Keeping Kids Healthy Going Back to School
I want to do everything in your power to ensure your child is best prepared as they leave the confines of your home and into the hallowed halls of their elementary, middle or high school this year. While you go through your child’s back-to-school list to get them ready for the new school year, don’t forget to put their health on the list as well.
Going back to school can be exciting and a bit nerve-wracking for kids (and their parents!). There’s a lot to think about these days and not just about who they’ll sit with at lunch. They’ll also want to be smart on germs and viruses and how to remain healthy throughout the year, so they can continue to be their best selves.
We spoke with expert Meghan Fels, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO, who shared some of the top things parents can do to help their kids keep germs from spreading and ensure a great start to the school year.
Tips to keep your child healthy this school year
1. Practice healthy hygiene habits
“First get down to the basics and discuss with your child the importance of good hygiene and simple ways they can help stop unwanted germs and viruses from spreading,” Dr. Fels said.
Here are some things you can practice together:
- Master the vampire (or dab-like) sneeze move. Avoid sneezing in your hands (gross!) and instead practice sneezing in the bend of your elbow or even inside your shirt so sneeze droplets don’t circulate.
- Use one tissue each time and throw it away. Use a new tissue EVERY time you blow your nose, sneeze or catch any mucus, then throw the tissue away in a lined trashcan. No parent wants to see a trail of tissues in their child’s room, nor does a teacher want to see them littering their classroom.
- Wash hands often with soap and water. Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose or coughing. The best way to wash your hands is to use warm water and soap and to rub your hands together for a full 20 seconds. “It can help to sing a favorite song, your ABCs or happy birthday a couple times to make sure you’re getting the full 20 seconds,” Dr. Fels said. “If handwashing isn’t possible though, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer."
- Avoid touching your face. It’s estimated people touch their faces at least 23 times per hour (ew!). To help prevent infections, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth, especially during COVID-19 and flu season. Why? Because your mucous membranes are the perfect entry for gross germs that cause respiratory infections.
- Avoid sharing crayons, markers and scissors in class. While we’ve often heard, “sharing is caring,” it can also spread germs. If they have to share supplies, make sure your child knows to wash their hands when they are done.
2. Eat a well-balanced diet
Whether a preschooler or a senior in high school, children should eat a well-balanced diet to stay healthy—that means, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Teach your kids to eat “the rainbow” and try a new color each week. Colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, antioxidants and immune-fighting substances.
If your child is vegetarian, dairy-free or has an erratic diet, you may wonder if they should take vitamins to boost their health. While they can help, vitamins aren’t always necessary.
“Certain vitamins, like vitamin D, have been shown to be beneficial in preventing respiratory infection and protecting your immune system, but if you’re eating a well-balanced diet, you don’t need additional vitamins,” Dr. Fels said. “If your child doesn’t get enough vitamin D through foods, you can supplement. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 600 IU a day for children over the age of 1.”
3. Stay hydrated
When it comes to your child staying healthy, hydration needs to be a big part. “When children get dehydrated, it can lead to headaches, lightheadedness, sleepiness and poor learning,” Dr. Fels said.
Dr. Fels shared a breakdown on how much your child should drink each day:
- 1 to 3 years old – about 3 to 4 cups of milk and water
- 4 to 7 years old – about 5 cups of milk and water
- 8 and older – about 8 cups of milk and water
Go shopping together and find a water bottle that your child likes to carry and keep at their desk throughout the day. If water isn’t their thing, sweeten it with a slice of fruit, like pineapple, to add flavor.
4. Get plenty of sleep
“Sleep is the foundation for growth, learning and play,” Dr. Fels said. “It can restore our bodies and minds. And kids who get adequate sleep can have a healthier immune system, better school performance and have been shown to have better memory performance and improved mental health.”
Check out this helpful article about the number of hours of sleep your child should be getting each night. If your child is having difficulty with sleep, speak with their health care provider to look for underlying concerns or conditions and come up with a sleep plan.
5. Stay home when sick
Another important way to limit the spread of germs and viruses is to stay home when you don’t feel well. Monitor your child every morning before going to school to see how they are doing and feeling.
“There are multiple conditions including viral respiratory infections, viral stomach bugs, strep throat and pneumonia that can present similarly,” Dr. Fels said. “If your child is too ill to go to school, don’t force them to go—even if there isn’t a fever.”
If they are showing any of the following signs, keep them home from school and call their health care provider if there is no improvement of symptoms:
- any fever of 100.4 or higher
- loss of taste or smell
- sore throat
- nasal congestion or runny nose that can’t be controlled
- a known exposure to an illness, such as COVID-19 (Follow CDC guidelines for quarantining)
6. Stay up to date on vaccinations
The best defense is a strong offense, and that’s why vaccinations are the best way to protect you, your children and others from illness. Check in with your child’s health care provider and make sure your child is up to date on all their immunizations or ask for the vaccination schedule.
“It’s important to stay up to date on all immunizations, including meningitis, tetanus, measles, flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine, if eligible,” Dr. Fels said. “Vaccines not only help to prevent serious infection/hospitalization and death, but they also prevent the spread of illness at home to those who may be immunocompromised, at risk for infection complications and also to those in our community.”
By following these tips, you can hopefully reduce the amount of sickness in your family or the length of an illness. If you have additional questions, contact your child’s health care provider or you can find a Banner Health specialist who can help at bannerhealth.com.