11 Ways to Keep Kids Healthy During the School Year

School is a place where kids learn and grow cognitively, develop social skills, and become independent individuals. It can also be a place where they pick up germs and illnesses and bring them home.

At school, children spend a lot of time in classrooms where they can easily transfer infections to one another. But by helping kids establish some important habits, parents can show them how to make health a priority during the school year.

1

Get Current on All Vaccines

Vaccines are the best way to prevent the spread of 16 different diseases, and during the pandemic there was a steep drop in the number of children who received all the vaccines they need on time.

Since COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for use in children under 12, it is critical to do everything possible to prevent other diseases in this age group. See your pediatrician to make sure your child has all the immunizations they need, including the seasonal flu vaccine. Everyone in your family should get it by the end of October.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people 12 years and older receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to contract the disease and transmit it to others.

If you are unsure of how to get your child vaccinated, contact your pediatrician for more information.

2

Teach Proper Hand Washing

Hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of illness in the classroom and elsewhere. When kids come in contact with germs, they can easily spread those germs—especially if they rub their eyes or scratch their nose.

Then it's only a matter of time until the rest of the family is sick as well. But frequent hand washing can help slow the spread of germs.

Hand washing—along with vaccination, wearing masks, and social distancing—is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Teach kids how to wash their hands properly—and when to do it (after blowing their nose, using the bathroom, and before eating). This helps reduce their risk of getting sick and in turn, from infecting others.

Be sure to assist young children with washing their hands. When hand washing is not possible, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is the next best way to kill germs that cause COVID-19 and other illnesses, according to the CDC.

3

Help the Immune System Function Well

There is no proven way to "boost" the immune system, but it is important to keep kids' bodies healthy so their immune systems can work properly. Getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress, exercising, making time to laugh, and emphasizing hand washing can help reduce your child's risk of getting colds, flu, and other infections.

Even with preventative measures, most kids will get between six and eight colds per year as their immune systems continue to develop. And with COVID-19 still circulating, the need to prevent illnesses during the 2021–2022 school year is more important than ever.

The most effective way to prevent disease is through vaccination. There is growing interest among parents in giving kids supplements like elderberry, or extra doses of vitamins such as vitamin C, but you should always consult with your child's doctor before giving them supplements of any kind.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend vitamin supplements for healthy children who eat a varied diet. It's best that they get their vitamins from foods.

4

Teach Your Child Healthy Habits

Does your child know the importance of healthy habits to prevent colds, flu, and other infections? Healthy habits include remembering not to touch their eyes or share cups and utensils with friends.

Kids need to learn not to share their face masks or to play with them while they are in school. With the majority of schools returning to in-person learning this fall, it's critical to give your kids a refresher on healthy habits like washing their hands frequently and avoiding touching their face.

Kids also often need to be reminded to use tissues when they sniffle or sneeze, to let parents know when they don't feel well, and to avoid close contact with their friends at school. Preventative behaviors like these can be very effective in reducing or slowing the spread of most infectious diseases, including stomach bugs.

The CDC recommends the continued use of face masks indoors for anyone who is not fully vaccinated, which includes all children under the age of 12. They also advise schools to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet between students when possible.

5

Watch for Signs of Anxiety and Stress

Homework, tests, social pressures—kids can face a lot of stressful situations every day. Research shows that stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on kids' health, just like it can on the health of adults. Parents need to know how to spot symptoms of stress and find ways to manage children's anxiety.

This is especially important as your child navigates another school year that may look different than they're used to. Kids are still recovering from the upheavals caused by the pandemic, and some children may show continuing distress.

Work with your child to identify things in their life that they can control, like what they wear and how they spend their free time. Brainstorm together about what helps them de-stress. For some kids this might mean writing in a journal, while others might enjoy playing a board game or going for walk.

The key is to personalize stress management strategies to each child. What works for one may not work for another. If these self-help strategies aren't working, contact your child's pediatrician for recommendations on ways to address your child's anxiety and stress.

6

Establish Good Sleep Hygiene

Making sure your children get enough sleep is a crucial part of keeping them healthy. In fact, studies show that missing sleep can affect kids in a number of ways. Lack of sleep can lead to poor concentration, obesity, depression, suicidal ideation, and injuries.

Not only is sleep an important part of a child's physical and emotional health; it also can play a role role in how well they do in school. And research suggests that kids are sleeping less than they did years ago.

A meta-analysis of nearly 700,000 children from 20 different countries found that children's sleep has decreased by approximately 1 hour per night over the past century, with the rate of change being greatest on school days.

Even older kids can benefit from having a set bedtime. Also try to incorporate predictability into their schedules and give reassurance if stress or uncertainty is interfering with sleep.

7

Provide a Brain-Boosting Breakfast

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day when it comes to students. A balanced breakfast of protein and complex carbohydrates has been established as an important factor for brain function and maintenance of a steady energy level through the day.

According to one study, children who regularly eat breakfast are more likely to consume adequate nutrients and eat less total fat and cholesterol. Likewise, iron, B vitamins and vitamin D are approximately 20% to 60% higher in kids who regularly eat breakfast compared with those who skip it.

8

Make Lunchtime Fun

The cornerstone to a healthy immune system is nutritious food. One way to ensure your kids are eating healthy is to make sure their lunches are fun and enticing.

Invite your kids to help you come up with ideas for yummy main dishes and sides dressed up in colorful combinations and shapes. You may even want to look into getting a bento lunchbox, which allows you to present their food in a kid-friendly way.

If your kids get lunch at school, encourage them to make healthy selections if they are given a choice. Talk about the importance of including lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

When kids have a nutritious lunch, the food is more likely to sustain them throughout the school day. Good nutrition in childhood lays the foundation for health in adulthood.

9

Offer Healthy Snacks

Kids are often ravenous after school. But you don't have to sacrifice good nutrition for convenience. Nutritious after-school snacks can be just as quick, easy, and tasty as processed picks.

Snacks are also important because—when combined with healthy meals—they help kids get the nutrients they need. Plus, having small snacks spaced between meals reinforces the idea that kids should eat small meals and eat when they are hungry. This helps them build healthy eating habits.

10

Choose the Right School Supplies

One of the highlights of back-to-school time is shopping for school supplies. From pencils and highlighters to notebooks and pencil cases, there are a lot of things to think about.

But school backpacks in particular require careful selection. Backpacks today are heavier than ever, and using the wrong type of backpack and wearing it incorrectly can lead to back pain.

Prevent back problems in your child by choosing and using backpacks correctly. For instance, a backpack that has multiple compartments helps distribute weight more evenly. So does wearing the pack on both shoulders instead of just one.

The American Chiropractic Association says that the weight of the backpack should not be more than 5% to 10% of your child's body weight.

The National Safety Council suggests making sure that your child's backpack is not wider than your child's torso and doesn't hang down below the waist. Likewise, they recommend looking for a backpack with compression straps to help stabilize the contents.

Wheeled backpacks are also a good option, unless your child will need to carry the backpack up and down stairs or walk in snow with it.

11

Learn About Common Childhood Illnesses

From the flu and strep throat to lice, pink eye, and COVID-19, there are many illnesses that can impact kids throughout the school year. It's important to know a little about each ailment and how best to care for your kids.

One of the best ways to keep your child from infecting others when they are ill is to keep them home if they are running a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Your child's school may also have policies about staying home if they are vomiting, have diarrhea, or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

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