Your Complete Back-to-School Health Checklist
Preparing for school can be overwhelming after a busy summer, so use this checklist to help your family start the school year happy and healthy.
School is in
It’s time to ditch the beach bags in favor of backpacks once again as kids head back to school. This year nearly 60 million children in the United States will hit the books, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And that doesn’t even include our collegians, which account for another nearly 20 million students. With so many young people furthering their education, it’s important to take stock of their health in order to make this school year a success for your smarty pants.
Consider having “the talk”
On the list of milestones parents look forward to for their children, having an honest talk about sex doesn’t typically rank very high. But a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that talking with your children about sex is among the best ways to prevent sexually transmitted illnesses and unwanted pregnancies. You know your child best, and deciding when to begin the conversation is individual, but study authors recommend broaching the subject before the age of 14. Another important chat to have? How to keep your kids safe online.
Whether you’re packing lunch or eyeing the school lunch menu to see if it offers anything your child will actually eat, talking to your kids about healthy foods and how they fuel their body may offer some insight into meal options for the coming year. “Planning a menu and shopping with a list each week helps to manage your budget because you buy what is needed rather than going to the store each day,” says Chef Zipora Einav, author of Recipe for a Delicious Life. “And if the kids are old enough, let them help you prepare their lunches. That is an excellent time to have discussions with your children about nutrition.” Get inspired by these healthy lunch ideas from around the world.
If your child is a student-athlete, address any health concerns with his or her doctor prior to starting a new season. Assess any physical concerns or previous injuries before jumping into an intense practice regimen and game schedule. No matter how skilled an athlete, repeated stress on the same muscles and joints can exacerbate a small physical ailment and unintentionally sideline your budding sports star. Nip problems in the bud before they get worse. You’ll also want to learn the 2-minute concussion test anyone can do.
Know your school’s requirements
Whether your child is starting a new school or the old one has new requirements, the best place to begin is by learning what’s needed for their files. Eboni Hollier, MD, a Houston-based physician and specialist in developmental, behavioral, and general pediatrics, says this is a good place to start to avoid any confusion or delays. “Parents should be sure that children have received all required immunizations,” she says. “If your child requires a physical, be sure to schedule this appointment prior to school beginning. Many student-athletes will need this.” These are the things your child’s pediatrician won’t tell you.
Put necessary medications on file at school
Dr. Hollier also stresses communicating with teachers and administrators about any prescriptions your child takes—especially if the meds need to be administered at school. “Be sure the proper forms are signed by you and your child’s physician,” she suggests. “Additionally, inform your child’s school of any chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, and have a specific written plan of action on file in the event that your child becomes ill while at school. Let the school know of any food, environmental, or medication allergies. This is especially important if your child is required to have an EpiPen at school for allergic emergencies.”
Take time for an emotional wellness check-in
“Rather than waiting until a stressful situation hits, parents should continually check in with their kids and maintain awareness of their moods and state of mind. That way they can get a sense of how their kids are doing and whether there have been changes in their behavior or mental state that warrant further investigation,” says Barbara Nosal, PhD, LMFT, LADC, the Chief Clinical Officer at Newport Academy. “Every child is different, especially as they mature into adolescence, so parents need to judge behavior and happiness levels based on their intimate knowledge of their unique child, rather than on any checklist that describes the ‘average’ child.” Check out our 11 teacher-approved tricks to get your kids ready for the first day of school.
Start with these mental health questions
If you’re not sure where to begin in terms of a mental and emotional health check, Dr. Nosal suggests a few pertinent questions like the following: Is your child/teen sleeping well? Do they have a healthy appetite? Do they have meaningful relationships with others, including peers and family members? Are they able to bounce back from failures and mistakes? Are they able to express their emotions?
Address back-to-school jitters
“The biggest gift parents can give their kids is the ability to cope with stressful situations,” says Dr. Nosal. “Children learn by example, so parents need to be mindful of how they manage their own stress—in particular, what they say and do in front of their children. When parents are anxious, children not only sense it—they feel it. Children today are under enough stress of their own without taking on parental anxiety.” She suggests asking your child what would help them transition back to school more easily, as they might have very specific ideas. Here are some great ways to beat back-to-school stress.
Keep an eye on your child’s vision
Don’t wait for a vision issue to arise. Get ahead of any problems by requesting a screening for kids starting with their first birthday and continuing through the age of five. That’s what the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends. This volunteer review group consists of experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine.
Vision exams should continue after the age of five
According to both the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s vision should be checked annually. If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist who can conduct eye exams, diagnose problems caused by disease, detect visual processing disorders, and prescribe glasses or contact lenses for your child.
Assess your child’s sleep patterns
Kids need sleep if they’re going to do well in school—and in life, finds a study in Frontiers in Psychology. For kids kindergarten-aged through second grade, Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO and co-founder of Reverie, offers this tip: “It’s best to start your child’s bedtime routine well before actual bedtime, since young kids often need a while to get used to the idea that they have to go to sleep soon,” he says. “If they don’t like being told what to do, focus on a choice: ‘Bedtime’s in 45 minutes. Would you like to read Book X or Book Y together?’” Learn some simple swaps that will help you save big on back-to-school shopping.
Set sleep incentives for big kids
Parents really have to watch their kids’ sleep habits when they’re in the third to sixth grade age range. “At this age, kids can feel overwhelmed, as their school demands increase at the same time that extracurricular activities and social dynamics become more important,” Rawls-Meehan says. “Alleviate these stressors by spending some time helping your child create a list of all her obligations and decide when she will tackle each one.”
Take stock of sleep changes in teens
Did you know that the body’s internal clock—its circadian rhythms—actually shift during the teen years? As Rawls-Meehan points out, these changes conflict with their school schedule—teens want to stay up later and sleep in past the first bell. Rawls-Meehan recommends outlining a cut-off time for homework so that they’re not up until all hours finishing assignments; then, fine-tune their list of activities so that they’re not over-scheduled. Finally, nix the phone after, say, 9:00 p.m. because it can stimulate the brain and interfere with nodding off. Learn the simple home upgrades that will make your child’s school year more successful.
Get up to date on dental checkups and cleanings
The Dental Clinic at Roseman University reports that dental pain is the foremost cause of school absences in the United States, adding up to approximately 51 million hours of missed school. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends scheduling a dental check-up for kids every six months, although your pediatric dentist may suggest more frequent visits depending on a child’s oral health. Also, make sure you’re watching out for these unhealthy ingredients hiding in your kid’s lunch.
Brush up on braces
Parents can drop between $5,000 and $6,000 on braces, which means it’s definitely worthwhile to make sure your kids know how to care for their smile. “The idea is to straighten their teeth, give them a confident smile, and allow them to feel better about their appearance,” says Dr. Kerry White Brown, orthodontist and author of A Lifetime of Sensational Smiles: Transforming Lives Through Orthodontics. She recommends teaching children to use an oscillating electric toothbrush and to floss daily to prevent decay. Dr. White Brown also suggests that parents encourage kids to avoid hard candy and cut hard foods like carrot sticks and apples into bite-size pieces.
Take your child’s acne seriously
Unless you are one of the lucky few who survived adolescence without a pimple in sight, you have firsthand knowledge of the anguish acne can cause. What may seem like a rite of passage can be incredibly detrimental to a kid’s self-esteem. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests treating acne early with a board-certified dermatologist. The association also recommends allowing your teen to consult with the doctor alone so that he or she can fully express his or her own skin concerns. With studies showing that clearing acne can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, it’s clear that meeting this condition head-on could be life-changing for a young person. Next, learn the back-to-school secrets that parents of straight-A students know.