Back-to-school checkup

Dr. Julie Yeh
Dr. Julie Yeh (Gabe Dinsmoor, Baltimore Sun)

Going back to school, particularly if it's a new school, can be a daunting time for kids and their parents. There's a lot to consider, from sleep schedules to proper nutrition and immunizations. Much can be accomplished by establishing good habits, says Dr. Julie Yeh, a pediatrician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, who answered questions about handling the coming school year.

How do I get my child off a summer sleep schedule and back to a school schedule? How much sleep does a child need for school, and does it vary by age?

As the first day of school approaches, it is important to resume a consistent bedtime ritual each evening as well as an early-morning wake-up time. While individual children vary in the exact amount of sleep they may require, school-age children on average need about 10-12 hours per night, while teenagers require about 81/2-91/2 hours. Most children do not get enough sleep, which can result in problems with behavior, attention and hyperactivity issues, academic performance, and short term memory.

What vaccines should my child get before school starts?

Most school-age children will need their booster vaccines, such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), polio and chickenpox vaccines, by the time they enter kindergarten. Eleven- to 12-year-olds need an additional diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis booster, as well as vaccination against meningococcal meningitis, for which they should receive a second dose at age 16. Finally, adolescent girls are recommended to receive the human papilloma virus vaccine. Parents should check with their pediatricians to make sure they are up to date for these immunizations. It will also be important to obtain their yearly influenza vaccine in the fall.

What are some tips for ensuring my child eats a healthful lunch at school?

When packing lunches, try to include healthy options such as whole-grain breads, fresh fruit and low-fat snacks like popcorn, pretzels or dried fruit. Keep an eye on portion size as well. Water is always a good choice of beverage, but low-fat milk is much preferred if possible. Avoid sugary juices or sodas. If your child purchases lunch at school, preview the lunch menu, which is often provided in advance, and discuss with them what they will choose for the day. Most public school lunches include two fruit or vegetable options as part of every meal; review those options with your child as well. Also, have your child pick low-fat white milk as a beverage. At the end of the day, stay involved. Ask your child what he or she ended up buying for lunch.

What are appropriate actions to share with my child if they are being bullied at school, on the school bus or on the walk to school?

Bullying is a serious problem. Children should understand that bullying is never OK. If your child is being bullied, encourage them to speak up in a calm manner and ask the bully to stop. He should then walk away if possible. If it persists, the child should feel comfortable telling a responsible adult figure, such as a parent or school official. Discuss in advance with your children what they would do in such a scenario, so they are prepared if it ever happens to them.

What rules and habits should my child have to ensure their homework gets done in a timely manner?

Routine, routine, routine. It is important to maintain an evening ritual they involves homework time. Homework should always be done in a quiet area, with little distraction (i.e., not in front of the TV or while on the Internet). Parents should stay involved and know what their children are learning. Many kids are active in extra-curricular activities, such as sports, music or other arts. Schoolwork should always come first. It is important not to overschedule children if they cannot get their tasks completed without losing sleep time. During the school week, try to set limits (parents, too!) in your home regarding screen time with the television, computer, video games, cellphones and other high-tech hand-held devices.

How can I ease my child's "first-day jitters"?

The first day of school can cause anxiety for some children. This is completely normal. Talking about the plan for the day, including pickup and dropoff, can be helpful. Many schools will allow children to meet their teachers and visit their classrooms beforehand — take advantage of this. On the first day of school, make sure your child eats a good breakfast. Parents can also put special notes or stickers in their children's lunch boxes or backpacks for them to find later — this can be a source of comfort for those who have separation or school anxiety. Most "first-day jitters" are just that — gone after the first day.



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