By Arnold E. Cuenca, DO, Scripps Health
For many kids across San Diego County, August means back to school. For parents, it means making sure kids have everything they need for a successful start to the school year. Use the health and safety “checklist” below to ensure your kids are ready to go.
Immunizations: Check that your kids have the recommended (and often required) immunizations before the school year begins. Under the California School Immunization Law, children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools, child care centers and other educational programs. Immunizations required to attend kindergarten include polio, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), measles-containing vaccine (e.g. MMR), Hepatitis B, and Varicella (chicken pox). Starting with the 2012-13 school year, all students entering into seventh grade will need proof of an adolescent pertussis (whooping cough) booster immunization (Tdap) in order to begin school. Pertussis is a very contagious respiratory disease that can be severe and last for months; although many children were vaccinated during early childhood, immunity wears off over time, leaving older students and adults susceptible. Ask your pediatrician or family physician which immunizations your child may need.
Annual physical: It’s a good idea for all kids to have a yearly check-up with their physician to make sure they are in good health and receive vision and hearing tests. This can also be an opportunity for physicians to talk to kids privately about any health issue or questions they may have—often, kids may not be comfortable discussing certain topics with their parents present.
Avoid backpack overload: Kids today carry a lot of stuff. A backpack that is too heavy, poorly constructed or worn incorrectly can injure the muscles and joints, cause neck or back strain, and lead to fatigue. Choose a lightweight backpack with two wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. Pull both straps tightly enough so that the pack fits snugly against the back but doesn’t pull on the shoulders. Distribute the weight of items within the pack evenly on both sides, and don’t overload it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the child’s weight.
Get back on track: For many kids, summer break means staying up later and sleeping in. Do yourself and your kids a favor by gradually getting them back on their school schedules. Encourage them to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier for a week or so before the first day of class, and make time for a healthy breakfast, so that by the time school begins, they’ll be used to the change in schedule.
Similarly, prepare kids to get back into the school routine after a carefree summer. Discuss when and where homework will be done, make after-school care arrangements if necessary (including a back-up plan) and determine how kids will get to extracurricular activities such as sports. Getting everyone on the same page will make it easier to juggle busy schedules.
Keep schedules realistic: Sports, clubs and other after-school activities are a great way to keep kids active and engaged, but too much can be unhealthy. “Over-scheduling” can lead to stress, fatigue and anxiety; over-training for sports can cause physical injuries such as stress fractures. Make sure your kids have enough “down time” to rest and unwind, and don’t pressure them to participate in activities they don’t enjoy.
Make lunch healthy: If your child brings lunch to school, include fruit or veggies and a lean protein source such as chicken or turkey. Try to avoid processed foods or high-fat, high-calorie items. Substitute baked chips for fried and whole-grain bread for white. If the plan is to buy lunch, talk about how to make healthier choices.
Provide important information: Make sure the school has current, accurate contact information for parents, emergency contacts, and your child’s physician. Let the school know of any medications your child takes both at home and at school, as well as any medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or allergies to bees, peanuts, latex, or anything else. Ensure the school knows what to do in case of an emergency.
Talk it over. Take time every afternoon or evening to ask your child about his or her school day. Ask about lessons, what they learned that was new or interesting, favorite and least favorite parts of the day, and so on. This is a good way to uncover possible problem areas and show your child that you care about how he or she is doing.
Dr. Arnold Cuenca is a family medicine and sports medicine physician with Scripps Health. For more information or a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS.