Back to school time should involve discussions on health and stress

As students grow older, so does the weight and number of items that are crammed into their backpacks, often leading to bad posture and long-term threats to spine health.

While we often associate the start of the new school year with paying school fees, buying classroom supplies and new clothes, there are equally important matters that need attention.

Addressing family physical and mental health and developing a plan for healthy living adds to a school year’s success.

Here are some key areas health officials focus on at back-to-school time:

Coping with stress in a healthy way

Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful and overwhelming for both adults and children. Dealing with stress calmly and confidently can help you provide the best support for your child and make them more resilient. Learn more about behaviors to watch for and how to help children cope.

Eating healthy at school.

Most kids get half their calories at school. That makes school a great place to foster healthy eating habits and behaviors, and you can help. School meals are healthy, nutritious, and free for all students the entire school year

Avoid backpack injuries

Do your children’s backpacks seem to be growing as quickly as they are? It may sound silly, but heavy backpacks can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. Here’s what you need to know before your child topples over the next time he or she heads to school:

  1. Pick it up properly. Double check that your child is bending using both knees (not bending over at the waist) to pick up or wear the backpack.
  2. Get strappy. Slinging it over one shoulder may seem “cool,” but it can strain muscles and increase spine curvature, so be sure kids always use both shoulder straps. If the backpack has a waist strap, tell your child to use it.
  3. Fill it evenly. Pack the heaviest books closest to the center of your child’s back.
  4. Weigh in. Even with all your child’s textbooks, folders, and binders, the bag shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her total body weight.

Encourage healthy eating

Did you know most kids get half their calories at school? That makes school a great place to foster healthy eating habits and behaviors, and you can help. School meals are healthy, nutritious, and free for all students the entire school year

Regular attendance

The occasional day spent home from school due to a cold or other illness is to be expected. You might be surprised, though, at how quickly missed school days can add up. In fact, according to a recent report in the journal Pediatrics, an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. children miss 15 or more school days each year.

When kids chronically miss this much school starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, they miss out on more than learning. Frequent absenteeism puts them at risk for poor grades, dropping out of school, and unhealthy behaviors as teens and young adults — such as smoking and not exercising — that could put their health on the line down the road.

While participation in extracurricular activities is good for children and teens, too much scheduled time for everyone can lead to stress not only for the student but the entire family.

Here are some ways to make sure your child shows up to school as often as possible.

Help them stay well. Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the most important things your kids can do to avoid getting sick. Encourage kids to wash their hands with soap and water throughout the day, including before eating, after using the toilet, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose. If soap and water aren’t available, they can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help kill germs. In addition, make sure that your child is up to date on all his or her vaccinations, including a yearly flu shot.

Only keep your child home when necessary. Missing just two days per month can add up to being chronically absent. Make sure your child stays home only when he or she needs to. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, acceptable reasons for missing school include a temperature higher than 101 degrees, vomiting, diarrhea, a bad cough, or a toothache. If your child frequently complains of a stomachache or headache, talk with your pediatrician. These could be signs of anxiety rather than a physical illness.

Encourage good sleep habits. Kids who don’t get enough sleep tend to miss more school and get lower grades. Try to maintain a regular pre-bed routine and bedtime, encourage kids to be physically active during the day, and shut down all screens at least an hour before bed.

Make a backup plan. Create a backup plan to make sure your child gets to school even when things don’t go as planned (such as missing the bus). For example, ask a family member, neighbor, or another responsible adult to take your child to school when needed.

Avoid scheduling conflicts. If you need to take your child out of school for an appointment, have him or her return to school for the remainder of the day. Only schedule vacations during official school breaks.

Work with your pediatrician. If your child has a chronic medical condition such as asthma, allergies, or seizures that causes him or her to frequently miss school, work with your pediatrician or other providers to better manage symptoms. It can also be helpful to work closely with the school nurse to make sure your child receives needed care during the school day.

Helping your kids show up to school day after day will positively impact their education—and so much more.

(SOURCES: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSF Healthcare)


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