Back-to-school health tips
Over the next few weeks, students will be returning to their classrooms for another school year. This can be a hectic time for students and parents: The to-do list may include health checkups, getting children into a sleep routine, planning healthy lunches or preparing students facing major transitions into a new grade or school. Mayo Clinic experts offer these tips on how to make the transition back to school less stressful.
Robert Jacobson, M.D., Mayo Clinic Children's Center pediatrician and vaccine specialist, advises parents to ensure their child has recommended vaccinations and be aware of changes to those recommendations. For example, children can now be vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), at age 11, rather than having to wait until they are 16 years of age. This change will make it easier for busy children to get their three doses of the vaccine within the recommended six months.
Some vaccines are now more easily administered, Dr. Jacobson says: "We've combined the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with the chickenpox vaccine so a single dose will cover all four of those diseases."
In addition, the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis combination, often called the D-TaP shot and given to children 6 years of age and under, can be given to new students at the same time, along with the final dose of the polio vaccine. Dr. Jacobson suggests that parents contact their family physician or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's online registry to stay informed of the recommended school admission vaccine requirements for their child.
Getting enough sleep is critical to students' well-being and ability to learn, says Suresh Kotagal, M.D., pediatric sleep expert at Mayo Clinic Children's Center. Adapting healthy sleep habits prior to the start of school could
help students get the required rest they need. Dr. Kotagal suggests establishing a bedtime routine to
help children fall asleep and get a good night's rest. He adds that children rest better if they skip caffeine after dinner, get regular exercise, turn off electronic devices an hour before bedtime, and silence phones so text messages or alerts don't disrupt sleep. In addition, imposing an early bedtime on the weekends will make Monday mornings easier to deal with.
It's important for children to develop healthy eating and snacking habits at an early age to help avoid obesity. Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic, recommends having a variety of healthy snacks on hand so children can learn to make good choices. She suggests having "anytime" snacks easily available for children, such as storing healthy snacks in a designated area that children know they can eat when they are hungry without having to ask permission. These options allow children to feel empowered and helps them practice making healthy choices, Zeratsky says.
A new year at school can be an exciting yet stressful time, especially for students starting kindergarten or entering middle school.
"Students who feel anxious about going back to school need to be reassured that their feelings are normal," saysStephen Whiteside, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with the Mayo Clinic Children's Center. "It's important for students to talk about what is bothering them and to get comfortable with the things that are causing the nervousness."
Dr. Whiteside encourages students to practice doing whatever makes them anxious — such as opening their locker or finding their classrooms — until they learn through experience that the task is not as frightening as they thought.
"Regular dental exams are an important part of preventive health care," says Thomas Salinas, D.D.S., a dental specialist at Mayo Clinic. "Students who brush their teeth, gums and tongue twice per day can reduce their risk of infection."
Dr. Salinas recommends that students practice healthy dental habits daily and visit the dentist for a cleaning twice a year.