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August 13, 2008 > Make Sure Your Kids Get a Healthy Start to the School Year

Make Sure Your Kids Get a Healthy Start to the School Year

Tips for Getting Your Kids Ready to Head Back to Class

School supplies, new clothes, lunchboxes, and backpacks are all part of preparing for the new school year. Your child's health should also be on the list.
"It's important to give your kids a healthy start this fall," said Dr. Sara Dobbs, a pediatrician at South East Bay Pediatrics in Fremont who is affiliated with Washington Hospital. "Healthy children learn better."
Your doctor is a good place to start, especially if your child has a chronic illness like asthma or needs immunizations. Some vaccinations are required by law and the requirements can change. Kindergartners need an array of vaccines before they can start school, for example, which may include immunizations for measles, hepatitis B, polio, chickenpox, and others. Your doctor can tell you exactly what your child needs and whether his or her immunizations are up-to-date.
"While not required, a flu vaccination is also something to consider for school-age children," Dobbs said. "Right now it is recommended for children under age 5 and for children with certain chronic illnesses like asthma. Next year the Academy of Pediatrics will recommend a flu vaccination for all children under 18."
If your child has asthma, allergies or other ailments that require medication, you need to make sure the medication at school has not expired. For example, EpiPens, single dose shots of epinephrine for people with severe allergies, may only last a year.
"An EpiPen is lifesaving for anyone who has a severe allergy to nuts or bees," Dobbs said. "Make sure the one at school is up-to-date."
It's also important to make sure all paperwork is current. Most schools require a doctor's note or specific forms to be completed for children to take medicine at school. Even children with asthma who carry their own inhaler usually need to have specific paperwork filed with the school.
Getting on Track
Getting your kids ready for a more structured schedule is important. Summers are often casual, so re-establish earlier bedtimes a week or so before school begins to get them back into the routine.
"It's best for everyone if kids start school well-rested," said Dobbs. "Adequate sleep really does make a difference in school performance and children stay healthier when they get enough sleep."
Individual sleep requirements may vary, but in general children 6 to 9 years old need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night, ages 10 to 12 need about 10 hours, and teenagers need about 8 to 9 hours.
Good nutrition also plays a key role in keeping kids healthy. Obesity is becoming a serious issue among kids and well-balanced meals provide the vitamins and minerals needed for peak performance, healthy growth and strong immune systems.
"Over the summer, try to get kids used to drinking more water and snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables," Dobbs said. "Talk to your kids about healthy food choices so they think about it when they are not with you."
She encourages parents to pack lunches with refillable water bottles to reduce kids' consumption of sugary drinks while reducing waste. "Keep the cookies and high-sugar snacks out and put in more fruit and healthy choices."
It's also important to know what your kids are eating at school.
"Sometimes you don't realize your kids are eating cookies, candy and other junk at school," Dobbs said. "School lunches can contain a lot of unhealthy foods. Ask for the school lunch menu and encourage them to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and fewer fried foods."
When you send your kids off to school this year, remind them about other healthy habits like using sunscreen on those early fall days when the sun is still strong and drinking enough water to stay hydrated. Discuss with them the importance of not sharing drinks or other things that could spread harmful germs and cause illness. Combs and hats can spread head lice. Explain the importance of washing their hands before they eat and after they use the bathroom.
"Overall, the key to a healthy school year is to teach your kids the basic steps for staying healthy - eat right, get plenty of rest, and wash your hands frequently."
To find a pediatrician in your area, visit Washington Hospital's website at and click on "Find a Physician."

Health Screening and Immunizations for Children
Applies to children from birth to age 6 with no unusual risk factors. Parents should check with their child's doctor about periodic screenings that should also occur.

Test of Check Service At What Age

Hepatitis B Dose 1: At birth - age 6 weeks
Dose 2: At age 6 weeks - 4 months
Dose 3: At age 6 - 18 months

Polio (IPV) Dose 1: At age 2 months
Dose 2: At age 4 months
Dose 3: At age 6 - 18 months
Dose 4: At age 4 - 6 years

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) Dose 1: At age 2 months
Dose 2: At age 4 months
Dose 3: At age 6 months
Dose 4: At age 12 - 15 months

Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis Dose 1: At age 2 months (Dtap, Tdap booster)
Dose 2: At age 4 months
Dose 3: At age 6 months
Dose 4: At age 15 - 18 months
Dose 5: At age 4 - 6 years

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) Dose 1: At age 12 - 15 months
Dose 2: At age 4 - 6 years

Chicken Pox (varicella) At age 12 - 18 months (one dose)

Hepatitis A At age 12 months
6 - 12 months after dose 1

Pneumococcal disease Dose 1: At age 2 months
Dose 2: At age 4 months
Dose 3: At age 6 months
Dose 4: At age 12 - 15 months

Influenza Annually starting at 6 months

Rotavirus Dose 1: At 2 months
Dose 2: At 4 months
Dose 3: At 6 months

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