To Your Health: Back to School
By Dr. Dania Lindenberg, Scripps Health
Are your kids ready to go back to school? Get them off to a good start by helping them stay safe and healthy on campus and in the classroom with these 10 tips.
Before the school year starts, schedule a physical exam with your child’s doctor to check their health and discuss any concerns such as allergies or nutrition. Give kids the chance to have some “private time” with the doctor as well to discuss topics they may not feel comfortable talking about in front of parents.
Under the California School Immunization Law, children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools, child care centers and other educational programs. Immunizations required to attend kindergarten include polio, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), hepatitis B, and varicella (chicken pox). All students entering seventh grade will also need proof of an adolescent pertussis (whooping cough) booster immunization (Tdap) in order to begin school.
Let the school know of any medications your child takes both at home and at school, as well as any medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, allergies or psychological issues. Provide contact information for your pediatrician along with medical emergency instructions.
Remind children not to talk to strangers and never to get into a stranger’s car, no matter what the circumstances. Choose a “code word” that only you, your children and trusted friends and family members know in case someone else has to pick them up, and instruct your children never to trust anyone who doesn’t know the code word. Teach your kids their phone number and address. Instruct kids to find a parent, teacher or other trusted adult immediately if they don’t feel safe.
Familiarize your family with the school’s emergency procedures, and provide current contact information for parents and other relatives. Decide on a meeting point near the school where you can meet your child in case of emergency if you cannot reach him or her by telephone. If your child is old enough to use a cell phone, it may be a good idea to provide one that is reserved only for urgent situations.
Does your child ride a bike to school? Helmet use can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent. Choose a helmet that meets federal safety standards and fits correctly. According to the National Safety Council, a helmet should fit low and snug across the forehead; if you look up and can’t see the helmet, it is too far back.
A backpack that is too heavy or worn incorrectly can strain a child’s neck or back and may cause injury. Backpacks should be lightweight with two wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. Pull both straps tightly enough so that the pack fits snugly against the back but doesn’t pull on the shoulders. Distribute the weight of items within the pack evenly on both sides, and keep it light; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the child’s weight. Consider a rolling backpack if allowed by the school.
Bullying is a serious problem, yet many victims don’t speak up for fear or ridicule or retaliation. If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, encourage him or her to tell you what is going on. Ask questions and offer support and comfort. Controlling your own emotions can make it easier for your child to open up to you about what he or she needs to feel safe. Talk to teachers and administrators about the situation.
Sports and extra-curricular activities help kids learn skills, socialize, and have fun, but too much of a good thing can become stressful and ultimately negate the benefits. Let kids choose what they want to participate in and change or drop activities that aren’t enjoyable or become too demanding. Allow for unscheduled time to rest and relax at home with the family.
With everyone on busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time to sit and talk with your kids. Make a point of asking your children about their day every afternoon or evening. Give them your full attention and let them know you are interested in their lives. Not only does this let your kids know you care, it can help open the door to conversations about problems or concerns.
Dania Lindenberg, MD, is a pediatrician with Scripps Health.. “To Your Health” is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps. For more information or for a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS or visit www.scripps.org.