By Amy Kraft
After summer months of staying up late, zoning out in front of the TV or video screen, running wild outside, and eating snacks throughout the day, kids are in for a big adjustment as they head back to school. Most children need help transitioning back into a routine with deadlines for a successful start to the school year. It’s also a good time for kids to visit the pediatrician, dentist and eye doctor to make sure their health makes the grade.
Read on for some tips to get kids on track for a healthy start to the school year…
Establish a sleep routine
Going back to school means an end to staying up late. To help your child transition back to waking up early, Dr. Warren Seigel, Chairman of Pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital in New York, says it’s important to establish a new sleep routine. “Start with going to bed one hour earlier every night and waking up early until the new routine is established,” he told CBS News. “It needs to be done a week or two before going back to school, not the night before school starts.”
The National Sleep Foundation provides guidelines for the amount of sleep children should get at different ages. They suggest kids between the ages of 3 and 5 get 10 to 13 hours of sleep a night; ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep; and teens 14 and older should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
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Dr. Sarah Armstrong, director of Duke’s Healthy Lifestyles Clinic and an associate professor of Pediatrics and Community and Family Medicine, also offered some advice to help kids fall asleep easier. “Taking a hot bath cools the body down and triggers the central nervous system to induce sleep,” she said. “Also turning the lights down an hour or two before bedtime.”
Studies have shown that the glowing light from cellphone and tablet screens can disrupt sleep cycles, so make sure kids put electronic devices away well before bedtime.
Get an annual physical
“Every pediatrician’s office is chock-full of patients the week before school starts,” Seigel told CBS News. Annual checkups should be done by a pediatrician before each new school year to ensure that your child’s medical records and vaccinations are up to date. (You might need to provide this information to the school.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a complete list of vaccination schedules, by age group, posted on its website.
Also, be sure to schedule your child for a sports physical so they can participate in athletics. Armstrong says that sports physicals are valid for one year. “Your child won’t be able to participate in sports if that is not done,” she told CBS News.
Hearing tests should also be done if you have concerns. Armstrong said that hearing screens are done regularly until about age six or seven and then every two to three years thereafter. “Hearing is less likely to go bad at a later age [in adolescence],” Armstrong said.
Vision screenings are typically done as part of a child’s physical exam, so parents should ask pediatricians about checking their children’s eyesight before school starts.
“Having poor vision can sometimes go unnoticed,” Armstrong told CBS News. Kids might not say anything or know that something is amiss with their vision, she said. If your child has to squint or strain to see the front of the classroom, it could show up as headaches during the day, poor school performance or even behavioral problems. Pediatricians can advise when a visit to a an optometrist or ophthalmologist is needed.
According to the CDC, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic conditions among children and results in a staggering number of missed school days. Good oral hygiene is an important part of a child’s overall health. Armstrong recommends that all kids should go to the dentist two times a year for routine cleanings and that kids brush their teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste.
Kids younger than six should use a dab of toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice, with a parent’s assistance, while those six and older should use a bit more toothpaste, about the size of a pea. “Flossing is challenging to do with grade schoolers, so you should use a stick flosser instead,” Armstrong suggested.
A lot of kids spend the summer eating differently, with fewer rules and more treats, but now’s the time to rein that in. “What kids have been eating July and August should not go in the brown bag for school,” Seigel told CBS News.
Before the new school year starts, get your child back into the habit of eating three regular meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Armstrong suggests families sit down for meals together to help the child reset the routine.
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It’s also good to check with your child’s school to find out about lunch options and meal schedules before the school year starts. Be sure and inform the school if your child has any food allergies.
The backpack burden
Backpacks full of books and school supplies can put strain on your child’s neck, shoulders and back. Seigel, who is father to 9-year-old twin girls, said that when he tried to lift one of his daughter’s backpacks he thought he was going to get a hernia because it was so heavy. In addition to getting a backpack strong enough to carry a heavy load, he suggests talking with teachers to see if there are ways to lighten the burden.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids always use both shoulder straps when wearing a backpack. “Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles,” the group states on its website. Also, check with your school to see if they allow rolling backpacks, which may be a good option for students who have a lot to carry.
Homework and study habits
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests creating an environment in the home that is conducive to doing homework. “Children need a consistent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study,” the group advises.
It’s a good idea to schedule a regular time for homework so the child gets into the routine. Make sure that homework time is free from distractions like TV or other electronic devices.
If your child is struggling with a particular subject or can’t focus, discuss this with a teacher or school counselor to determine the best solution.
“If your child has ADD or ADHD, chances are you’ve been able to get through summer months a little easier because kids are running around and blowing off steam,” Seigel told CBS News. To help them readjust and focus on the demands of school, Seigel suggests limiting screen time and re-establishing a regular reading schedule into your child’s day roughly two weeks before school starts. Setting regular meal times, bedtimes and morning routines is a good idea, too.
If your child took a break from medication during the summer, Armstrong suggests starting back on medication a week before school starts. “The most important thing for kids with ADD and ADHD are sleep, eating patterns, and getting back on meds if that’s what parents chose to use,” she said.
Armstrong adds: “If your child met with a behavioral counselor to manage behavior in the past, it’s good to get that started again ahead of time so they feel confident in what their expectations are.”