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7 ways to help your child stay healthy this school year

As kids head back to school, pediatricians know they can expect an influx of sick visits just days after the new semester begins. Jonathan Schuh, M.D., a Piedmont pediatrician, shares his advice for helping your child stay healthy this school year.

1. Teach good hygiene

“During every patient visit, I reinforce hygiene,” says Dr. Schuh. “I tell my patients, ‘Wash your hands before eating and touching your face and after using the bathroom. Don’t drink or eat after anybody. Wash your hands when you get home from school.’”

Send your child to school with hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes—and encourage your child to use them when they can’t wash up with soap and water.

2. Talk to your child about mental health

Many kids are anxious about going back to school, says Dr. Schuh, particularly if the previous school year was rocky or your child is transitioning to a new school. He suggests asking your kid, “What can we do to make this school year go smoothly?”

Pay attention to signs of anxiety, depression, overwhelm and bullying in kids and teens, such as:

  • Tantrums

  • Crying more easily

  • Behavioral issues at home or school

  • Separation anxiety

  • Social anxiety

  • Phobias

  • Panic attacks

  • Irritability

  • Sadness

  • Not wanting to do activities they once enjoyed

  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Signs of self-injury

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

If your child has any of these symptoms, talk to their school guidance counselor or pediatrician.

3. Help children establish routines

“The more consistent your evening routine is, the better,” says Dr. Schuh. “Kids thrive with routines.”

He recommends having them put away their digital devices an hour before bed and read for 30 to 45 minutes before they need to go to sleep.

The amount of sleep kids need varies by age:

  • Preschool schoolers (ages 3 to 5) need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, plus naps

  • School-age kids (ages 6 to 13) need nine to 12 hours of sleep

  • Teenagers (ages 14 to 17) need eight to 10 hours of sleep

4. Prioritize nutrition

“It’s a good idea for kids to avoid anything too sugary, especially first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Schuh. “Eating a sugary breakfast can spike their blood sugar, leading them to crash a few hours later at school.”

A morning meal with protein and fiber will give them fuel for the day ahead. 

Good sources of fiber include:

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grain bread

  • Oatmeal

  • Low-sugar cereal

  • Nuts and seeds

Fuel up on protein with:

  • Eggs

  • Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower butter

  • Turkey sausage or bacon

  • Sliced turkey breast

  • Low-sugar or sugar-free yogurt

  • Low-fat milk

5. Encourage physical activity

“Many kids get home from school and go straight to video games and their devices, but it’s important for them to get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity every day,” says Dr. Schuh.

Here are some ways for kids to get more physical activity:

  • Go for a family walk before or after dinner

  • Encourage them to play a school sport or play outside after school

  • Turn on a dance or exercise video created especially for kids

  • Turn on some music and have a dance party

6. Make sure they have their immunizations

Check with your child’s doctor to ensure they’re fully vaccinated and have their booster shots for the school year.

“We encourage all people to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t,” says Dr. Schuh.

He also recommends children (and adults) get the flu vaccine in late September or early October.

7. Encourage kids to have fun

Last, but not least, encourage your child to have fun.

“Kids need some kind of creative outlet that doesn’t involve studying,” says Dr. Schuh. “It’s important for them to have downtime. They deserve a happy, whole childhood.”

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s well-being, contact their pediatrician.

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.

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