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    Back to School 6 Steps to Start a Healthy Year

    Back to School 6 Steps to Start a Healthy Year

    Summer’s end brings the advent of a new school year. Preparing for a smooth transition can be crucial to developing a more focused learning environment. A good starting point involves making sure each child has participated in a wellness exam within the last year performed by a pediatrician or family medicine physician. These exams typically cover immunizations, growth parameters, developmental milestones, diet, sleep, exercise, medical history and other important factors. Listed below are a few considerations and habits to discuss with your child’s physician to prepare for a healthy school year. 

    Check Vaccinations 

    Immunizations are an important part of preventative health. Devastating diseases of the past and present such as pertussis, polio, measles, meningitis and many others have been either eradicated or reduced in frequency. Standards of practice periodically change, which makes reassessing vaccine status vital. For example, pertussis guidelines have changed in recent years as a result of an increased number of cases. Medicine constantly evolves and will continue to do so when evidence supports a more effective regimen. 

    Assess Growth and Development 

    During childhood and adolescence, physical growth and development are at their peak. Your child’s physician monitors height and weight changes from one year to the next. Trends can either warn physicians of underlying risks and conditions or reassure that normal development is occurring. If abnormalities are detected, early investigation and intervention helps ensure the best possible outcome. In addition to these measurements, other mental and physical characteristics are examined to make sure that children are functioning at pace with their peers. If deficiencies are found, they are best addressed through a coordinated care system that involves a physician and other community resources. 

    Get Adequate Sleep 

    Children require more sleep than adults. Adequate sleep allows them to achieve at their highest level. Kindergarten age children need to sleep an average of 10 hours per night. As they grow this requirement decreases and stabilizes around 8.5 hours. Sleep occurs in many phases with some being more restful to the body than others. Frequent nighttime awakenings can decrease the body’s ability to prepare for the next day. These interruptions range from poor sleep hygiene to physical characteristics such as enlarged tonsils that can put a child at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Many factors that affect sleep are modifiable with the aid of proper sleep hygiene. A few suggestions include avoiding food or water within 1-2 hours of bedtime, limiting exposure to screen time within the bedroom and promoting activities like reading that will help kids wind down for the evening. 

    Promote a Healthy Diet and Exercise 

    Any parent can attest that monitoring a child’s diet while at home is sometimes challenging. It becomes even more difficult when children select their own options at school. Encouraging children to eat a balanced diet (including fruits, vegetables and whole grains) will provide necessary energy and focus for daily learning. Sweetened foods and beverages are best consumed sparingly. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar or about 150 calories. Drinking one can of soda per day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent. Excessive sugar can also cause drowsiness and temporary mental slowing. Proper fuel for the body will propel a child forward and keep them awake and alert. (See pg. 28 for more information on healthy school lunches) 

    A well-balanced diet should also be coupled with exercise. Channeling a child’s energy into worthwhile activities can be rewarding for you and for them. Extracurricular sports allow children to build social skills and engage in meaningful exercise that will help them grow stronger physically and mentally. Getting your children into a routine will provide future dividends as they will be more likely to continue these healthy choices throughout adulthood. If needed, sports physicals can be scheduled to determine if a child is prepared for safe participation in extracurricular activities. 

    Limit Screen Time 

    Electronic devices including TV, computers, smart phones, tablets, video game consoles, etc. have become consumers of an ever-increasing portion of our awake time. Excessive time in front of screens such as these has been correlated with adulthood obesity. The current recommendation advises less than two hours per day outside of required academic activities. 

    Address Bullying 

    School-aged children are at high risk for bullying. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes bullying or cyberbullying as when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. Bullying behavior generally differs between boys and girls with boys utilizing physical aggression and girls using social avenues. Bullying can happen anywhere, including the Internet or through text. No parent ever wants to think their child is capable of bullying. Cover your bases by making sure your child knows that bullying is never okay. Consistently set limits on your child’s aggressive behavior. Being a positive role model is important. You can do this by showing them that good communication is an effective way to resolve differences. Discipline for children should involve non-physical methods, such as loss of privileges. Always remember to reward your child for positive social behavior. If you find your child has been the victim of bullying or has bullied, develop practical solutions by working with the school principal, teachers, counselors and parents of the children involved. 

    Mental, physical and spiritual health combine to enhance the overall well-being of a child. Any areas of concern should be addressed prior to or early in the new school year. If additional help is needed, making an appointment with the child’s physician is an excellent step toward addressing your concerns and preparing your child for future success in all aspects of life.