It’s that time of year when parents are hustling to get the kids ready for the start of another school year, and to talk about a few back-to-school points I am turning to my friend Gaylen Kelton, MD, as my guest blogger today.
Dr. Kelton is a family physician and clinical professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. He is also the chairman of the Physicians Resource Council, a panel of physician experts who generously lend their time and talents to assist Focus on medical and health-related topics.
If you’re like many families, you’re probably still scrambling to pick up last-minute school supplies and clothing to get your child ready for a successful school year. But amidst the hustle and bustle , let me encourage you to help your child enter the classroom mentally and physically prepared as well. Here are a few things to consider:
- Is your child getting enough sleep? If not, her ability to pay attention and her grades can suffer. According to the National Sleep Foundation kids ages 5-12 need about ten to eleven hours of sleep each night, while teens need nine hours or more. As you might imagine, most children and teens don’t get enough sleep. Since most kids develop sleep patterns during the summer that are not in sync with school schedules, start working with your child a week or two before the start of the school year by helping her get to bed at a reasonable time and waking her up closer to the school schedule.
- Help your student adjust other daily routines, too. Hopefully your child’s screen time (with television, video games, and Internet surfing) is under control (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit children’s total time with TV and other screen-based media to two hours or less per day). If your child is viewing more than two hours each day, now is a great time to start introducing constraints. Even healthy daily habits such as eating dinners together as a family, reading at night, etc., can be phased in prior to the start of the school year so that routine changes aren’t too jarring.
- Get your child’s vision checked. Children who don’t see well tend to underperform in school.
- Contact your child’s school to see what immunizations are required and call your child’s primary care provider to make sure everything is up-to-date.
- If your child is participating in athletics, now is a good time to schedule a sports physical. If your primary care provider is unable to schedule a visit for your child in a timely fashion, walk-in clinics such as those found in some pharmacies may be a convenient option for these exams.
- If your child takes any medications, contact the school office and find out the school’s medication policy. In some schools, medications must be brought in the original bottle or container and must be administered by the school nurse. Learning the guidelines in advance will help ensure that your child gets what he needs when he needs it.
- Does your child have any serious allergies (such as to nuts or bee stings)? Be sure to inform the school and provide any prescribed medications, such as an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) for severe allergic reactions. Again, be familiar with the school’s policy regarding storing and administration of this medication.
- Watch your child’s back. When selecting a backpack for your child, choose a wide one with a padded back and padded straps. A loaded backpack should never weigh more than ten to twenty percent of the child’s body weight. Adjust the straps so that the load is fairly close to the body but not uncomfortably tight. And encourage your child to wear the pack with the straps over both shoulders. Slinging the pack over just one shoulder can cause neck and shoulder strain.
- Finally, get answers to any questions you might have. Are the school’s lunch options nutritious? Is physical fitness a school priority? How do your child’s teachers handle bullying? Asking about these things as a parent isn’t intrusive – in fact it’s a very healthy way to engage in your child’s education.
May your child enjoy a great (and healthy) start to the new school year!