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Back-To-School Tips: Advice Offered To Begin A New Academic Year


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications

Within the next few weeks most children in the Washington metropolitan area will be heading back to school, and health-care providers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center have tips to help parents, caregivers and youngsters get a healthy start to the school year.
“If your school-age child has not had a wellness visit in the past year, now is a great time to schedule a visit with your child’s primary care manager (PCM),” said Leslie Lipton, primary care board certified pediatric nurse practitioner in the Department of Pediatrics at WRNMMC.
“Not only is a wellness visit an important opportunity to assess and discuss your child's growth and development, but it's also an opportunity for a complete head-to-toe physical, routine screening tests, immunizations, and counseling on optimizing nutrition, exercise, sleep and safety. A wellness visit is also a time to discuss any questions or concerns you have about your child's physical, psycho-social and intellectual readiness for the school year ahead, and to learn about and coordinate any additional supportive services.”
In regards to immunizations, Lipton explained Walter Reed Bethesda administers those advised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee for Immunizations Practices.
“Depending on the age of your child, immunizations may be recommended and/or required for school entrance,” Lipton added. “The best way to make sure your child is up to date is through annual wellness visits, or by speaking with one of our nurses. We highly recommend getting this season's flu vaccine, which should be widely available this fall. The immunization clinic is open during regular clinic hours (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and also has walk-in availability for adolescent immunizations Monday through Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m.”
Lipton also explained the importance of kids, as well as adults, getting a healthy amount of sleep each night to remain focused throughout the day.
“Your child's brain needs sleep to restore resources used during the day,” Lipton explained. “Sleep is also needed to build new connections within the brain. A well-rested brain can concentrate, problem solve, think more creatively, make better decisions, and simply enjoy the day more than a tired brain. Sleep also helps with hormone regulation and immune function, so you can tell your kids that sleep both helps you grow and keeps you healthy.”
She added the average preschooler needs about 12 hours of sleep, while the average school-aged child needs about 10 hours of sleep, and the average teenager needs closer to nine hours of sleep nightly. It’s also recommended you make sure kids put electronic devices away before bedtime because studies have shown that the glowing light from cellphone and tablet screens can disrupt sleep cycles.
Regarding nutrition, Lipton explained, “Eating breakfast truly ‘breaks-the-fast.’ While sleeping, your child is essentially fasting. Eating breakfast breaks the fast and replenishes the body with the nutrients and energy it needs to learn and have a productive school day. Not only does breakfast help keep us alert and energized for the morning, but it helps us make healthy choices throughout the day. Children who eat breakfast regularly can also celebrate long-term health benefits, as they are less likely to develop obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes later in life.”
Kids are also encouraged to eat healthy lunches. If you pack your child’s lunch, include healthy choices such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain bread, lean protein like turkey, low-fat dairy products, low fat milk and water rather than soda, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories, and drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent, according to the CDC and USDA. Lipton added that even “100 percent fruit juice has a tremendous amount of simple sugar, and often has added sugar to make it taste better and have a longer shelf life.” 
Also, most schools regularly send schedules of cafeteria menus home and/or have them posted on the school's website, which can be helpful in assisting your child select a healthy lunch, or planning to pack a lunch on days when what’s offered in the school’s cafeteria isn’t your child’s favorite.
To cut down on germ exposure while in school, kids should be encouraged to wash their hands after using the restroom, nose blowing, touching any community item, sneezing, and before going to lunch or eating a snack, Lipton added. Providing your child with hand sanitizer to use when washing their hands isn't convenient may be a good idea. You should also instruct them not to share food or drinks with other kids.
Kids should also be encouraged to get active, according to the CDC. They can join a sports team or participate in some sort of physical activity during recess or after school. This can help prevent obesity, a serious and growing public health concern for kids which can increase a their chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, the CDC added.
Injuries caused by backpacks are another health concern. These injuries are often associated with backpacks that are too heavy for kids causing back and shoulder pain, as well as poor posture, according to the National Safety Council. The NSC, along with the American Chiropractic Association, recommends a backpack weigh no more than 10 percent of a child's weight. In addition, they recommend: choosing a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back; packing light; organizing the backpack to use all of its compartments; and packing heavier items closest to the center of the back. Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items. Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps because slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Also, adjust the backpack so that the bottom sits at the waist.
Bullying has also become an increasing concern, the CDC reports. Bullying or cyberbullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, over the Internet, or through mobile devices like cell phones.
The CDC states, “Bullying is one type of youth violence that threatens young people’s well-being. Bullying can result in physical injuries, social and emotional difficulties, and academic problems. The harmful effects of bullying are frequently felt by others, including friends and families, and can hurt the overall health and safety of schools, neighborhoods, and society.”
Lipton added, “Bullying is a difficult and often multi-faceted problem. Experiencing bullying, or even being the bully, can have not only short term implications on happiness, self-esteem and academic performance, but it can also have long term implications on your child's health. A physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy child should feel safe and supported in school. If you are concerned your child is being bullied, or is bullying, it is important that a teacher or superintendent is made aware, as well as your child's PCM.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explained if your child seems nervous about beginning school that you should let him or her know there are probably a lot of students who feel the same. Also, you can point out the positive aspects of starting school (your child will see old friends and meet new ones).
Whether walking or riding the bus to and from school, you should talk to your child about safety.
Make sure your child's walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection. Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school. Be realistic about your child's pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely.
Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building. Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb. Make sure your child walks where he or she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see him or her, too). Remind your child to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street, just in case traffic does not stop as required. Your child should not move around on the bus. If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus.
Lastly, the AAP also recommends there be an environment in the home that is conducive to doing homework. “Children need a consistent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study," the group advises.
“It's a good idea to schedule a regular time for homework so the child gets into the routine. Make sure that homework time is free from distractions like TV or other electronic devices,” the AAP stated.