back to school healthAh, the joy of homework-free evenings. The lighter family calendar. Are you ready to kiss them goodbye? 

Yep, summer is almost over, and it’s time to get the kids health-ready for school. Are your child’s immunizations up to date? Does he need new glasses? Here’s some expert health advice on all these things and more so your kids will be ready for the first day back in the classroom.

Schedule a well-child checkup. 
New Jersey requires a well-child exam for all students entering the school district, either in kindergarten or if transferring into a new school district. The state recommends that students get a well-child exam at 4th grade, 7th grade, and sometime during high school, but that is not required. An additional exam is required for participation in a school sport. 

Get current on immunizations.
That includes seasonal flu/H1N1. Ask your doctor for a copy of your child’s record. You may need it to prove her immunization status for school. Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Childhood Immunization Support Program for up-to-date information.

Check your child’s vision.
His doctor should perform basic vision screening at each well-child examination. If your child fails a vision screening, or if there’s concern about a vision problem, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says your child should get a referral for a comprehensive professional eye exam. The AAO recommends one-piece wrap-around polycarbonate sports frames for contact sports.

Schedule a dental checkup.
Students in the US miss more than 51 million school hours per year because of dental problems, says the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Teach your child to floss daily and brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste; schedule appointments twice a year for a professional cleaning and checkup.

Have hearing tested.
New Jersey is among the states that mandate hearing tests for infants, but many school-age children haven’t been tested. If your child is listening to TV or music at a loud volume, or tends to favor one ear over the other when listening, it may be a sign of hearing loss. 

Communicate about medications. 
Does your child receive medication on a regular basis for a chronic health problem? School nurses and teachers must be made aware of your child’s needs, especially if they’re the ones who will administer the medicine. Speak with them about the medication schedule, and work out an emergency course of action in case of a problem.

Schedule testing if you suspect a problem. 
If you feel your child isn’t processing information as she should, speak with her teacher and her doctor as soon as possible to help identify a learning disability. Her doctor can provide a referral for testing.

Plan ahead for brain-power breakfasts.
Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert in class. Try to include protein (peanut butter or low-fat cheese, milk, eggs, or yogurt are good choices), fruit, and whole grains. 

Update emergency phone numbers.
Are your current emergency phone numbers on file at school? Make sure the school and your child know how to reach you or another caregiver at all times.

Create cell-phone rules and review with your child.
If your child has a cell phone, talk with him about when and where to use it safely. Chatting on a cell phone or texting while walking or biking can be dangerous. Set a good example by not using a cell phone while driving. Remember, it’s the law in New Jersey! Find out specific rules for cell phone use in your child’s school district and make sure your child knows them.

Choose the right backpack.
Look for wide, padded shoulder straps, as narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and restricting circulation. A padded back increases comfort. The backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight. Remind your child always to use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase the chances of developing curvature of the spine. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Even better, use a rolling backpack.

Review school-bus safety.
Designate a safe place to wait for the bus, away from traffic and the street. Review safety rules from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with your child.

Create a healthful sleep schedule. 
The National Sleep Foundation says school-age kids need the following amounts of sleep:

  • preschoolers: 11–13 hours
  • 5–10-year-olds: 10–11 hours
  • 10–7-year-olds: 8.5–9.25 hours

That can be a tough prescription to follow, with the increasing demands on kids’ time from homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities. 

As they get older, school-age children become more interested in TV, video games, and the web (as well as caffeinated beverages). This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and sleep disruptions. Poor sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems, and cognitive problems that affect a child’s ability to learn. 

To help your child get a good night’s sleep, teach healthful sleep habits, emphasize the need for a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, create a good environment for sleep (dark, cool, and quiet), and keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.

Talk through any anxiety.
Does your child appear apprehensive about the new school year? Remind him that he is not the only student in the world (and in the school!) who is uneasy about the first day of school. If your child continues to be anxious after a few weeks, bring this to the attention of his teacher.

Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist who frequently covers children’s health issues. Visit her blog.

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