Community Memorial Health System’s Top 10 Back to School Tips for a Healthy Year

Follow our tips for a healthy start to the new school year!

It’s that time of year again!  While back-to-school shopping seems to be on everyone’s mind, buying supplies, sneakers, and backpacks is not the only thing that should be on parents’ or caregivers’ to-do lists! Here are our top 10 tips for a healthier start to the school year:

Let’s Talk Breakfast:  It’s important for kids to be fueled up with a nutritious breakfast before school.  “Skipping breakfast can make a child feel tired, restless and irritable, and lead to a drop in energy levels,” said Dr. Alison Shuman, Director of Pediatrics at Community Memorial Hospital and a Pediatrician with the CMHS Centers for Family Health.  A healthy breakfast provides energy and fuel for growing bodies and growing brains.  Toaster pastries and donuts are not a healthy choice!  Serve eggs, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal, oatmeal with fruit on top, a bran muffin, or peanut butter and mashed banana on toast.  Avoid sugary beverages like juice which can lead to a “sugar rush” and then energy crash, Dr. Shuman said.

Oatmeal with fresh fruit is a great healthy breakfast option for kids.

“Juices, even 100 percent natural juice, have as much sugar as soda and don’t add any nutritional value to a child’s diet,” Dr. Shuman emphasizes.  “A better option is to give your child plain water or sparkling water with natural flavor and remove juices and other sugary drinks from their diet completely!  Even on hot days or when playing sports, plain water is the only hydration needed and is the best to use, rather than sports or electrolyte drinks.”

Getting Enough ZZZs:  If dragging your sleepy kids out of bed is a regular ordeal, they aren’t getting enough sleep and it’s time to get bedtime under control.  When the body doesn’t have enough rest, kids are cranky and don’t think as clearly.  An easy school assignment becomes a struggle and you can forget performing well in after-school sports or band practice.  Enforce a regular bedtime (this helps the body get into a good sleep routine), limit foods and drinks with caffeine in the evening, and don’t let the kids watch scary television shows or movies before bedtime.  It’s also imperative that all electronics are shut down at least an hour before bedtime.

In some cases, other issues may be preventing your child from getting the sleep he or she needs.  “Sleep apnea, or a blocking of the airway when sleeping, happens in kids more often than people realize,” Dr. Shuman added.  “It can occur in children with allergies.  If your child snores most nights, talk to your pediatrician about what might need to be done to fix the problem.”

The National Sleep Foundation offers guidelines for the amount of sleep children need.  They also offer additional information on how using electronics can stimulate the brain before bedtime.

Be sure to monitor the weight of your child’s backpack.

Backpack Boondoggle:  Around middle school, backpacks start getting really heavy from the load of books.  Carrying all this weight around daily can strain the shoulders, neck and back of children and negatively affect their posture.  Monitor how heavy your child’s backpack is and ask the teacher if kids can use a copy of books in the classroom to lighten the load.  Make sure your child’s backpack fits well and has padding on the shoulder straps that can be loosened and tightened.  If the school allows it, a rolling backpack is a good option.

Check-Ups, Immunizations and Sports Physicals:  Physicals are often required to play certain school sports, and children should always be up-to-date on immunizations.  Dr. Shuman noted that young children aren’t the only ones for whom vaccinations are important.  “Getting your teenager their Tdap shot (whooping cough booster) will help protect our community’s smallest members,” she said.  “Teenagers who have missed a booster and lost their protection from whooping cough are among the largest groups to pass whooping cough on to babies who are too young to get their shots, so when you protect your teen, you protect everyone else too!”

Community Memorial Health System’s Centers for Family Health offer back-to-school check-ups, immunizations and school sports physicals, as well as pediatric care.  Clinics are located around Western Ventura County.  CLICK HERE to find the Center for Family Health closest to you!

If your child rides a bike to school, make sure he or she wears a helmet and understands how to bike safely.

Walking and Bicycling to School Safely:  Walking or riding a bike to school is a great way for kids to get some daily exercise, but safety is an issue that parents should review with their kids.  Bicyclists must follow all the same rules of the road as cars, and in some cities, bike riders can share sidewalks with pedestrians.  By law, bike and scooter riders age 18 and younger must also wear a helmet.  Bicyclists should not ride against traffic – drivers do not expect bikes to come from the wrong direction and this can lead to a head-on crash.  Bicyclists must ride on the right side of the street with traffic, except when passing, making a legal left turn, riding on a one-way street, and in a few other instances.  Keep your kids safer by having them take a route on streets that are not busy with car traffic, and counsel them to be especially careful around driveways and alleys.  Also advise kids to pay attention to their surroundings, especially when talking on a cellphone, and to NEVER text and walk in the street or around cars.  Read more about bike safety from the California Bicycle Coalition.

Food Allergies:  An allergic reaction can happen when exposure to a certain food triggers a harmful immune response in someone who is allergic.  Symptoms can range from mild (an itchy mouth or hives) to severe (difficulty breathing).  Anaphylaxis is a serious and sudden allergic reaction that can be fatal.  If your child has a food allergy (allergies to nuts and shellfish are among the most common), make sure their school and nurse’s office know about it and devise a plan to keep your child safe.  It is also very important that children with food allergies always have an epinephrine pen with them at home or at school.  Lear more here: https://www.foodallergy.org.

Personal Medical Needs:  If your child has a chronic health condition that requires daily medication like asthma or diabetes, meet with the school nurse before school starts to get a plan in place for their individual needs.  Also make sure the school and teachers are aware your child has a medical, behavioral, or emotional issue that might need special consideration.  If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that covers this, make sure it’s updated.

Kids who don’t see or hear well may have trouble in the classroom. Be sure to have your child’s vision and hearing checked regularly.

The Eyes and Ears Have It:  When was the last time your child’s vision and hearing were checked?  Kids who don’t see or hear well can have a hard time in the classroom.  Most pediatricians and schools conduct regular vision and hearing checks, so parents and caregivers just need to make sure they are updated.  If your child starts to experience headaches while reading, sits too close to the TV, squints a lot, has trouble concentrating, shouts or talks too loudly, have their vision or hearing checked again.

Head Lice: UGH!  The louse is a small parasite that lives on the scalp and sucks on small amounts of blood from the host (usually your child).  In the United States, head lice infestations are most common among preschool-age and elementary school-age children and their household members and caretakers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  If your child has an itchy scalp or you notice sores on the child’s scalp from a lot of scratching, call your pediatrician for a diagnosis.  A safe, over-the-counter cream rinse called Nix can help.  If the school informs you that there is a lice infestation at school, be extra vigilant about examining your child’s hair.  Avoid sleep-over parties and teach your kids not to share pillows, combs, brushes, hats, barrettes, hair ties or bike helmets with other kids.  Learn more from the CDC.

Visit Community Memorial Health System’s Urgent Care for Fast Care:  Kids who miss a lot of school because they are sick can get behind in their classes quickly.  If your child comes down with something after hours, or is ill with something that isn’t necessarily an emergency but needs more immediate attention than waiting a week for a doctor’s appointment, visit the CMHS Urgent Care location nearest you.  Urgent Care is a great way to get your kids seen by a doctor quickly so they can recover faster and miss less school.

Community Memorial Health System wishes you a safe – and healthy – school year!

Dr. Alison Shuman is Director of Pediatrics at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and a Pediatrician at the CMHS Centers for Family Health.