It usually happens in July. That’s when, just between the two of us, you start daydreaming of your kids going back to school.
It’s OK, you can admit it. Parents everywhere do the same thing. But before you go wishing away the warmer months and the school buses start running again, you need to make sure your child is ready to go back to school—the healthy way.
“Learning and health go hand in hand; they’re the two most important aspects of a child’s life,” says Cynthia DiLaura Devore, M.D., chair of the Council on School Health for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “You can’t have one without the other.” So how do you prepare your child for a healthy year ahead?
Follow this timeline to ensure your little one is prepared for the first day.
3+ Months Before:
Assignment: Schedule a physical for your child.
This is the most important task on this list, so don’t procrastinate. “It can take anywhere from two to three weeks to two to three months to get a physical scheduled,” Devore says. “Over the summer especially, physicians get very busy doing sports physicals.” Schedule your child’s checkup today!
During the appointment, ask about your child’s immunization record and make sure he or she is up to date. “There has been a trend lately for some parents to opt out of immunizations for their children,” Devore says. “And because of it, we’re seeing a resurgence of diseases like measles and whooping cough that are dangerous—even deadly—to children. Immunizations are the No. 1 best way to protect a child from diseases. They save lives.”
Understand that deciding against vaccinating your children affects not only them but also children they come into contact with. That said, “there are many situations where a child can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons--they may be too young to have completed a full series or allergic to an ingredient,” she says.
1 Month Before:
Assignment: Schedule other necessary screenings.
In addition to a yearly physical, don’t forget about the other checkups your child should have. Is he or she due for a dentist appointment? How about an eye exam?
Summers are the best time to schedule these visits, and doing so at least four weeks out from the first day of school means you’ll have time to get an appointment and go back for any follow-ups needed.
“There are differences among schools as to whether or not they conduct hearing, scoliosis, vision and dental screenings,” Devore says. “Some schools offer these services within the school; others do not.” It’s best to check with your child’s school, then schedule supplemental screenings accordingly.
3 Weeks Before:
Assignment: Establish a route to school.
Whether children will be walking, biking or riding the bus to school, it’s a good idea to make sure they know the way. Travel the route with your child until he or she feels comfortable doing it solo. Don’t forget to try it out during the times and days your child actually will be en route.
Review safety protocols like looking both ways before crossing the street, avoiding strangers and always wearing a helmet when riding a bike. And make sure your child knows what to do in the event of danger.
2 Weeks Before:
Assignment: Shop for supplies.
No doubt you’ve already received a laundry list of school supplies your child will need for the year. Tempted as you may be to beat the crowds and pick up the items on your lunch hour, resist the urge. Taking children along and allowing them to pick out the supplies help create a sense of ownership and excitement about the school year.
And all that back-to-school loot has got to go in something, right? Let your child choose a backpack, but make sure it’s not overly large. When filling it, keep in mind that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should never carry more than 10 to 20 percent of their body weight on their backs.
1 Week Before:
Assignment: Establish a bedtime routine.
“Children have full schedules, going from one activity to the next,” Devore says. “Many American children do not get adequate sleep, especially into adolescence and high school. It’s essential that parents really focus and educate the child on the importance of getting plenty of sleep.” The best way to ensure adequate sleep is to establish a bedtime routine. Have your child start winding down (i.e., turn off the TV and put away toys) and getting ready for bed at least 30 minutes beforehand. Put your child to bed at about the same time each night, even on weekends.
The Weekend Before:
Assignment: Shop for healthful lunch options.
Sending your child to school with a packed lunch is the best way to ensure a healthy option is at the lunch table.
Of course, there’s no telling what will be traded for junk food. That’s why it’s also important to talk to your child about nutrition and healthy eating. Make sure you pack a well-balanced lunch that includes whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and a serving of fruit or vegetables. Let your child help pack the lunch (again, that ownership thing). It increases the chances that he or she will eat it.
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