It’s about that time on the calendar when children’s groans change from “I’m bored!” to “Summer’s over already?” Another school year is upon us, and in addition to making sure your young scholars have all the pens, pencils and paper they need, it’s also part of your homework to help them get straight A’s in health.
Helping kids get the proper amount of sleep
One of the biggest adjustments to getting back into the school mindset is sleep schedule. Regular bedtimes often get pushed back, or let’s face it, completely eliminated when there’s no morning bell to consider. Getting enough sleep isn’t just a matter of making those morning wakeup routines less rushed and grumpy — although it totally will do that, trust me — it also has a profound effect on your child’s overall health and academic performance.
Everyone needs to get the proper amount of sleep, but for kids it’s even more important, as a lack of sleep can hamper their development, lead to more irritability and increase the risk for weight gain. In the classroom, they will be less alert and perhaps more fidgety in an effort to stay awake. For children ages 6 to 11, it’s recommended that they get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, while teens should get at least nine. In a troubling statistic, the National Sleep Foundation reports that only 20 percent of teens get enough sleep.
I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but here are some steps you can take to help get your child’s sleep schedule back on track:
- Be consistent: Resist the temptation to fudge bedtimes and wakeups
- Relax: Avoid exercise or stimulating activities in the evening
- Set the mood: Create a sleep environment that is cool, dark, quiet and comfortable
- Minimize screentime: Avoid having a TV or handheld tablet/gaming device in the bedroom
- Set a good example: Make sleep a priority for yourself as well
Knowing which immunizations your child needs
Another area to focus on for back-to-school health is vaccines. This is more than just a good idea, most schools require certain vaccinations before kids can attend. All that paperwork you get from the school around registration time should have all the right information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has helpful guidelines to determine which immunizations your child might need. In addition to the flu shot, standard vaccines for kids of all ages include the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), HepB (Hepatitis B), IPV (inactivated polio virus), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and the varicella vaccine series.
Learn more: Immunizations are safe and important
Beyond that, while August might seem a bit early to check whether your pediatrician has the flu shot or flu mist in stock, go ahead and ask. Maybe you’ll beat the rush and be sitting comfortably immunized while everyone else is scrambling after the weather turns cold.
Playing sports when it’s hot outside
Lastly, for all those budding athletes who are starting practices for fall sports, make sure they’re keeping in mind that it’s still hot outside. Ninety-degree days have been known to happen well into September, in fact, and it’s unfortunately around this time of year when we usually see those tragic news stories of a high-school football player dying from the heat.
Learn more: About heat illness in young athletes
In short, keep them hydrated. Make sure they listen to their bodies and rest when needed. No short-term athletic glory is worth sacrificing long-term health.
Learn more about Jennifer Schreiber, MD.