Stay Healthy Tips for Kids in School

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Ready for School

What can you do before school starts to make sure your child is prepared for a healthy year ahead? The experts we talked to recommended five things that every parent can do. It's best to start early, but it's never to late to do any of them.

Immunizations

Every state has immunization requirements that apply to all public and private schools. The reason vaccinations are required by law: they work. In Colorado, where it's relatively easy for parents to request exemption from school-entry immunization requirements, researchers found that children ages 3 to 18 years who were never immunized were 22 times more likely than immunized children to get measles and nearly six times more likely to develop whooping cough. For elementary school-age children (ages 3 to 10), the risks were greater: children who were not immunized were 60 times more likely to get measles and 16 times likelier to come down with whooping cough.

Your doctor's office does a good job of reminding you about shots, but it's helpful to keep a list at home. If you aren't certain what shots are needed and when, check out LHJ.com's Immunization Chart.

Eye Exams

One in four children has an undetected eye problem that may lead to difficulties in learning, reports the Better Vision Institute. Kids may think they are seeing the same thing as their peers and not tell their parents, so it's best to schedule an eye exam. School-age children should see an eye-care practitioner at about age 6, and every two years after that if they have no problems. If your child wears glasses, annual visits should be scheduled. Don't rely on the school vision screens that most elementary schools do. They only detect 20 to 30 percent of vision disorders and aren't meant to replace a complete eye exam.

Some signs your little scholar may have a vision problem:

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Losing his place while reading or using a finger to follow along while reading
  • Squinting or tilting his head
  • Frequent eye rubbing or sensitivity to light

Foot Measurements

Start the year off with a new pair of shoes. Odds are the ones your child has been living in all summer are getting tight. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, children between the ages of 4 and 9 should have their feet measured every four months. Once past age 10, feet should be measured every six months. Shoes for school-age children should be flexible and made of breathable leather or canvas. If you have a brand that already fits your child well, stick with it.

Backpack Weight

Kids cram way too much stuff in their packs, and as a result their spines are suffering. Since 1997, there has been an increase in the number of children in hospital emergency rooms complaining of back pain, says Dr. Yankus. "Sixth-graders tend to carry the heaviest backpacks," he adds.

The general rule: A child's backpack shouldn't weigh more than 15 to 20 percent of his weight. For example, if a child weighs 80 pounds, she should carry 12 pounds or less in her backpack. If you can afford it, Dr. Yankus recommends buying an extra set of schoolbooks so your child will have a set at home. If that's not feasible, see if they can do homework on a computer disk and transport the disk back and forth between home and school. Other tips:

  • Buy a backpack with well-padded straps and tell your children to always use both straps.
  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy and sized appropriately. Some manufacturers sell special child-sized versions for children ages 5 to 10. These packs weigh less than a pound and have shorter back lengths and widths so they do not slip around on the back. A well-fitting backpack should sit two to four inches above the waist.
  • Teach your child to clean out her pack regularly to lighten her load. "You don't need to carry around September's papers in your binder in March," Dr. Yankus says.
  • Always pack out, not up.
  • Consider buying a backpack with wheels, but do your homework first. Having your child pull their book bag may seem like the answer, but not if they take several buses, Dr. Yankus says. The wheeled packs can be difficult for younger children to maneuver up stairs and curbs -- and they can hurt their arms. Also, some schools consider the packs a fire hazard because they clutter hallways. Most wheeled backpacks don't crush down and, as a result, won't fit in a locker.

Communicate with the School

It's one of the simplest things parents can do, but the most important, says Judy Robinson, Ph.D., a former school nurse who now directs the National Association of School Nurses. Before the first bell rings, she advises the following:

  • Be sure that the school nurse or a school official (not every school has it's own nurse) knows about any allergies or health concerns your child has.
  • Double-check that the school has the proper medical and contact information. "Parents often change addresses, work numbers or doctors and they never let the school office know that those numbers have changed," she says. If something happens to your child, the school has to spend valuable time trying to track down Mom or Dad.
  • If your child has a serious illness, call the school nurse before school starts and talk to her about any special needs your child may have. Better yet, stop in and see her in person. That way a nursing care plan can be put in place before classes start.

 

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