As summer vacations come to an end, students are readying themselves for the start of a new school year. As you prepare to send your child to school arm yourself with some helpful health and safety information.
Top 5 Causes of Missed School
A boy dressed up like a doctor.Children in large groups are breeding grounds for the organisms that cause illness. Here is a lineup of the top five infectious illnesses that keep kids home from school and child care.
Children typically have six to ten colds a year and also tend to have more severe and longer lasting symptoms than do adults. The good news is that you or your child should be feeling better in about a week. If symptoms aren’t improving in that time, see your doctor to make sure your child doesn’t have a bacterial infection in the lungs, sinuses or ears.
The second most common childhood illness is gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu. This illness can lead to dehydration. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include: excessive thirst, dry mouth, severe weakness or lethargy, nausea or vomiting.
Middle ear infections occur most often in babies and children between the ages of 4 months and 5 years. Most children have had at least one ear infection by the time they’re 3 years old. It can be difficult to distinguish between ear infections caused by bacteria and those caused by viruses. For most otherwise healthy kids over 6 months of age, watchful waiting is a reasonable choice for suspected ear infections. They often clear up without antibiotics. But this may not be the best option for every child. If your child has recurrent ear infections, hearing loss or other health conditions, your doctor may suggest antibiotics or ear tubes.
Also know as conjunctivitis, it is an inflammation of the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelids. When caused by viruses or bacteria, it is highly contagious. Warm or cool compresses may ease your child’s discomfort. Signs and symptoms of pink eye include: redness and or itchiness in one or both eyes, blurred vision and sensitivity to light, and tearing.
Dry scratchiness and painful swallowing are the hallmarks of a sore throat but it is most often a symptom of another illness – usually a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. Most sore throats usually go away on their own in a few days. Only a small portion of sore throats are the result of strep throat. Strep throat is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15, but can affect people of all ages. Fevers above 101°F are common in strep throat, and swallowing can be so painful that your child may have difficulty eating. Antibiotics are required to combat strep throat.
One of the most important things your child can do to prevent illness is to wash his or her hands regularly throughout the day. Despite your best efforts, your child is going to get sick – especially during his or her first few years of contact with larger groups of children. But a child’s immunity improves with time. School-age children gradually become less prone to common illnesses and recover more quickly from the diseases they do catch.
Check-Ups and Immunizations
Routine exams and screenings help you and your kids prevent, identify, and treat health problems when they arise. Vaccines greatly reduce your child’s risk of serious illness (particularly when more and more people use them) and give diseases fewer chances to take hold in a population. Unfortunately, misinformation about vaccines could make some parents decide not to immunize their children, putting them and others at a greater risk for illness.
Evaluate information on immunizations, talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions, be sure to tell your healthcare provider if your child has health problems or allergies to medications or food, and be sure to discuss what specific vaccine schedules are recommended for your child.
Failure to keep immunizations up to date could result in your child not being able to attend school. Each state has different vaccination requirements.
Healthy Sleep for Children and Teens
Children’s health and behavior take a nose dive when their sleep habits are out of whack. Adequate sleep will boost your child’s energy and enthusiasm. Good-quality sleep also can help your child learn more easily and reduce many behavioral problems.
How Much Is Enough?
Generally, between the ages of 6 and 9, most children need about 10 hours of sleep a night, while preteens need a little over 9 hours. Your child may require more sleep if he or she:
- Has a short attention span, or is irritable or restless
- Has unusually low energy low energy and activity levels
- Is more tearful, anxious, defensive or impatient than usual
Sleep Tips for Your Children
- Set a regular time for bed each night and stick to it
- Avoid feeding children big meals close to bedtime
- Avoid giving anything with caffeine less than six hours before bedtime
- Make after-dinner playtime a relaxing time
- Establish a calming bedtime routine
Each child is different and has his or her own way of approaching sleep. Some take extra time to fall asleep, while others wake more often during the night. You know your child’s personal habits best, so with a little trial and error, you should succeed in finding a routine that suits your family.
Eating right will help provide the nutrients needed to have energy, build strong bones, and fight diseases and other conditions. Pay attention to what and how much your kids eat. A change in eating habits may be an early warning signal for other problems.
Snacks — Plan Them, Don’t Ban Them!
Unfortunately nearly one-fourth of kids’ daily energy intake comes from nibbling between meals. Much of this nibbling is on prepackaged snack foods, which are high in calories and low in nutrients. But snacking itself isn’t necessarily bad. Young children actually need snacks. Their stomachs are small, so they often can’t get all the nutrients they need in a day through meals alone. It’s not always easy to persuade your kids to eat healthy snacks and their snacking habits aren’t going to change overnight, but here are a few snack-time tips:
- Offer similar choices. Instead of ice cream or pretzels, offer your child frozen yogurt or soda crackers.
- Provide variety. Be sure to select snacks from a variety of food groups so your kids won’t be bored with their snack choice.
- Be creative. Dress up fruits and vegetables – offer celery with peanut butter, or carrots with a low-fat dip.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, up to 6% of children in the U.S. under age 3 have food allergies. They are less common in adults but, overall, food allergies affect nearly 4 million people. Along with milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and shellfish, peanuts are among the most common foods that cause allergies. For some kids, food allergies can cause only minor discomfort, like a little tingling in the mouth. But for others they can be severe, causing difficulty breathing, for example. Try to work with your child’s school to find ways your child can be supervised to prevent contact with allergenic foods. Find out who would give your child treatment and discuss your child’s allergies with that person, making sure that they have any necessary medications and medical information.
Fruit Juice — Friend or Foe?
Although juice does contain some healthy nutrients, it’s high in calories and it may contribute to weight gain and tooth decay if consumed in excess. Some juice drinks, even those with 100% juice, have more calories than sugary carbonated beverages do. Juice also lacks the healthy fiber that whole fruit has. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children drink no more than two 6-ounce servings of fruit juice a day.
Kids can choose any type of moderate or higher intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, or swimming, as long as it adds up to at least one hour a day. Work with your child’s school to ensure the activity is age appropriate and, to ensure safety, provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, and knee pads to prevent sports injuries.
For children and adolescents, regular physical activity has beneficial effects on the following aspects of health:
- Muscular strength
- Bone mass
- Anxiety and stress
It is recommended that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most day of the week.
Travel to and from School
It’s estimated that 24 million students nationwide start their school day with a trip on the school bus. Whether they walk, ride the bus or travel by car, teach your kids these few tips to ensure they get to and from school safely.
Tips for School Bus Riders
- Do not play in the street while waiting for the bus
- Carry all loose belongings in a bag or backpack and never reach under the school bus to get anything that has rolled or fallen beneath it.
- Line up facing the bus, not along side it.
- Move immediately onto the sidewalk and out of traffic after getting off the bus.
- Wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street and walk at least 10 steps away from the front of the bus so the driver can see you.
Tips for Pedestrians or Bike Riders
- Never walk alone – always travel with a buddy. Try and find a friend, or make a new friend in the neighborhood to walk to school or ride the bus with.
- Wear reflective or bright color clothing to increase visibility.
- Respect traffic lights and street signs.
- Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
- Avoid loose fitting clothing that could get caught in spokes or pedals.
Tips for Car Drivers and Passengers
- Make sure young children are in safety seats at all times, and that the seats have been properly installed.
- All children under 13 years should ride in the rear seat of vehicles.
- Remember that many crashes occur while novice teen drivers are going to and from school. You may want to limit the number of teen passengers to prevent driver distraction. Do not allow your teen to drive while eating, drinking, or talking on a cell phone.
Source: Federal Citizen Information Center
Psych Central. (2006). Back to School Tips. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/back-to-school-tips/000467
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.