Stay Healthy Tips for Kids in School
The start of a new school year exposes children to many things -- new friends, wonderful teachers, and lots and lots of bugs. "Schools are a living laboratory for most epidemics and diseases," says Wayne Yankus, M.D., a pediatrician in Midland Park, New Jersey, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' school health committee. "Flu epidemics come from kids in school and we know most of our seasonal epidemics will come from schools." According to the National Institutes of Health, families with school-age children have a higher rate of illness than other families and the number of illnesses per child can be as high as 12 a year.
The most common illnesses that plague schools are strep throat, colds, influenza and chicken pox. Head lice are also a familiar problem (especially among elementary school children), and school nurses rarely have a year without seeing cases of pink eye and Fifth Disease.
Since it's virtually impossible to escape the bugs in schools, the key is to learn how to keep these illnesses at bay. The good news: it's easy. Adequate sleep, regular hand washing, and eating breakfast every day will help protect your child from many contagious illnesses. Here's why:Sleep
Experts say children and teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep a night to ensure good health. Warren Jones, M.D., president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says parents of students need to make sleep a priority. "Study after study shows that our kids are not getting a good night's sleep," he says. One common culprit: TVs and computers in bedrooms. To get your kids accustomed to a school night schedule, Dr. Jones recommends enforcing an earlier bedtime a few weeks before classes begin. This will give your child's body clock time to adjust, and help make the transition easier.Hand Washing
One of the most common ways people catch a cold is by rubbing their nose or eyes after their hand has been contaminated with the cold virus. For that reason, the best insurance policy against colds and the flu is teaching your kids to wash their hands before they eat and after they use the bathroom. No exceptions.Breakfast
It may sound cliche, but eating a healthy breakfast gives your student a head start. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast learn better, participate in class more often, behave better, and attend school more often. They even visit the school nurse less frequently.
Breakfast also helps them with a less delicate problem: constipation. A lot of kids go to the nurse's office with stomach pain, and it's often because they did not have a bowel movement at home and don't want to use the school bathroom, says Dr. Yankus. "The body is ready to stool within a half hour of eating breakfast, but most kids don't leave enough time in the morning for that," he explains. "I urge middle and high school kids to get up early enough to eat, shower, and sit on the toilet before they go to school."