and show your child the
proper way to wear it–using both straps, with the straps tightened so
that the backpack lies flat against the back. Another way to save your
child's back: lighten the load. "A child's backpack should never weigh
more than 10-20% of her body weight," Dr. Evans says.
- Keep stress in check.
Stress not only affects children psychologically, it can also cause
physical effects, like stomachaches, headaches, changes in eating habits
and problems sleeping. While you can't eliminate all stressors in your
child's life, you can reduce her stress level (and help her manage it
better) by making sure she isn't overscheduled, taking time to talk with
her and listen, encouraging physical activity and modeling healthy ways
to deal with stress. When children have minimal stress, they're more
likely to have a better academic year and better health. (Another way to
be on lookout for this is to know the ten signs that your child may be too busy.)
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This article originally appeared on LearnVest.com