A Primary Care Provider’s Tool-Kit for Parents: How to Ensure a Safe and Healthy School Year
As parents, a lot goes into assuring your children’s happiness and health throughout the year. With the school year right around the corner, additional tasks will be thrown into the mix, as learning environments, social atmospheres, and physical and emotional needs change.
You’re not alone. Schools and primary care providers are here to help! It’s beneficial to establish routines and habits among your children early on, says Dr. Vishal Phakey, of Voorhees Primary & Specialty Care.
Dr. Phakey offers the following tips to help manage and improve your children’s health:
Establish bedtimes. Most children don’t get nearly enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation states that children ages 6-13 should get 9-11 hours of sleep each night, and children ages 14-18 should get at least 8 hours. Insufficient sleep affects children similarly to how it affects us; we become irritable, forgetful, and experience other difficulties with physical and emotional regulation. The proper amount of sleep improves mental sharpness and overall energy level.
Pack healthy. Skipping or picking the wrong foods for the first meal of the day can be detrimental to a child’s development. For breakfast, a healthy choice is a low-sugar/whole grain cereal with 2-percent milk. For a more on-the-go option, it’s wise to grab a granola bar or piece of fruit (which serve as great snacks as well!) School snacks and lunches should include a good source of protein and complex carbs, such as yogurt, lunch meats, applesauce, cheese slices, graham crackers, and cut up fruits and veggies.
Check their eyes. If your child can’t see properly, it’s difficult for them to learn! Vision should be checked at least every two years; some schools offer annual exams. For those already wearing glasses or contacts, an annual exam is essential. Your child may be experiencing difficulty seeing if they squint a lot, tilt their head, cover one eye, sit close to screens, or complain of headaches. These days, children also experience computer vision syndrome, which can lead to dry eyes, irritation, fatigue, and eye strain, making it all the more important to limit their screen time!
Schedule a back-to-school physical. During your child’s annual physical, we measure height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse, and assess the heart, abdomen, spine, muscles, joints, eyes, ears, nose and throat for any abnormalities. This is our opportunity to make sure everything is on track with their growth.
Some children may also require immunizations or booster shots before heading back to school. At ages 4-6, your child may need their last dose of DTaP (for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough), MMR (for measles, mumps, and rubella), the polio vaccine, and the chickenpox vaccine. At ages 11-12, they may need to start Tdap (adult form of DTaP) and the meningitis vaccine. This is also a good age to discuss HPV vaccines, for both boys and girls.
Encourage after-school activities. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sport, I suggest all children participate in something that keeps them active outside of school. This will improve their mood, overall concentration, reduce stress, help them maintain a healthy weight and strong bones, and even improve their confidence and leadership skills.
Check on their mental health. School-aged children can face different stresses, including the need to fit in or succeed and impress parents or coaches. Proper sleep, nutrition, and physical activity habits are all paramount to coping with and reducing stress. It’s also important for your children to maintain an open dialogue with you about anything that may be bothering them, especially if they’re being bullied.
If your child is being bullied, their behavior is likely to change; they may become withdrawn or more aggressive, their eating and sleeping habits may change, or they may try and make excuses to get out of school. In this circumstance, an open dialogue with teachers is also advised.
Check their backpack. When carrying a backpack, it shouldn’t weigh more than 10-15% of total body weight; closer to 10 percent is preferable. Students are likely to be carrying tablets or laptops back and forth to school, which can cut down on the weight. If your older children have access to lockers, they should make frequent stops, rather than carrying a heavy load of books throughout the day. Also, even though it may seem easier, carrying a heavy bag over one shoulder can be harmful. Not only can it cause back pain over time, but it leads to poor posture and may even cause shoulder damage.