Make this year a healthy school year

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With the days of summer vacation coming to an end, parents are getting in gear to send their kids back to school. Along with stocking up on school supplies and buying new clothes, it’s also a good time to think about their health needs.

As a pediatrician of 15 years and a mother of two, Lama Rimawi, MD, of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health shares some of her insights into what it takes to get children off to a healthy start.

Schedule a wellness visit to a pediatrician

Rimawi suggests parents should write a list of questions prior to the pediatrician visit and involve their children so they feel part of the process.

Prior to starting a new school year is a perfect time to ensure children’s vaccines are current. Kids should also get hearing and vision screenings and set an appointment to receive the annual flu vaccine.

“These back-to-school wellness visits are a great opportunity for parents to talk about any concerns they are having about their kids,” Rimawi said. “Pediatricians are also an excellent resource on how to manage all types of issues at school, such as bullying or behavior and attention problems.”

A checklist for a back-to-school wellness visit with a pediatrician is available here.

Teach children healthy habits

Rimawi said typically everyone is healthy during the summer but about two to three weeks into the school year, kids start to get sick, especially kindergartners.

Germs are transmitted two ways: respiratory droplets or by people touching their noses, mouths are eyes and then touching objects. Many of the respiratory viruses survive on inanimate objects for about three days, according to Rimawi.

“Parents should teach kids the importance of frequent hand washing and kids should know to cover their mouths and noses with their elbow when they sneeze,” she added.

Eat right year-round

“Having enough energy at the start of the day makes a big difference in terms of how kids are able to pay attention in school,” said Rimawi, clinical instructor of pediatrics at the Gardner-Packard Children’s Health Center.

Rimawi recommends kids eat foods that stay in their digestive systems longer, such as whole-grained foods and protein sources and not simple carbohydrates that are digested too quickly. The same applies for school lunches, which should always include fruit and vegetables.

Stay active after the school year begins

Kids have more opportunities over the summer to be physically active, but once the school year gets under way, it’s harder for kids to get the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate activity.

“Kids actually don’t get that much exercise at school,” said Rimawi. “One way to ensure your kids get enough exercise is to have them walk to and from school or ride their bikes.”

Adjust the bedtime before school starts

Part of summer fun is staying up late and sleeping in, but it’s important to get children back on their regular bedtime before school starts.

“Start one to two weeks prior to the first day of school to transition the regular bedtime,” she said. “Adjust the bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes for a few days at a time until you get to the bedtime you want.”

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