A Healthy Approach to Back to School

Many children are heading back to school this month. Transitioning from summer to a new school year can be tough to navigate. Dr. Linda Fu, a general pediatrician at Children’s National Health System, offers the following health tips for parents preparing for a new school year:

1. Practice getting back into routines. Easing your child into a regular sleep schedule is important. According to new guidelines released by the National Sleep Foundation earlier this year, school-aged children need between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night. With many schools starting around 8 am, parents should try to ease their children into an earlier bedtime once school begins. Not having enough sleep can impede the learning process and make it difficult for your child to fully focus on what’s being taught.

2. Talk about the transition. Take time to sit down with your child and discuss both what they’re excited about, and what they’re nervous about. Do more listening than problem-solving so you can fully understand and acknowledge how they’re feeling. Have your child write or draw what they’re excited about to help them focus on the positive and visualize themselves enjoying their new classroom environment. It may also help to set up playdates with children in their new class so they can make friends and feel more comfortable.

3. Make sure your child has had his or her annual physical and recommended vaccinations. In recent years, the recommended vaccination schedule has changed due to more disease outbreaks in the U.S. Make sure your child starts the school year healthy and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases with a visit to his or her primary care provider before school starts. Visit the CDC’s website to make sure your child is up to date on required vaccinations.

4. Make sure your child’s nutrition needs are met. This includes eating breakfast everyday and making sure your child has a well-balanced lunch. Eating right will help your child focus and learn better during the school day. It’s also important to pay attention to how your child reacts to different foods. If you notice something that may be a food allergy, take your child to a primary care provider to be tested. Limiting your child’s food options before officially being tested is not recommended, as you may unintentionally be cutting out an important food group. If your child does have an allergy, make sure their teacher and/or school nurse knows and that you are familiar with the school’s policy. Some food allergies are very serious, and it’s crucial to make sure your child’s teacher knows their restrictions so they can ensure you child stays safe at school.

5. Talk to the teacher about any health concerns. Many school-aged children have health conditions such as asthma that need to be managed throughout the school day. Make sure you talk to your child’s teacher and to the school nurse so your child knows what to expect. For instance, if your child has asthma; you’ll want to make sure they’ll have access to their inhaler as needed. Many children with asthma need to use their inhaler before physical activities in gym class and/or recess. Know what the rules are so your child will be able to participate with their classmates. Aside from staying safe, it’s important to make sure children with health conditions don’t feel stigmatized from their classmates and can participate just like everyone else. You may also want to talk to the teacher to make sure the classroom environment promotes healthy lungs for all kids. Things like air fresheners, mold and smoke should be avoided.

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