As another summer draws to a close, our attention begins to turn to autumn. Along with cooler temperatures and falling leaves, the season brings the return to school for most kids. But you shouldn’t limit your back-to-school checklist to new clothes, notebooks and other supplies. As you and your child get back in the swing of things academically, it’s just as important to focus on health and wellness. Consider these tips to ensure your student makes a healthy return to school.
Establish a Clean Bill of Health
The first item on your back-to-school checklist should be a checkup. Many schools won’t enroll students without an immunization record. If you’re not sure which vaccinations your child needs, ask the school nurse or your pediatrician. And don’t assume your older kids are off the hook: Teenagers entering college may need to be immunized against infectious diseases such as meningitis.
But vaccines aren’t the only reason to schedule an annual physical. Your pediatrician can screen for vision and hearing problems and provide you any necessary paperwork the school may want to have on file, such as information about food allergies.
Set Regular Sleeping Patterns
If your child has been staying up late all summer, now is the time to reinforce bedtime. Sleep needs vary, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, children between the ages of three and five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep a night, kids aged six to 13 need nine to 11 hours of sleep, and teens 14 and older should get eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. Encourage healthy sleepy patterns by dimming the lights and asking children to turn off electronics about an hour before bed. A warm bath can also help them wind down.
As with sleep, the start of the school year provides a good opportunity to teach kids good nutrition habits. Cut back on junk and fast food and focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy choices instead. If you have concerns about the offerings in your child’s school lunch program, consider providing a bagged lunch instead.
The return to school can trigger a range of emotions in many kids, from excitement to anxiety. Homework, tests, extracurricular activities and your child’s social life can be a source of stress. Whether navigating relationships or coping with bullying, children and teens can be a lot more stressed out than their parents realize. Learn how to identify signs your child is feeling overwhelmed, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomachaches, irritability and acting out, and be sure to allow for downtime and play. If your child needs extra support, consider setting up an appointment with a school counselor.
Buy the Right Backpack
With a heavy load of homework comes a heavy load of books for your child to lug around — but not all backpacks are created equal. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends choosing backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back and adjusting it so its bottom sits at your child’s waist. Never pack it so much that it weighs more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight. Some kids prefer rolling backpacks, but keep in mind that they may be difficult to carry upstairs.
Contact a Lahey Health physician to set up a back-to-school health checkup.