Brush up on back-to-school basics

We know you’ve probably still got one foot in the pool – or on the beach – but the cold splash of reality is coming: back-to-school time is just around the corner. You don’t have to let go entirely of summer just yet, but we suggest you brush up on the back-to-school basics with this cheat sheet to help you and your family ease into a new rhythm.

Immunizations

Like clockwork, school starts and the germs start flying. The classroom is a breeding ground for sickness – from the common cold to more serious bugs. Some parents opt not to vaccinate according to the recommended schedule, but relying on other children’s immunity to keep your child healthy isn’t enough to keep disease at bay. Most recently, the country has seen a resurgence in serious diseases such as pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. Many of the outbreaks are the worst communities have seen in decades. “Vaccination is the best way to keep your sons and daughters protected from disease,” says James MacKay, M.D., medical director with Providence Health Plan. “We appreciate that parents may be scared or reluctant to vaccinate their children, but we also believe it’s the right and safe thing to do to keep your children in good health – now and for the rest of their lives.”

If you are the parent of a preteen, your child is due for shots to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis and the flu. Scheduling an exam is also a great time to get caught up on vaccines.

Not sure what shots your children may need? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, publishes vaccination schedules for young children, preteens and teens, and adults, too.

Yearly checkup

We recommend being proactive and scheduling an exam with your child’s pediatrician before the start of the school year. This is a great time not only to get caught up on vaccinations, but also to discuss your child’s emotional and physical development, and any other issues that may affect academics or athletics in the coming school year. Your child’s doctor may be able to help you address sensitive issues, as well. “With teenagers, there’s more ground to cover than just vaccinations and the sports they plan to play that year,” Dr. MacKay says. “Issues such as drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual activity and depression may be difficult for parents to address, but if the counseling comes from a physician, there may be more acceptance.”

Sleep

With the return to school comes the need to get your children up earlier, and that means getting them to bed earlier, too. As the adult, you can help smooth this transition by putting children to bed and waking them 10 or 15 minutes earlier each day, beginning a few weeks prior to the first day of school. If your child really struggles with sleep because of excitement or nervousness around being back at school, help her recharge on the weekends by letting her sleep longer. A 2011 Pediatrics study found that children who experience more regular sleep – and more hours of sleep – may have a lower incidence of obesity. Help facilitate a good night’s sleep by limiting sugary snacks and caffeine before bedtime, and by discouraging, or at least limiting, late-afternoon naps.

Breakfast

Children’s growing bodies rely on regular meals – including breakfast – to provide adequate fuel to start the day, and to keep them mentally and physically engaged until the next snack or meal time. In addition, children who eat breakfast tend to maintain a healthier weight than those who do not. (It goes without saying that a healthy breakfast is what we’re talking about – not a doughnut or fruit rollup or some other processed or sugar-laden treat masquerading as breakfast-appropriate.) If breakfast is a battle at your house, consider these quick, healthy options that can be carried out the door, especially by older children whose main reason for skipping breakfast is a lack of time:

  • Peanut butter on whole-grain toast or English muffin
  • Scrambled eggs in a whole wheat tortilla
  • High-fiber cereal in a to-go cup/bag
  • Yogurt and a spoon
  • Fruit smoothie made with fat-free or low-fat yogurt (go Greek – it has more protein)

Physical activity

Just as children need food, water and sleep to help them function well, so do they need daily physical activity to keep their bodies and minds healthy. Physical activity helps reduce stress, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stomachaches and headaches. Being active helps your children maintain a healthy weight, which also contributes to healthy self-esteem. Physical activity helps build muscle endurance and strength, and it increases flexibility and agility. As with adults, it also helps keep the body’s engine – the heart – running smoothly. According to the CDC, children need 60 minutes of physical activity every day. It’s not as difficult as you may think to incorporate that much activity into each day. The best way to start is to set a positive, active example yourself.

Lice

It’s a dreaded topic, but one that rears its ugly head each school year. Head lice outbreaks are most common during summer and back-to-school season. Children ages 3 to 11 are most affected – with an estimated 6 to 12 million infestations each year in the United States. Though lice don’t carry or spread disease, they do lay eggs called nits, which are the size of dandruff flakes and can be silver, yellow or tan in color. Nits attach close to the scalp, at the base of the hair shaft, and must be removed by hand or with a fine-toothed comb. Head lice are a nuisance, to be sure, but they pose no short- or long-term medical harm. We’re happy to share with you our helpful step-by-step guide on what to look for and how to treat lice.