You've got the pens, the notebooks, and a few fresh sets of clothes. But what have you done to look after your children's health as they head off to school? Follow this checklist and discover the problems and solutions that impact the health of your star students, including disease protection, bullying, and back-to-school separation anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many children at home with their families instead of at school. And as they return to school, many of them are required to wear protective face masks for long periods. They will have to adjust to new routines. The CDC notes that this adds extra stress. Separation anxiety may be more common. Masks make some children feel uncertain and uneasy, because it is difficult to read facial emotions. Children may also worry about infection now that they are around people from other families more often.
The CDC offers these tips to make the return to school smoother for children during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Connect with other parents and teachers to discuss transition strategies
- Plan out the best way to say goodbye to your kids. It's often best to keep it short.
- Do your best to show calm and reassurance, using a calm voice and relaxed face as you talk to them about school.
- If they ask about infection, assure them that you would not leave them if you did not feel it was safe.
- Don't forget to take care of yourself during stressful times. The better you care for yourself, the better you will be equipped to care for the needs of your children.
If you have noticed your child acting out, or increased behavioral problems, know that this has been more common for many children during the pandemic according to the CDC. Children are adapting to isolation, fear, stress, and other powerful emotions along with their parents and siblings. Many parents are noticing developmental, behavioral, and emotional problems in their children for the first time, while other parents who already noticed such issues may witness their children struggling more than others. The CDC offers advice for these parents:
- Focus on routine. Develop daily, predictable routines that include set times for healthy meals, nighttime sleep and naps as needed.
- If your child is five or under, watch out for important developmental milestones. Ask your pediatrician for guidance about what to expect, and let them know if you are concerned.
- If your child has had persistent or severe anxiety or behavior problems, tell a healthcare professional and find support.
- Some children will present special needs, including learning disabilities, when they enter the classroom. If you believe your child needs special learning accommodations, ask your school to evaluate your child.
- If your child has been evaluated with a disability, ask for a review of his or her individualized education program (IEP).
Little changes can make a big difference over time. Changing the way you pack your kids' lunches can make kids healthier over the long term. Plus, you're helping them appreciate what healthy food tastes like. Try filling their lunchboxes with colorful fruits and vegetables. Grapes, apples, mangoes, berries, and thin slices of red bell peppers and carrots are often popular, or mix in a few of your kid's favorites. Switch juices and sodas for water. And consider substituting white bread with whole grains to add more fiber to their diets.
Sometimes the long days of summer throw sleep routines out of whack. Your kids will be more alert and focused in class if you start to get them ready for their school schedule ahead of time. School-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep every night. Teens need between nine and 10 hours. For good sleep hygiene, get kids accustomed to the same bedtime every night. Also, try removing screen devices from their rooms at night, like cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs, and other gadgets.
Polio was once one of the most dreaded childhood diseases in the United States, causing paralysis and even death. In 1955 a vaccine was created and widely implemented. Today, polio has been nearly wiped out worldwide.
Vaccinations save children from unnecessary pain, illness, and death. That's why all 50 states require school-aged children to be immunized against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and chickenpox. Be sure your child's immunizations are up-to-date for their safety, and for the safety of others.
Every year, kids in school are at risk of contracting the flu virus, which interferes with learning and in certain cases can be deadly. To reduce the risk for your children and their classmates, make sure to get them immunized. Everyone above 6 months old should be vaccinated every year to control the spread of flu, according to the CDC. Ideally, get your family vaccinated before October, the start of the flu season.
Kids need at least an hour a day to exercise. Making sure they get enough exercise is a matter of balancing their priorities. For instance, setting limits on TV-watching, video game time, and similar low-energy activities can give kids the encouragement they need to pick up a ball or a jump rope or go out and explore their surroundings. Doing so helps kids maintain a healthy weight, sleep better, and feel less stressed out.
As the school year starts, remember to teach your children about walking and bicycling safely. These statistics show how important it is to teach schoolchildren to stay safe:
- In 2014, car crashes in the U.S. killed 4,884 pedestrians and 726 bicyclists and injured many more.
- In 2013, one in five U.S. children under the age of 14 killed in an auto crash was a pedestrian.
- Children ages 5-14 are the most likely pedestrians to be injured in car crashes.
Most experts say that carrying any more than 10-15 percent of a child's body weight in backpacks can cause problems. Heavy backpacks can cause significant pain in children's backs, necks, and shoulders. Girls are particularly prone to back pain from overburdened backpacks. Lightweight backpacks with waist belts and padded backs can help. Using both shoulder straps is also a good idea. Finally, finding ways to reduce the extra weight like using lockers more frequently between classes can help prevent unnecessary pain.
Now that most parents work, getting a call from the school nurse can be a major disruption. Caring for your child when they come down with a flu or other illness takes preparation when you're away from home. Your backup plan can include a trusted family member or family friend who can care for your child for the day, or bring them to a babysitter or child care facility flexible enough to take sick kids. Or you could start a parent network at your school for support during challenging situations like this.
When your child needs medication, the law may prevent schools from administering it without your written consent and a note from a doctor. School staff is not allowed to administer medications as needed, so you need to give them specific instructions on how to medicate your child. Also consider asking your pharmacist to put your child's medication into two labeled bottles - one for use at home, the other to be kept at school. And remember that when it comes to transporting medication, make sure adults are in charge until your child is mature and responsible enough to handle the job.
Don't let colds and other infectious diseases stand in the way of your child's success. Teach your kids the basics of cold prevention. Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, sneeze into tissues or sleeves, and throw tissues away after using them. Finding ways to lower your kids' stress can help them keep colds at bay, too.
The new school year can also bring new allergy concerns. Common classroom allergy triggers include mold, dust mites, and chalk dust. Food allergies present another challenge. Try talking with teachers, coaches, and other school staff about your child's allergy needs. If your child has hay fever, pay attention to local pollen counts and plan accordingly with allergy-fighting medicine. If your child has a life-threatening food allergy, make sure school staff know how to administer auto-injectable epinephrine.
It's easy to forget that for most students in the U.S., the beginning of the school year is the hottest time of the year. One of the most important ways to protect your child's health in the heat is to be sure they're staying hydrated. For kids aged 4-8, about two quarts of water should be enough on a hot day. The amount increases for each age group, leveling out as teenagers at about 3.5 quarts for boys and 2.4 quarts for girls each day.
It's a good idea for kids to have a yearly checkup to keep up with their growth progress and other health concerns. From birth until early adulthood, doctors recommend that children be seen annually to check on their progress. Let the first day of school be a reminder each year that the annual checkup is an important time to assure your child's health and wellness.
As children head to school, some of them will begin to notice trouble with their vision. Nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and many other vision problems may create barriers to learning. Yet young children often do not tell their parents about their vision problems or even recognize that they have problems with their sight. A yearly eye exam can help. Also, watch for signs of vision problems like squinting, rubbing eyes, sitting too close to the television, frequently losing their place while reading, closing one eye to see better, and frequent headaches.
Bullying is a complicated social problem in our schools. Bullies have the potential to hurt children physically, socially, and emotionally. It can lead to academic problems, later substance abuse, and even death in extreme cases. However, there are many ways to fight bullying at school. Teach your children to tell you and other trusted adults if they are being harassed or see harassment of others, and to be kind to bullied kids. Teach them to speak up for themselves by telling the bully clearly to stop, or, if that seems unsafe, to walk away and stay away. Experts do not recommend fighting back.
It's common for both parents and children to feel anxious over being apart as the school year starts. But there are ways to relieve this separation anxiety. Try practicing separation ahead of time by leaving kids with caregivers for short periods. Developing a simple goodbye ritual can help reassure children. Make goodbyes short and sweet—don't stall! And realize that your own trouble saying goodbye may feed into your kid's anxiety. Forging a good relationship with the teacher can help you and your child both feel better about saying goodbye for the day.
Little eyes are watching. By taking steps to secure your child's health at school, you are leading by example. Children learn how to take better care of themselves when you take them to get annual checkups, teach them how to face bullying, make preparations to manage their allergies, and follow the other steps listed here. What's more, those lessons can last a lifetime, setting them on the right track to become and remain healthy adults.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Getty Images - VIM
- Getty Images - VIM
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- Johns Hopkins: "Back-to-school Health: 4 Tips for Parents." (PDF)
- CDC: "Children's Mental Health: Helping Children Transition Back to School." Jul. 16, 2021.
- CDC: "Children's Mental Health: Helping Children Transition Back to School." Jul. 16, 2021.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: "Back to School With Allergies and Asthma"
- Archives of Disease in Childhood: "School Children’s Backpacks, Back Pain and Back Pathologies"
- CDC: "Are You Getting Enough Sleep?", "For Parents: Vaccines for Your Children", "Polio Disease – Questions and Answers", "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine", "Pedestrian Safety"
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "How Does Bullying Affect Health & Well-Being?"
- HealthyChildren.org: "Administering Medications at Child Care or School"
- KidsHealth.org: "Backpack Safety"
- Kids.gov: "How to Make Healthy School Lunches for Your Children"
- National Institute of Health Medline Plus: "Back to School Health Tips: Exercise and Sleep"
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: "Traffic Safety Facts 2014 Data"
- NPR: "Water Break: Is Your Child Drinking Enough Fluids This Summer?"
- NYC Health + Hospitals: "HHC Offers 10 Health Tips to Get Kids Ready for School"
- PBS Parents: "Separation Anxiety: Letting Your Child Go"
- StopBullying.gov: "What You Can Do"
- VSP: "How to Tell if Your Child Needs Glasses"