With school back in session for most of the country, it’s time to think about preparing for the academic year ahead. While you’ll need to head to the store to pick up pencils, notebooks and folders, this isn’t the only preparation your child needs before starting the fall term. Here are some back-to-school health and wellness tips to get you started protecting your kids’ health.
Schools can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. It’s extremely important to keep your children up to date on their vaccinations, not only for their health but for the health of other students as well. Required vaccines for school vary by state, but there are a few that are almost always mandatory. Your child’s school will likely ask for proof from your physician that your child received the required vaccines, which might include:
- DTap (Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis): All 50 states require that children receive the DTap vaccination before entering kindergarten. Diphtheria and pertussis can be spread through direct contact or through the air while tetanus is spread via exposure to open wounds.
- IPV (Polio): Another vaccination required by all 50 states in order for a child to be able to enter public school is the polio vaccine. Polio is spread through the air and direct contact, and can result in paralysis and even death.
- MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella): The last vaccine required in all 50 states is used to prevent infection of mumps, measles and rubella. These diseases can be spread through air or direct contact and can cause serious health complications.
- Varicella (Chickenpox): All states in the U.S., save Montana and Pennsylvania, require children entering public school be vaccinated against the chickenpox virus, which can be spread through the air or by direct contact.
- Hepatitis B: Most states (excluding Alabama, Maine, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota) require children entering public school to receive the Hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B can be spread through blood or bodily fluids and can cause serious damage to the affected person’s liver.
Other vaccines are only required for children in certain states but are still recommended everywhere. These include Hib, HPV, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), Hepatitis A and the yearly influenza vaccination.
Even if certain vaccines aren’t required in your state, it’s always recommended that your child receive the vaccine to protect them from disease. The CDC provides several easy to understand charts with rules for vaccinations by state. For further details, check with your child’s school to learn more about requirements and possible exemptions.
Annual checkups are the best way to ensure that your child is as healthy as possible. The doctor should ask you and your child about their lifestyle habits and check their height and weight to make sure they’re developing properly. The doctor will also likely check blood pressure, heart rate, spinal alignment, reflexes and motor development. Eyes, ears, nose and throat will also be checked. Ask the doctor to discuss preventive health and safety measures with your child to educate them about accidents, illness, and drugs and alcohol.
A yearly checkup is very important for your child’s physical health, but it can also be beneficial for your child’s mental wellness. The physician may ask your kids about their overall happiness, and it’s critical to encourage your children to open up about anything that may be bothering them as mental health plays a large role in long-term health and well-being.
If your children are planning on participating in a sport this school year, they may need to have their doctor fill out paperwork confirming that they’re well enough to participate. Call your children’s school before you head in for the annual checkup to make sure you have the proper paperwork for their sport.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 19 million children worldwide are visually impaired. Your child’s school may provide eye exams, but if not, you should take your child to the eye doctor yearly to rule out any vision problems.
In the classroom, children are almost always writing, reading or working on computers, all tasks that can be extremely challenging for visually impaired students. Children with vision issues can frequently be misdiagnosed as having ADHD as they find it difficult to focus on reading and writing.
Proper vision is also important for children who wish to participate in sports as they will likely need hand-eye coordination, depth perception, peripheral vision and the ability to see near and far. Take your child to the eye doctor every year to determine if she needs contacts, glasses or any other type of vision correction.
Since the health of your child’s mouth can affect his general well-being, it’s recommended that your child visit the dentist every year. The CDC reports that about 1 in every 5 children between the ages of 5 and 11 has at least one untreated decayed tooth/cavity. In order to prevent your child from missing school due to a cavity or toothache, it’s best to head to the dentist before the school year begins. The dentist can detect dental issues early while also educating children on proper brushing and flossing habits.
You never know what your child may come in contact with while at school so it’s best to be prepared. If your child has a moderate to severe allergy, make sure he has access to his epipen at all times and that he — or his teacher — knows how to use it. If your child is too young to carry his own epipen, make sure the nurse at your child’s school has an epipen in case of an emergency.
Recess and gym class can demand strenuous physical activity, so if your child is prone to asthma attacks, make sure she’s able to use her inhaler when necessary. Like with the epipen, if your child is too young to carry her own inhaler or the school doesn’t allow it, make sure the school nurse has one on hand.