CEDAR RAPIDS — As parents and children prepare for the upcoming school year, it’s important to focus on keeping healthy, establishing academic year routines and conveying values as kids spend more time away from home.
Dr. Dinah Conti has been a pediatrician at UnityPoint Pediatric Clinic in Cedar Rapids since 2016. She outlined several things families should keep in mind as summer wraps up and school begins.
Q: What should parents keep in mind for their children as they prepare for going back to school?
A: Remind your children to look both ways before crossing streets or driveways. Kids who drive to school should remember to focus on the road and not on cellphones, music or eating — it’s called “driving,” not “driving and texting.” Remember to watch for children on the streets as they walk to school or bus stops.
Q: What vaccinations are needed for children going back to school?
A: Your preschooler and kindergartners will need their measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, varicella (“chickenpox”) vaccine, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (DTaP) vaccine and polio vaccine. These can be given in combination form at most offices, to reduce the number of injections your child receives. Middle schoolers will need their tetanus-pertussis vaccine (Tdap), meningococcal vaccine (“meningitis shot”) and HPV vaccine (“anti-cancer vaccine”). High schoolers will need another meningococcal vaccine. Remember that vaccines have been shown in hundreds of research studies to be safe for our children. Furthermore, year after year they are shown protect our children from deadly diseases.
Q: If a child needs a back-to-school physical, what all is involved in the process? Where can you get a physical done?
A: A back-to-school physical should be done with your primary-care provider whenever possible to ensure you’re seeing someone who’s built a relationship with your family and can provided specialized care for you and your child. The physical usually will involve a vision screening, blood pressure and heart rate measurements and a head-to-toe examination to ensure the child is in good health. Also the physical will involve a discussion with parents and kids about daily routines that affect their health. The discussion may include topics such as how much water the child drinks, if the child consumes a healthy diet, if there’s exposure to cigarette smoke, if the child has easy access to guns, what sports the child is planning play, how much time the child spends on electronic media at home, and if there’s a support system with family and friends to help when problems come up.
Q: What are some ways to get a child back into a school routine, including sleep and diet?
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A: Start with establishing a good and predictable bedtime routine. Children thrive on stability and sleep best if they’re following a bedtime routine that focuses on relaxation and rest. Playing video games or watching movies right before bed can drive up the child’s excitement, making it hard to fall asleep. Leaving a TV on overnight can cause the child to wake up frequently, and interrupted sleep can be just as exhausting as no sleep at all. A healthy and well balanced diet can impact a child’s well-being in many ways. A child who has had a good breakfast can focus better in school, and a lunchtime meal revitalizes the child for the afternoon. Suppertime is a good time to consume a meal together as a family, and good eating habits are fostered by parents who are eating a healthy meal. A healthy snack after school can boost the child’s energy for homework, sports, clubs and playtime.
Q: What other considerations should a parent keep in mind when getting their child prepped for the school year?
A: A new school year is an exciting time for many children, but for some it can be a scary or uncertain time: Will I know anyone? Will the other kids be nice to me? Will last year’s bully still be around? Will I make the team? Will I do well in my classes? For those with school anxiety, make a special appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss these concerns before they become overwhelming. If your child has a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, allergies, seizures or ADHD, you may need your pediatrician to give a permission slip to allow your child to use her/his medication during the school day.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Whether in person or on the phone, connect with your child before school starts and at the end of the school day. Let your child know you love them and hope the day goes well. Remind your child to do her/his best, but don’t forget to have fun as well. Let your child know you’re happy they’re home and want to hear about their day. It makes all the difference in your child’s day to have this time with a parent. Once school starts, our children will spend more time away from us than with us, making independent decisions and engaging in activities with friends and teammates. As parents we must let our kids know where we stand on drugs, alcohol and relationships. If we want them to make good decisions, we must first tell them what we think those decisions are. Our kids won’t always turn to us for help, so while they’re with us it’s our job to make sure they know we love them and want them to have the best the world has to offer.