10 Ways to Keep Kids Healthy During the School Year

School is many things—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 teaching kids some important healthy habits, parents can help make school and health a priority during the school year. Here are some tips on how to keep your kids healthy.

1

Make Sure Your Child Is Up to Date on All Vaccines

Vaccines are the best way to prevent the spread of 16 different diseases, and during the pandemic there has been a steep drop in the number of children who are receiving all the vaccines they need on time. Since there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, it is critical to do everything possible to prevent other diseases.

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.

2

Teach Your Child Proper Hand Washing

Hand washing is one of the most important ways we can 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 this spread of germs.

What's more, hand washing—along with wearing masks and social distancing—is the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

By teaching your kids how to wash their hands properly—and to especially wash after blowing their nose, using the bathroom, and before eating—you can help them reduce the risk of getting sick, and keep them from infecting others if they catch an infection or illness.

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, the need to prevent illnesses during the 2020–2021 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. Whether kids are attending school in person, learning online, or a hybrid, it's still important that they get a refresher on healthy habits like washing their hands frequently and avoiding touching their face.

Some other things kids need to be reminded of is using tissues when they sniffle or sneeze, letting mom and dad know when they don't feel well, and avoiding 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.

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. For this reason, you need to learn how to spot symptoms of stress and find ways to manage anxiety.

This is especially important this year as your child tries to navigate a school year that looks nothing like what they're used to. Not only is COVID-19 an extremely contagious virus, but it's also turning kids' lives upside down. So it's fairly common for kids to experience stress and anxiety.

One thing you can do to help them deal with stress and anxiety is to help them identify things in their life that they can control, like what they wear and how they spend their free time. Also help them learn 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 it to each child. What works for one may not work for the other. And if your child seems more distressed than what you think is normal, don't hesitate to contact your child's doctor. The doctor can make 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 impact 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, too. And to make matters worse, research suggests that kids are sleeping less than they did years ago.

In fact, a meta-analysis of nearly 700,000 children from 20 different countries found that children's sleep has decreased by 0.75 minutes per year over the past century, with the rate of change being greatest on school days.

Getting adequate sleep also can prepare kids for the stresses they experience throughout the day—particularly at school. Keep in mind though that living through a pandemic may hinder or interfere with sleep. So make sure you establish a schedule and stick to a bedtime.

Even older kids can benefit from having a set bedtime. Also try to incorporate predictability into their schedules and give reassuring talks 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 school kids. A balanced breakfast of protein and complex carbohydrates has been shown to be important for brain function as well as for maintaining a steady level of energy throughout the day.

According to one study, children who regularly have breakfast are more likely to take in the appropriate amounts of nutrients as well as consume 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 breakfast.

Studies show that eating breakfast has a positive effect on cognitive performance, especially when it comes to memory and attention. Consequently, to give your kids an advantage amidst all the distractions of COVID-19, make sure you encourage your kids to eat a healthy breakfast.

8

Make Lunchtime Fun

Everyone knows that the cornerstone to a healthy immune system is eating nutritious food. One way to ensure your kids are eating healthy is to make sure their lunches—whether prepared at home or packed in a lunchbox—are more 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 unlike sugary snacks that are burned very quickly by their bodies. Keep in mind too that 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. Offer quick, easy, and healthy after-school snacks rather than resorting to overly processed convenience food.

Snacks also are important because when included along with regular meals they help kids get the nutrients they need throughout the day. Plus, having small snacks spaced between meals reinforces that kids should eat small meals and 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 in kids.

Make sure you prevent back problems in your child by choosing and using backpacks correctly. For instance, you should start with a backpack that has multiple compartments so that the weight can be distributed evenly throughout.

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 and pink eye, there are a lot of illnesses that can impact kids throughout the school year. For this reason, it's important to know a little about each ailment and how best to care for your kids.

For instance, as much as we don't want to think about head lice, the fact is that it's a common problem among school-age kids. Children are in close contact at school and more likely to share personal items like hats and toys. Plus, their coats usually hang closely to one another, allowing lice to transfer easily to other students' belongings.

As a result, it's important to be able to differentiate between facts and myths about head lice and how to help your kids steer clear of this annoying yet common problem at school.

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