As you get your kids ready to go back to school, your to-do list starts to grow.
As important as it is to make sure children are academically prepared for the school year, it is equally important to make sure they are healthy. From elementary school to college, here are some things you need to know to keep your children healthy through the school year.
Immunizations are one of the most crucial factors in preventing the spread of illness. For middle school children, it’s important to make sure their tetanus and meningitis immunizations are up-to-date. The tetanus booster (Tdap) provides protection against pertussis, or whooping cough. Rising college students will most likely need a booster meningitis vaccine.
“With young adults leaving for college, this is the perfect time to make sure they are up to date on all of their immunizations,” said Dr. Alexander Janovski of Novant Health Ballantyne Pediatrics in Charlotte, North Carolina. “You want to make sure your children are prepared and healthy when they leave home.”
Even though it is not required by schools, Janovski also recommends starting the HPV vaccine for boys and girls between ages 11 and 12.
“It is a beneficial vaccine that prevents certain types of cancers,” Janovski said.
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And, of course, there's the COVID vaccine to consider. The vaccine is safe for childen, higly recommended and considerably reduces chances of serious illness and hospitalization.
Also, in the fall, don’t forget about the flu shot – the best way to prevent the flu from spreading. In addition to immunizations, hand-washing and hand sanitizer can significantly help reduce the spread of germs. Make sure school policy permits your child to carry his or her own bottle of personal hand sanitizer.
Physicals are not just for sports
Thinking about skipping your child's annual checkup because she got a sports physical? Not a good idea — it can have serious consequences.
“The sports physical is just one component of the yearly well checkup,” said Dr. Ankita Patel of Novant Health Meadowlark Pediatrics in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “We’re also making sure they’re up to date on their vaccines. We’re checking their hearing and vision. We’re watching how they’re growing to make sure they’re gaining weight appropriately. We’re checking for chronic diseases and managing food allergies, making sure their medications are up to date, doing blood work on certain visits. We’re also screening for anxiety and depression, which is really important right now with coronavirus and how kids are handling it.”
The new school year is a good time to evaluate the lunches and snacks you send with your child to school. Some healthy options include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk dairy products, as well as foods low in sodium and fat.
Encourage your child to choose water or milk. One soda has almost 10 teaspoons of sugar and drinking just one soda a day increases your child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent.
Sleep plays an important role in staying healthy. If your child is sleep-deficient, he or she may have a harder time fighting off infections. Elementary school children should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Middle and high school students should have anywhere from 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
“It is important to discourage any screen time for one hour before your child goes to sleep,” Janovski said. “The light entering your child’s eye decreases the production of melatonin, the hormone in the brain that helps you sleep.”
It’s also important to get children back on a reasonable sleep cycle. If they have been staying up late all summer, you’ll want to help them get back into a routine of getting to bed on time and waking up at a reasonable time. The earlier you start, the better, Janovski said.
To help your children succeed in school, set up a regular homework time. Make sure they have a consistent, quiet place to work, free of distractions such as phones and the TV. It’s also a good idea to supervise their computer and Internet use.
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