Dr. Melissa Arca
Summer, it seems, has passed by in a flash and here we are…back to school. The morning rush is on. Kids are scrambling out the door, forgetting lunch boxes and homework on countertops everywhere. And though we may welcome the routine and earlier bedtimes, back to school can also mean an uptick in illnesses and increased stress for our kids.
Keeping them healthy (and in school) can often be a challenge. So, here are some tips to maximize their health all school year long:
I know it’s hard getting back on track. But do it. Do it now. Make sure your school aged child gets at least 10 hours per night. Your teen needs 8.5-9.5. And did you see the new policy statement by the AAP regarding teens, sleep, and later school start times? It really would be great if school started a bit later for our teens. Sleep is so important. Without the proper amount, kids are prone to illnesses, their stress levels increase, symptoms of ADHD are exacerbated, and their overall physical and mental health are diminished.
Moderate Screen Time
If you do one thing this school year…please remove all screens/electronics/computers form your child’s bedroom. They encroach on sleep and can delay them getting to bed. Teens in particular…please leave your phone charging in the kitchen while you sleep. You can answer those texts and catch up on Facebook later.
Kids need time to decompress and being screen free and having screen free zones is so important. Have rules for your whole family. Take breaks. Prioritize sleep, family time, homework, and exercise instead.
Make sure everyone gets some bona fide outdoor time daily. Fresh air cures even the grumpiest of moods (kids/teens and adults alike). So, go for that family walk, take a swim, or go biking. Just move it.
Reduce Stress, Don’t Overbook
Kids often confess to me that they can’t get to bed at a decent hour because there’s just too much to do. From piano, to soccer, to homework…kids can barely fit in some down time let alone time for some much needed sleep.
Stress has real physical consequences. Think headaches, abdominal pain, and difficulty falling asleep.
Help your child keep stress in check by avoiding the overbooked schedule, check in with them about their day, make time to connect, and encourage some stress free family fun time daily. You don’t need a lot of time either. If all you have is 20 minutes, seize those 2o minutes and make them count.
Practice Good Hand Washing
Oh, you knew the viruses and infections would be back, didn’t you? They can spread like wildfire, particularly among the younger set. Teach your children good hand washing habits. Have them scrub up before eating, after using the bathroom, and after coming in from outdoors. And while you’re at it, encourage your child to sneeze/cough in the crook of his/her elbow and keep your kiddos home from school if they’re sick.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
No matter how time crunched, have your kids eat something. They will need it. You will set the stage for healthy eating choices throughout the day. So serve up some yogurt, granola, and a banana. Doesn’t have to be fancy to be nutritious.
Make sure your child is up to date on vaccines and get the seasonal flu shot/mist.
While we can’t prevent all coughs, colds, and strep throats that come our way; we do have vaccines that prevent a great deal of infections and viruses. Use them and protect your family from lost days of school and work.
Now here’s to a fun-filled and exciting school year. Enjoy my friends and stay well!
Dr. Melissa Arca is a pediatrician, mom of two, writer, blogger, and child advocate. She is author of the award winning blog, Confessions of a Dr. Mom and writes a weekly parenting/children’s health column 0 ,for her local paper, The Sacramento Bee. In her free time you can find her at the beach with her husband and two kids (ages 5 and 7), coffee in hand.