It’s that time of year again—the kiddos are heading back to school! That means buying school supplies, planning lunches, and practicing waking up early. We know this can be a stressful time for many families, so we put together a list of health tips to help you prepare for the upcoming year. Follow these to make sure you and your kids are ready to have a safe (and fun!) school year.
1. Practice good hygiene.
Back to school means students get to see their friends again! Unfortunately, this means your child will be surrounded by more germs than they were when they were at home during the summer. To avoid picking up any illnesses from their classmates, remind your kids to practice good personal hygiene. Plus, these hygiene habits will help boost their confidence and self-esteem!
Wash your hands after sharing toys or school supplies
Wash your hands after using the restroom
Wash your hands before eating
Try not to touch your face, including picking your nose, rubbing your eyes, or putting your hands in your mouth
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
Bathe or shower regularly
Brush and floss your teeth regularly
2. Stay up to date on vaccines.
It’s impossible for kids to completely avoid germs when they’re at school, but the best way to avoid contracting preventable diseases is to stay updated on vaccines. Your child should be vaccinated against the following diseases in their lifetime: 1
Pertussis (whooping cough)
Varicella (chicken pox)
Different vaccines are recommended at different stages in a child’s life. The CDC’s childhood vaccination timeline can be found here. Talk to a doctor or your local pharmacist to see what vaccines may be right for your child. Some vaccines are given as a series to children, and others need to be repeated annually.
Vaccinating your child is only part of keeping them healthy. Staying on schedule with your own vaccines — and encouraging loved ones who are around your child to do the same — can help protect your child from being exposed to illness. By staying on top of your family’s immunization schedules, you can help keep yourselves and your community safe.
3. Talk to the school nurse.
If your child takes a medication or has an EpiPen or inhaler, make sure you talk to the school nurse prior to the beginning of the school year. This ensures that the nurse is aware of your student’s medical needs and can keep track of when and how they’re taking their medication. It also prepares the nurse in case of an asthma attack or allergic reaction, so they can provide your child with immediate help.
4. Prioritize nutrition.
Kids develop taste preferences young, and those tastes can stay with them for a long time. Introducing healthy foods at a young age can start your kids on a healthy path; avoiding foods and beverages high in sugar or sodium can help cut down on sugar and salt cravings as your child grows.
Nutrition needs vary based on your child’s age and activity level. MyPlate.gov has lots of helpful tips for nutrition choices for any life stage. For most school-age children, aim to fill half of your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables every day. Try different kinds of protein and stick to whole grain and low-fat options. Get the kiddos involved in the process! Having your child help unload groceries, prep your ingredients, and set the table can help them be more invested in what’s going into their body.2
5. Stay active.
Depending on the age of your child, the recommended amount of physical activity per day varies. According to the CDC, children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day, including daily aerobic – and activities that strengthen bones (like running or jumping) – 3 days each week, and that build muscles (like climbing or doing push-ups) – 3 days each week.3
The CDC breaks down physical activity for children into three types:
Aerobic Activity: Aerobic activity should make up most of a child’s physical activity. This includes walking, running, swimming—anything that gets their heart beating faster!
Muscle Strengthening: Muscle strengthening can include things like climbing, gymnastics, or doing push-ups. Young children typically don’t need formal muscle strengthening programs like lifting weights but, as they get older, this can start to be incorporated into their fitness regimen.
Bone Strengthening: Bone strengthening activities include running, jumping rope, skipping, or sports that involve jumping or rapid changes in direction. These weight-bearing activities require the body to work against gravity, which improves bone mass. Physical activity for a child should be diverse and fun! To help your child get the exercise they need, try signing them up for an after-school sport or plan an outdoor activity with family. Helping with chores around the house can be a way to be physically active, too. Because children require daily physical activity, it’s important that they are also given the time they need to rest and recover.
6. Make a plan for emergencies.
Make sure your child knows their full name, parents’ full names, and phone number in case of an emergency. If they get separated from a trusted adult, make sure they know who to look for (teacher, school nurse, police officer, etc), and how to contact them, like dialing 9-1-1.
7. Get enough sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-aged children (ages 6-13) should sleep for a total of 9-11 hours every day. How much sleep a child needs can vary greatly within this age range, but younger children typically needs more sleep than middle schoolers and high schoolers. To help your child fall asleep and stay asleep, make sure they have a high-quality mattress, minimize distractions from electronic devices, and create a bedroom environment that is quiet and comfortable. Developing a consistent bedtime routine can also make it easier for your child to wind down and prepare to sleep.4
8. Use sun protection.
Just because the weather is starting to cool down doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburnt! If your child is going to be playing outside at recess, be sure to apply sunscreen. Recess is typically during the time of day when the UV index is highest. In the continental United States, UV rays tend to be strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daylight saving time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time). The CDC recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher. When possible, the best protection from the sun is wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.5
9. Don’t forget about mental health.
Mental health is an important and often overlooked aspect of overall health. Back to school time isn’t just stressful for parents, it can also be difficult for kids. Between balancing homework, friends, and after school activities, kids can benefit from stress management techniques too, including:
Getting enough sleep
Maintaining a balanced diet
Spending time in nature
Writing out their thoughts and feelings
Talking with a trusted adult, like a parent or counselor
Practicing mindfulness exercises
Mindful.org outlines a simple and easy to follow mindfulness practice for children. It is a straightforward introduction to meditation that encourages kindness and gratitude.6
Even when it’s uncomfortable for you or for them, make sure your child knows that they can come to you when they are scared, embarrassed, or experiencing other negative feelings. It doesn’t take many bad interactions to erode trust, so monitor your own reactions to build a healthy relationship where they feel safe coming to you in any situation.
Keeping your child safe and healthy as they had back to school doesn’t have to be a headache! Although it’s nearly impossible to make it through the school year without a cold or a trip to the nurse’s office, you can still equip your child with the best practices to keep their immune systems strong and help them recover quickly. By working together with your child, you can develop healthy habits that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.