Group of kids smiling with a school bus in the background

A Pediatrician's Back-to-School Advice for Parents

Author: CHKD Medical Group
Published Date: Monday, August 21, 2017

By Dr. Sarah Lee, Tidewater Children's Associates

As children prepare to head back to school, parents often ask what they can do to help their child navigate the challenges ahead and have a healthy and successful year. Here are a few of my top back-to-school tips by age group:

For all ages

First and foremost, parents should continue annual well-visits with their child’s pediatrician through the teen years. These visits are the best way to ensure immunizations are up to date, screen for emerging health or developmental issues, and protect your child’s overall well-being.

For lower elementary grade students (ages 5-9)

These students are often the most excited about returning to school to learn new things, make new friends and share with each other. Unfortunately, this sharing includes a multitude of germs. Viral and bacterial illnesses start to plague classrooms within a week of children being back in close proximity to each other. A good way to prepare your child for a healthy school year is to review proper handwashing hygiene. Teach your child to scrub their hands - fronts and backs and in-betweens - with soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer for as long as it takes to sing their favorite song twice.

You can also remind them (and demonstrate by example) to always cough and sneeze into their elbow instead of their hands. Limiting unhealthy hand-to-mouth behaviors like nail biting and asking to keep personal school supplies, like scissors, in your child’s desk instead of sharing, can also keep germs at bay. Also, there’s nothing more helpful to a teacher than volunteering to bring in sanitizing wipes, tissues and bottles of hand sanitizer to stockpile for use throughout the school year.

For upper elementary grade and middle school students (ages 10-14)

This age group is often at risk for peer pressure and self-esteem issues as they transition from childhood to their “tween” years. This time can be a breeding ground for unhealthy relationships and interactions. To foster your child’s self-esteem, identify his or her interests and strengths (knowing they might have changed or be very different from their siblings’) and look for ways to encourage those interests. Be careful, however, not to over-commit your child to too many activities, especially as academic demands increase in the upper grades.

Higher self-esteem lowers the risk of your child being subject to, or taking part in, bullying. Talk to your child regularly about their friendships and encourage peer time under your supervision so that you can get to know their friends. Limit smartphone use unless you are an expert on parental controls and have the time to check their texting and social media accounts frequently.

For high school students

In high school, kids undergo increasing amounts of pressure in academics, athletics and peer relationships as they pursue graduation. They often sacrifice healthy sleep and diet practices to keep up with those demands and are at higher risk of depression and anxiety. Risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking and trying illicit drugs may be a way to cope with underlying mental illness, unstable home environments or poor self-esteem.

Talk to your teens daily about their life stressors and become familiar with early signs of depression such as change in behavior, withdrawing from social, extra-curricular and home activities, and decreasing academic performance. Your teen may be closer to adulthood, but they still need you to set limits on bedtimes, curfews, driving privileges, etc. to be healthy and successful.

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About CHKD Medical Group

Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.