We feel you, parents, guardians and caregivers. Back-to-school season is hectic, and your checklists are ginormous. But along with stockpiling pens, pocket folders, Kleenex and cleaning wipes, it’s also a good time to focus on your student’s health.
Here are five simple steps to help you and your kiddos prepare for a healthier school year ahead.
1. Develop a sleep routine
Getting enough sleep is a huge part of a student’s overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, most children and teens in the U.S. don’t get enough of it on school nights, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inadequate sleep not only contributes to poor performance and behavioral issues, but it is also linked to several health problems in teens and children, including:
- Type 2 diabetes.
The amount of sleep your kiddo needs depends on several factors. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these general recommendations for children and teens:
- Ages 6-12: 9-12 hours per 24 hours
- Ages 13-18: 8-10 hours per 24 hours
Try these tips to help ensure kids get the zzz’s they need:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake up time for both school days and weekends.
- Create a simple wind-down routine, such as a bath/shower, teeth brushing, prepping clothes for the next day and reading.
- Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
- Make a comfortable sleeping environment, including room-darkening window coverings, a cool temperature, and a fan or noise machine.
- Cut the caffeine. The effects can last for hours.
Teach by example. When you make sleep a priority and stick with a set schedule, it’s easier for your child to do the same.
2. Focus on healthy eating
Eating a well-balanced diet helps improve focus, memory, brain function, behaviors and overall mood.
Here are a few simple ways to keep healthy eating at the forefront:
- Start the day with breakfast. Kids need fuel to get them going. Good options include nutrient-packed whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, fruit, eggs or yogurt. Make-ahead meals, like egg muffins, overnight oats or breakfast tacos, are great for grab-and-go mornings.
- Prep healthy lunches ahead of time. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and daily. (Skip the sugary or caffeinated drinks.)
- Stock up on healthy snacks. Create “snack stations” in the fridge or cabinet that include whole fruits, cut veggies and dip, cheese sticks, yogurt, or whole grain crackers.
- Carve out time for family meals. Research shows that the more families eat together, the better their food choices. The benefits go beyond nutrition. Family meals also provide an opportunity for families to connect and communicate.
- Get the kids involved. A great way for your child to learn about healthy food choices is for them to have a hand in the process. When possible, have them help with shopping, meal and snack planning, and food prep.
Make it simple with MyPlate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips and resources on how to make healthy food choices.
2. Be aware of health risks
Kids are most likely to get sick during the first few months of school. Gathering closely indoors makes it easier to spread everything from colds, the flu and other viruses to stomach bugs, pink eye and head lice.
Here are a few ways your kids can avoid and keep from spreading back-to-school germs:
- Keep vaccinations up to date. Flu and COVID shots are especially important.
- Encourage good hand-washing hygiene. 80 percent of infectious diseases are spread by touch. Research has proven that frequent handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to keep germs at bay.
- Show them how to sneeze like a vampire. Teach kids to cough and sneeze into their elbow instead of their hands.
- Discourage food and drink sharing. Sipping from the same water bottle or dipping from the same bag of baby carrots is a sure-fire way to spread germs. Food sharing can also be dangerous for kids with food allergies.
If your child does catch a bug, keep them home to help them recover faster and avoid spreading illness to others.
Don’t forget to check the backpack. Toting too much weight can cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Backpacks should not weigh more than 10 percent of your child’s body weight.
4. Schedule an annual physical exam
An annual wellness exam is a critical part of your child’s physical and emotional health. Its purpose is to monitor their growth and development, check their hearing and vision, and address any issues that could affect them during the school year.
Annual exams are also an opportunity to address some important topics, including:
- Diet and nutrition.
- Sleep patterns.
- Immunizations and medication management.
- Peer pressure and other social issues.
- Drug, tobacco and alcohol use.
- Healthy lifestyles.
Keep your kiddo in the game. An annual exam is different from a sports physical, which is specifically designed to clear an athlete for participation in sports. Indigo makes it simple to schedule a sports physical into your busy schedule.
5. Tune in to mental health
Back-to-school time is exciting. But for many children, teens and young adults, the transition can be stressful. Mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to returning to the classroom.
Here are a few tips to manage your child’s back-to-school health:
- Let them know it’s ok to talk about what they’re feeling. Listen and acknowledge their fears or emotions.
- Be on the lookout for any worrying changes in behavior. Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder, and it’s become more prevalent among children and teens in the last few years. Learn more about how to recognize anxiety symptoms in your child.
- Practice compassion. Kids may be scared, worried or anxious.
- Talk about bullying. The CDC offers helpful information and resources, including the warning signs of bullying and how adults can help prevent it.
Slot in some one-on-one time with your child, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes each day. A recent study found that time spent with parents is a crucial factor in children’s emotional and mental well-being.
Indigo makes care as easy as ABC
At Indigo, we believe that getting the care you and your student need shouldn’t be complicated.
And when it isn’t convenient to make the trip to a clinic, book a same-day or next-day appointment with an Indigo Virtual Care clinician from your favorite device.
In person or virtually, we’re here every day from 8 am to 8 pm.