A Learning Curve Parents Should Help Prepare Children for Going Back to School

Not all children look forward to returning to school in the fall, especially those who might have developed a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma over the summer months.

Parents can ease their child’s fears about getting sick at school by assuring them they have created and shared with school officials an “action plan” designed to help prevent any aggravations of their illness and spelling out exactly what to do should an emergency situation arise.

As chair of the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, I can attest to the life-threatening nature of asthma and the importance of the need for an asthma action plan to be shared with your child’s school, as well as any other health action plans that might be needed for food allergies, seizures, and other disorders for which an emergency situation might occur.

An action plan is an individualized management plan developed in conjunction with the child’s pediatrician that can be shared with the school nurse, teachers, and other appropriate school officials. General information should be included in the plan, such as emergency contact names and phone numbers, contact names and phone numbers for your health care provider, and disease-specific information that, for asthmatics, would include severity, triggers, medications and doses, signs and symptoms, and what to do when an episode occurs.

In the case of diabetes, for example, an action plan would consist of the timing of meals and snacks, instructions on how to administer insulin, as well as blood-sugar testing and other key information your pediatrician deems necessary.

Especially for younger children, you will also need to make a list to share with the school of medications that must be given to your child during the day. The school should also be made aware of any special diet restrictions your child is under.

As for seemingly healthy children, the back-to-school season can serve as an important reminder to schedule your child’s yearly physical exam. In addition to identifying any potential health problems and addressing them in a timely manner, a child’s well-care visit gives a pediatrician an opportunity to answer any questions a child might not feel comfortable asking a parent about, such as drinking, drugs, and sexual activity.

Be sure to ask your pediatrician if your child’s immunizations are current. It’s important that children of all ages receive their vaccinations on time as a way of safeguarding their long-term health, as well as that of friends, classmates, and others in the community. Also, keep in mind that kids in preschool and elementary school need flu vaccines to protect them from the virus. In fact, all children six months and older need flu vaccines.

Scheduling that back-to-school physical will also give parents an opportunity to bring with them any permission slips that a doctor needs to sign before a child is allowed to participate in school sports. It’s also a good idea to ask your child’s pediatrician about any safety gear, such as helmets, that should be used for a particular sport, as well as any precautions that might need to be taken.

As the first day of school nears, you will need to get your child’s sleep schedules back on track after allowing them to stay up later and sleep longer in the morning. To prepare for the big day, start setting bedtimes earlier and earlier over a two-week period. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep affects a child’s school performance. In general, school-aged children need anywhere from nine to 12 hours of sleep each night.

Also, in the hustle and bustle of the school year beginning, don’t let your child leave home without a healthy breakfast. How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s true, especially for kids. According to the American Dietetic Assoc., research indicates that eating in the morning is essential for children’s school performance and overall health. And kids who eat breakfast tend to do better at school and maintain a healthier weight and cholesterol.

When shopping for school supplies, give careful consideration to your choice of backpack. The increased amount of large books and other materials a child carries to and from school these days in their backpack can result in back pain.

Parents should choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. When filling the backpack, pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of your child’s total body weight. Always have your child use both shoulder straps. Sliding a backpack over one’s shoulder can strain muscles. Also, consider a rolling backpack, an especially good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember, however, that rolling backpacks must still be carried up the stairs, and they may be difficult to roll in the snow.

Finally, as we learn more and more about bullying in our society today, parents and educators are becoming increasingly concerned about these aggressive behaviors, which not only have physical effects, but can take a toll on a child’s emotional health forever.

One of the most important things a parent can do if their child is being bullied is to report the situation to a school leader. Go in calmly with a list of the exact events, and make sure to ask what the school is going to do to handle the problem. Ask school leaders about what they are doing to empower the bystanders — those children aware of the bullying, but who are not the victims themselves — to speak out in defense of a victim. Encouraging ‘speaking up’ is an important effort schools can undertake to help change the culture around tolerating bullying.

Matthew Sadof is an attending physician at Baystate High Street Health Center Pediatrics and Baystate Children’s Hospital.

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