The start of a new school year is a great time for families to reassess their habits and prepare their child for a year of success. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care created a checklist to help keep parents and their children on track for a healthy school year:
Eat Nutritious Foods
Since children consume almost half of their calories at school, giving them access to nutritious food throughout the entire day is vital to their health and well-being. When preparing your child’s lunch, swap less healthy ingredients for more nutritious alternatives. Using whole grain bread instead of white bread or choosing fruit over a sugary snack are easy ways you can make your child’s school lunch more nutritious. Also, choose a few nights a week where you can enjoy a home-cooked meal with your family. Studies show that families tend to eat healthier foods when they eat their meals together.
Only one in three children are physically active every day. Active children have stronger muscles and bones and are at lower risk of developing long-term health conditions such as heart disease. Encourage your children to be active by playing a sport, walking the dog, dancing or even riding their bike after eating dinner. Also, consider establishing a 30-minute slot of time where you and your child can go for a walk or engage in other physical activities.
Encourage Frequent Handwashing
When children go back to school, we usually see a spike of children and their parents catching contagious illnesses such as, the flu, upper respiratory illnesses and digestive conditions. Sometimes, children do not wash their hands frequently, which puts their classmates and family members at a higher risk of getting sick. Break the cycle by reminding your child to wash their hands often throughout the day and right away when returning home from school or outside. Parents can also protect themselves by doing the same when interacting with children.
Establish a Sleep Routine
Most school-aged children require eight to eleven hours of sleep at night to promote healthy mental and physical development. Children who get enough sleep also tend to perform better in school and have less behavioral problems. Sleeping is easier when the environment is calming and your body is at ease. To encourage your child to unwind at night, limit their screen time 30 minutes before bedtime. Giving your child a bath or ending the night with story time is also helpful. Also, help them engage in physical activity earlier in the day to tire them out.
Manage Your Mental Health
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Children and teens are faced with many emotions and challenges throughout their day. Encourage them to talk about their day, feelings and any problems so you can provide support and guidance. You can also encourage them to talk about difficult feelings with a school counselor, physician or other trusted adult.
Get all Vaccinations
Depending on your child’s age and grade level, they may be required to get certain vaccines to protect them from illnesses. In Maryland, children are strongly encouraged or required to get the following vaccines:
- Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
- Flu vaccine
- Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine
- Tdap booster
- Meningococcal vaccine
- Chickenpox vaccine
- Polio vaccine
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine
- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Pneumonia vaccines
Check with your school and physician to determine which vaccines are right for your child.
Wear the Right Backpack
Finding the right backpack for your child is good for their posture and can prevent back pain. The right backpack is proportionate to their body size and has straps that fit snuggly on the child’s back. The weight of the backpack should also be light enough so your child can comfortably carry their items without getting pulled backwards.
Get Your Sports Physical
If your child plays an organized sport, there is a good chance they will have to complete a sports physical before they can play. During this exam, a physician evaluates your child’s medical history and their physical health to ensure they are healthy before starting the season. Provide all information to the best of you and your child’s knowledge. Remember, it is unlikely the responses to your doctor’s questions will prevent your child from playing a sport.
Finally, when making any change, consistency is key. Even though it may be difficult getting your child to adopt healthier habits in the beginning, do not quit. If too much change is overwhelming to you or your family, don’t try it all at once. Start with something small and then move to the next. Developing good habits today will make them happier, healthier and more successful in the future.
Sources: Nemours Foundation, The American Occupational Therapy Association, Centers for Disease Control, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Heart Association, National Sleep Foundation