A Pediatrician Shares the Top Five Things You Need to Do Before Your Child Goes Back to School

By Peter Jung, MD

We know how you’re feeling. Just yesterday you were reading up on summer safety tips. Now, your kiddos will be back to school before you know it. Here are some tips to help parents and kids physically and mentally prepare for the upcoming school year.

1. Reduce the Risk of Germs

Germs are an inevitable part of any school year so it’s important to teach children simple but effective hygiene habits, such as proper hand washing, sneezing into the elbow (instead of their hand), and covering their mouth when they cough. The silver lining to every illness is that it contributes to the strength and maturity of a child’s immune system. Like any other part of the body, the immune system has to be challenged and exercised to get stronger.

Here are some hand washing tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Proper handwashing can reduce respiratory illnesses in the general population by up to 21 percent, and reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by up to 57 percent, according to studies cited by the CDC.

2. Be Aware of Social Media Activity

Social media is an integral part of almost every teen and preteen’s daily routine. Like any other tool, it can be used in both harmful and beneficial ways. Approach social media the same way you would teach your child to drive: there are safety rules that must be followed to avoid being harmed and to prevent one from inflicting harm. Like driving, social media usage should be carefully monitored until you can trust your child to make good decisions.

According to stopbullying.gov, 37 percent of people between the ages of 12 to 17 have experienced bullying online. Conversely, 23 percent of students reported they’ve said or done something cruel to someone else online.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter
  • SMS (short message service) also known as text message sent through devices
  • Direct message through devices, email provider services, apps, and social media messaging features
  • Email

Parents who notice the warning signs of cyberbullying should take steps to investigate the child’s digital behavior.

3. Be Ready for Flu Season

The flu is an annual epidemic that can be overwhelming and deadly at times. Although good hygiene habits can help, the flu vaccine is by far the most important way to protect your children. While the flu immunization effectiveness varies from year to year, it is the best protection we have and it always reduces the risk of catching the flu. Should you still catch the flu, it mitigates the seriousness of the illness and the potential for serious complications and hospitalization.

4. Balance Sleep and Study Habits

The importance of a good night’s rest is more important than most students realize in the quest for good grades and school success. Research has shown that even if extra hours at night are used to study, the fatigue will often offset the benefit of extra studying. A good sleep routine with an adequate amount of hours each night can help with memory retention and acquisition of new knowledge.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends school-age children receive the following amounts of sleep regularly, per 24 hours:

  • Age                        Hours of Sleep
  • 3 to 5 years         10 to 13 hours, including naps
  • 6 to 12 years       9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years    8 to 10 hours

5. Prevent Dehydration and Concussions

The summer heat makes it crucial for student athletes to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Student athletes must be coached and trained to speak up should they start to feel like they are going to faint or their body feels over-heated. Severe consequences of heat stroke can include muscle breakdown, organ damage (kidney, brain, heart), and even death. Staying cool and hydrated is an important part of any successful athlete’s training regimen.

It’s also important for parents to stay aware of concussion symptoms in their children. If a child’s head injury is followed by repeated vomiting, sustained dizziness, vision problems, severe headache or unusual behavior, he or she should be taken immediately to the emergency room.

In the case of sports-related injuries, even if symptoms resolve within minutes and the child appears completely normal, he or she should still be removed from the sporting event and not cleared to participate again without seeing a healthcare provider specifically trained to assess concussions.

Keep in mind that concussions don’t just affect athletes. They can happen to kids of all ages who may suffer a knock to the head. 

Peter Jung, MD,  is a father, a pediatrician and an author. He is co-founder of Blue Fish Pediatrics, in association with Children’s Memorial Hermann.

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