The time of year that every child fears is fast approaching: back to school. It is also a time for parents to think about their child’s health for the year ahead.
There are several health-related concerns to consider as your child prepares to start a new school year, says Gale LoPreste, MD, pediatrician at North End Waterfront Health. Some top concerns are making sure your child eats a nutritious breakfast, gets enough rest, doesn’t carry an overly heavy backpack, and understands stranger danger. It is also important not to over-program children with afterschool activities, she says.
Reminding children about the importance of handwashing is vital in order to limit the number of colds and illnesses they contract.
“The single most effective way to prevent the spread of illness is handwashing,” LoPreste says. “Hands should be washed or a hand sanitizer should be used after using the restroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after touching something that may have been dirty.”
When your child does become sick, remember that a fever—a temperature of 101 degrees or higher—does not necessarily require a trip to your pediatrician.
“Fever is a signal that your body is trying to fight an infection, whether it be a virus or bacteria,” LoPreste says. “Fever in itself is not harmful and actually plays a positive role in fighting infection. If a school aged child has a fever in the setting of a cold, there is really nothing to worry about unless the child is extremely lethargic or has mental status changes when the fever is reduced with acetaminophen or ibuprophen.”
If the child is exhibiting other symptoms, such as trouble breathing or ear pain, he or she should be seen by a physician. If the child has a fever that lasts more than 5 days s/he should be evaluated. Viral illnesses usually last about a week and do not require treatment.
Here are some other back-to-school tips to help keep your child healthy throughout the year.
- Immunizations need to be up to date. Check with your health care provider and the school. Also include emergency contact information and any illness such as asthma or diabetes that your child may have. If your child needs to take medication during the school day, make arrangements with the school nurse.
- It is important that children get enough sleep. Ages 6-9 years need 10 hours of sleep and pre-teens need 9 hours of sleep.
- Good nutrition is essential for growing children to help them learn. If your child is buying their lunch, find out the cost so you can provide the correct amount of money.
- Be sure to notify the school of any food allergies your child has.
- Children should have 60 minutes of physical activity on most days.
- Check to see if the school has a dress code and if your child needs to bring a change of clothes for PE class.
- Backpacks are a great way to carry school supplies. But it should be packed lightly, have wide padded straps and a back with multiple compartments. Be sure that both straps are used.
- Remember to review traffic safety re: to cross at the cross walk and obey traffic signals and signs.
- Know what time your child will arrive home from school. Make sure that they know who to check in with and who their emergency contact person is.
- Help your child to organize what they need to bring to school each day. Write down important information that they need to know about the school day such as time that classes begin and end, teachers’ names and classroom numbers.