Ask the Family Health Doctor: Preparing for Back to School

Although it may feel like summer just started, it’s time to start getting the kids ready for another school year. We know your children’s health is a top priority, so we asked Paul Guttuso, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Kaufman and at Texas Health Family & Sports Care in Mabank, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to answer some common questions parents and caregivers ask before the school year.

 

My child saw a doctor before the last school year. Do I need to make an appointment for my kids to see a pediatrician again before this school year starts?

“Making an appointment before the start of each school year is a good practice to ensure your child is up to date on immunizations,” Guttuso says.  “Even if your child is healthy, seeing the doctor yearly helps create a safe, easy-going relationship with the doctor that can foster honest conversation if more challenging topics or issues arise in the future.”

“Without a doubt, when you have that kind of doctor-patient partnership, it benefits the child’s health and well-being, while settling any concerns parents may have before school starts.”

 

Do my child’s extracurricular activities require a physical exam before the school year starts?

Starting this year, public school band participants will be required to get a sports physical, beginning in seventh and eighth grades, just as athletes have done for years. If you have questions or your child is enrolled in a private school, always consult with the school for physical exam requirements.    

 

During the Summer, we relax our bedtime requirements for our kids. What guidance do you have to get them back in a routine for the school year?

Childhood sleep is critical to their wellness and alertness, according to Guttuso. He advises parents to get their children into a sleep routine before the school year starts, if possible, but no later than the beginning of the school year.    

 

How much sleep should my school-age child be getting each night?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the following guidelines should be followed concerning your children’s sleep requirements:    

  • Age 5: Parents or caregivers should ensure that kindergartners sleep 10-13 hours per day, including naps for optimal health.
  • Ages 6-12: Parents should strive for 9-12 hours of sleep each night for children in this age range.
  • Teenagers: Parents should encourage their teenagers to get 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Students who haven’t had enough sleep often show signs of moodiness or have difficulty focusing in the classroom, so it’s wise to stick to a sleep routine for the whole family to help your child learn and grow in the new school year.

 

How can I keep my child healthy?

As a rule, keeping kids healthy during the school year centers around adequate sleep, a healthy diet, good hygiene, and vaccinations.

A well-rested child who eats a balanced and nutritious meal is less likely to get sick than a child who does neither. Good hand hygiene helps minimize the spread of germs, and it reminds kids about keeping things like pens out of their mouths. Everyone in the household should be vaccinated against the flu each year.

Last, understand that even the most careful among us will get sick. So, parents should be prepared for some days away to tend to sick children. When that happens, disregard the desire for perfect attendance or other incentives to stay in school.  In the long run, keeping your child at home to let them rest, eat properly, and recuperate before they return, is better for them and your family’s health.

 

My child is a teenager, and sometimes seems stressed with school work, sports, and other extracurriculars. What’s your advice to make sure he’s not overloaded?

Guttuso says it’s a great idea to sit down with your child and have an honest conversation about what he or she wants to accomplish this school year. Some children need encouragement to do more, while others may benefit from cutting some activities from their list.

“It’s smart to encourage children to engage in extracurricular activities and sports,” Guttuso explains. “These activities keep kids active, teach discipline, and teamwork — and can be a lot of fun. They also prepare children for the real world. On the flip side, sometimes too much of anything is counterproductive. Busy schedules can stress the entire household and cause personal and family problem and add to financial burdens.”

Guttuso shared this WebMD quiz that may give you a clue whether your child is overscheduled, and he adds that if stress builds in your child and seems too overwhelming for the family to address, it may make sense to consult an outside professional, such as your family doctor or pediatrician.

 

We hear a lot these days about bullying, especially cyber-bullying. What can I do to ensure my child stays safe and has the tools to cope with bullying if it occurs?

Bullying seems to be all over the news these days, and it’s become part of a national conversation. Your child should always feel that he or she can talk to you, teachers or administrators if they feel bullied at school or by a school mate. Have a conversation with them before the school year starts, and check-in with them regularly to see how it’s going. I also advise getting involved in your children’s school, meet their teachers, administrators, and other parents and form relationships to last the school year.  Here’s a good source for kids and their parents.

  

Your whole family’s health is important all through the year!  To find a Texas Health Care family medicine specialist near you, click here for a directory. 

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