Keeping your kids healthy during the school year can be challenging. While exposure to contagious illnesses is inevitable, steps can be taken to ensure that your children thrive throughout the school year.
“School physicals are a great opportunity to check all aspects of the health of your kids and make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccinations,” says McFarland Clinic Pediatrician Tamer El-Mahdy, MD. “They are also an opportunity to evaluate their growth and development to make sure they do not have any learning impediments.”
It is important to inform the school nurse of any medications your child takes on a regular or as-needed basis. Make sure the nurse has enough supply of those medications and any necessary equipment to administer them. The school should also be aware of any food or environmental allergies your child might have.
Spreading of germs can be limited simply by washing hands with soap and water. “Hand washing is the single most effective way to control infectious disease in the school environment,” says Dr. El-Mahdy. “And certainly that starts at home. Make sure kids spend at least 20 seconds washing their hands well and supervise that at home. It is also good practice for older kids to carry pocket size sanitizers to use on the go. Nail clipping is extremely important as germs live under those nail edges. Toilet hygiene also starts at home; make sure your child does ask to go to the school restroom as frequently as needed, spends enough time, and does not hold it for long periods. Of course, hand washing is crucial after leaving the restroom and before eating.”
Fever could be a sign of a contagious illness so it would be prudent to keep kids home till their temperature remains below 101°F for 24 hours before they could return to school, to limit potential germ spreading to other kids at school. Tell your nurse the medical reason for your child's absence to be on the look for other similar cases at school. Give your kids lots of napkins to use to blow their noses or to catch their sneeze or cough away from other kids. Saline nasal sprays are also a great companion to use to help irrigate those stuffy noses that are hard to blow.
A healthy diet and physical activity are vital for your child’s wellbeing. “Pack lots of vegetables and fruits for your child to take to school for lunch,” says Dr. El-Mahdy. “Not only are these foods healthy, they also stimulate learning. On the contrary, starchy and fatty foods tend to slow them down and invite sleep. Make sure your child plays vigorously for one hour a day to keep his “motor” running and his psychological health in shape. After-school programs are also a great opportunity to spend that extra energy before resting at home.”
“Always praise your child for each little progress that they accomplish at school,” adds Dr. El-Mahdy. “They need you to boost their self esteem all the time. Help them have a structured daily routine to encompass homework time, play time, family time, and good restorative sleep. Be there for them when they confide in you their little secrets or complaints from school. Be on the look out for any teasing or bullying that they might be suffering at school and alert the teacher and principal immediately of any such harassing behavior.”
Be also on the look out for signs of depression: loss of interest, loneliness, excessive irritability, poor sleep, and altered appetite can all be signs of depression, a serious but readily treatable illness. They could also be signs of substance abuse especially in adolescents. Make sure that your kids hang out with the right friends and be supportive to help them choose such friends.
Lend them help in school work if they ask you while supporting and praising their autonomy. Don't be too judgmental if they don't do well to meet your full expectations, maybe your expectations were too high for them to start with and need to be tailored to their abilities.
Confer with their teacher on a regular basis to monitor their progress and tackle their difficulties early on.
“It is important to make school a fun and rewarding experience for your child,” says Dr. El-Mahdy. “A partnership between the parent, pediatrician, school nurse and teacher can certainly optimize your child’s academic, physical and emotional wellbeing at school and at home.”
Learn more about the McFarland Clinic Pediatrics Department in Ames by calling (515) 239-4404 and in Marshalltown by calling (641) 753-8616.
To learn more about children’s health and related topics, check out the following articles on our online health library: