Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back; you survived the summer. Now that your kids are back in school this is a good time to do a quick “back to school health inventory” to keep your kids healthy, safe and happy. Here are six tips for help you get your family back into the groove and to win in the school year ahead.
1. Get back into a consistent sleep routine. It is easy to let bedtime deadlines slip in the summer when the days are longer and jam-packed with playtime and activities. But school hours are likely to start earlier than summer hours so it is to your child’s benefit to set firm times for bed. Kaiser Permanente, a leading company in the healthcare industry, says “Pediatricians recommend that children age 6 to 12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night, and that teens get 8 to 10 hours a night.” To help your children fall asleep faster power off electronic devices early, do not permit them to drink any caffeinated beverages like soda or energy drinks in the evening, and pull the curtains or shades in their room.
2. Make sure your child has a properly designed and fitted backpack and that it is worn properly. The weight of textbooks, notebooks, laptops and whatever else your child totes to school can quickly add up, so be sure their backpack has wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Direct Path, a company that works to reduce insurance costs, offers this advice: “The backpack should never weigh more than 10% to 20% of your child's body weight. Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items to keep it light.” Parents need to instruct their children to always use both shoulder straps. A backpack slung over one shoulder is an invitation for muscle strain.
3. Provide the right fuel. Healthy meal options—including a good breakfast—will help your student stay alert and ready to learn in class. Good nutrition is also your best line of defense against colds and other infections.
4. Another important line of defense against sickness: hand washing. Hand washing is the best way to avoid spreading or catching germs. The Mayo Clinic says, “Help children stay healthy by encouraging them to wash their hands frequently. Wash your hands with your child to show him or her how it's done. To prevent rushing, suggest washing hands for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. If your child can't reach the sink on his or her own, keep a step stool handy.” There is some medical evidence which suggests that anti-bacterial soaps lead to the development of germs that are harder to kill, so experts say simple soap and water is the best hand washing option.
5. “Fine” is not a real answer. You need to probe for details and engage in genuine conversations to tune into your child’s moods and stressors. Jane Mellott, MD, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente Washington, suggests that “instead of asking ‘How was school?’ which practically invites the non-answer ‘fine,’…ask about specific classes, what the teachers are like, and if your child has made any new friends this year.” If, in your conversations with your child, you suspect they are being bullied at school, engage your child’s teachers and school administrators as quickly as possible.
6. Check for head lice at least once a week especially on younger children. High on the ick factor, head lice infestations travel rapidly through schools. WebMD says you can “prevent a lice outbreak by tossing your [child’s] clothing, hat, jacket, scarf, gloves, and any other items into the washer. Use hot water (130° F or higher), and then dry on high heat. Soak combs and brushes in the wash, too.”
There you have it, six things—simple, basic steps—that will help you win in the school year ahead. So give them a try. We think you will be glad you did.