5 tips for keeping kids healthy in school
The bell is about to ring, heralding the start of a new school year. As parents take children shopping for backpacks and other necessary supplies, medical professionals remind parents and students that preparing for school isn't only about buying the right educational tools.
Cultivating a few simple habits can help make the year a healthier one, said Dr. Julie Miaczynski, family medicine physician at Edward Medical Group in the Edward Healthcare Center in Plainfield.
"As kids go back to school, because of the nature of the environment, the close proximity to each other, we see a spike in colds, flu, that type of thing," she said. "We remind people of really good hand-washing habits."
Frequent washing won't prevent all microbial threats from causing illness. Inevitably, hands will come into contact with some nasty germs.
"Try to avoid touching the face. That's really important," she said.
When students come home from school each day, they potentially and unwittingly bring germs with them. Miaczynski recommends families take steps to stop the spread of germs before they infect family members.
"Around the house, wipe down knobs and handles," she said. Stepped-up routine cleaning can help prevent colds and flu germs from getting a foothold in the household."
Miaczynski said good sleep habits are another line of defense against illness. Many students change their routines during the summer or follow no specific routine at all during the vacation months. When the school year begins, it's time to get back to a consistent sleep regimen.
Students should go to bed at the same time each night and should brush their teeth just before bed, she said.
"Getting them in that routine is very important," she said.
Elementary through high school students should get an average of 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night, she said. Preschoolers should get between 10 and 13 hours, while toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep per night, she said.
Parents should take note if children complain of headaches, digestive issues or suddenly don't want to go to school.
The underlying cause is not always physical, Miaczynski said.
"It could be a sign of bullying or even a learning disorder," she said. When a child balks at heading for the classroom, it warrants investigation.
See a doctor?
Contagious diseases and conditions require careful monitoring. If a child is dealing with a suspected case of lice, prompt attention is paramount.
"Evaluate and treat as soon as possible. It's something that's easily spread from one person to the next," Miaczynski said.
With problems such as strep throat or conjunctivitis, children are "generally able to go back to school once they've been on antibiotics, but we do want them to be without fever."
Fevers over 100.4 resulting from colds or mild flu should also keep children home from school until the fever breaks, she said.
Eat fruits, vegetables
Predictable patterns of health problems emerge year after year, Miaczynski said. Flu and colds often start soon after the beginning of the school year and continue through the winter "flu season."
"When school starts, they're together more, so it's easy to pass germs from one kid to another," she said.
One last bit of advice Miaczynski has for fending off germs and maladies: healthy eating.
"We encourage parents to provide healthy options for meals," she said. "The healthy options tend to keep kids more satisfied, so they can pay attention."