Come middle of August, many moms will be sending their children back to school for the first time in a very long time. With online distance learning having been eliminated, many children will be going to in-person school since the beginning of the pandemic. The start of the school year is always stressful, but I have spoken to many moms who are extra worried about this next school year, which is completely understandable. I know I can’t take away all of the tension in this process, but I figured it might be a great time to remind everyone of ways you can keep your kids healthy through the school year.
1. Get back to eating healthy food.
A big thing that tends to happen during the summer (at least in my house!) is a change in what kids eat. We tend to be more on the go, having fun and traveling, and eat more takeout or fast meals that may not be the healthiest choices. As school starts, an important way to keep your kids healthy is to get back into a varied, healthy diet that is heavy on fresh veggies and fruit and low in processed sugar. This will support a healthier immune system for your child and less illness throughout the school year.
If you have any concerns about your child’s diet and if he/she needs any supplementation, be sure to check with your medical provider before starting anything. However, I do recommend a general multivitamin if your kid is on the pickier side; both my girls take one.
2. Get plenty of quality sleep.
For many kids, summer brings about changes in their schedule, which can include staying up and getting up later. It is important to get back into a good sleep routine before starting school and as school continues on. Sleep may be the number one factor that can impact a child’s health. Lack of sleep can start to cause attitude changes and problems at school, as well as physical problems which can range anywhere from worsening allergies to acid reflux to high blood pressure and beyond.
Depending on their age, to keep your kids healthy it is recommended that children and adolescents get anywhere from 8 to 11 hours of quality sleep a night. So put away those phones and tablets and hit the pillows at a reasonable hour!
3. Stay active!
I find that during summer kids are either way more active than usual, or way less. They are either go-go-go on vacations, in camps or outside with their friends, or they are sitting in front of the TV or computer watching shows and gaming. Whatever the case is, keep your kids active during the school year. This can come in the form of school activities, outside sports programs, or simply making it a point to ride bikes as a family during the week or play basketball in the driveway. To keep your kids healthy, it is recommended that kids get 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
4. Get a sports or general physical.
If your child plans on participating in any physical activity or sport at school, I highly recommend getting a sports physical, even if your school program doesn’t require it. It is a great screening visit with your medical provider to catch any potential problems for the school year, ESPECIALLY if your child has had COVID-19. It is important to make sure those children are fully recovered and not suffering any long-term effects and can safely return to activities.
If your child won’t be participating in any physical activities at school, then at least visit your medical provider for a general physical before school starts. This is always a great time to talk about concerns or potential issues for the upcoming year, and make sure any vaccines or recommended lab testing are done. Get this on the calendar, ladies!
5. Be prepared for medical emergencies.
Plan ahead! If your child has any medications, make sure they are available at school and make sure your child and his/her teacher(s) are aware if they may need to use them. The same goes with any equipment or medical devices. You may also check with your school and teachers and coaches about emergency plans, especially medical emergencies. How are they trained? Do they have a written plan in place and do they practice it? Where are the AEDs and other rescue equipment located? Trust me, it is better to plan ahead for these situations, however rare they may be, than be floundering around in the moment.
6. Stay up to date with vaccines.
Yes I know, this is a hot topic, and I get that certain children cannot be vaccinated for various reasons, or that parents may choose not to vaccinate their kids. But I am going to say it: vaccines save lives. If you have concerns or questions, talk with your medical provider. As of right now, the COVID-19 vaccine is available for children ages 12 and up, and likely soon it will be available for ages 5 and up. I highly recommend you check into this and consider getting this for your child. You can read on their website for more information.
7. Continue practicing good hand hygiene, and consider wearing a mask!
Let’s think back about last school year. As a medical provider, I know I was very worried about in-person school starting back up and outbreaks of COVID-19 cases among kids. We didn’t know what to expect. But you know what? The mass outbreaks just didn’t happen. Yes, there were a few isolated cases of classes catching it or groups of kids in activities together being quarantined at home, but for the vast majority of campuses, school continued on. Why is that? All of the social distancing, hand hygiene and masking practices. THEY WORKED. Not only did kids not get COVID-19, they didn’t get many other illnesses either! RSV cases were way down until school ended. The flu season almost didn’t exist. Imagine that!
So while I know that, at this moment, most of these practices have been cut at public schools, almost all of these your kids can do on their own. Have them practice washing their hands frequently or carrying hand sanitizer in their backpacks. Perhaps carry cleaning wipes for their spot in the cafeteria. Talk to them about trying not to touch their face. Consider wearing a mask! There are no rules that say you cannot. The best ones are going to consist of more than one layer of fabric that fits the face well and conforms to the nose. HOWEVER, I would caution about mask wearing if it means your child is going to be messing with it all day and touching his/her face. Practice at home if you need to.
I hope these tips are helpful as you navigate the start of the school year, and I wish you all the best in your efforts to keep your kids healthy!