School is almost back in session. Buying fresh notebooks and updating your kid's fall wardrobe are important parts of back-to-school prep, but you should make sure that you’re ready to address health needs for the season too.
Whether you have little ones that are heading to school for the first time or teenagers, there are a few changes you can make to your family's routine to make the start of the school year a little more bearable. Here are a few science-backed tips to keep your family healthy as they head back to school.
1. Prevent illness by encouraging hand washing
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), washing your hands is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infection. They suggest that childcare professionals, teachers, and children use liquid soap, scrub between the fingers, under fingernails, and under jewelry for 10-15 seconds under warm, running water.
A study of 24 daycare centers, published by the AAP in 2018, found that implementing a handwashing program reduced the number of absences and respiratory infections contracted by 911 children in their care. Setting a good example as kids head back-to-school is the first step to developing consistent hand washing habits in children. The Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends communicating with your child’s school or daycare facility about hand washing, offering a hands-on demonstration to your children, and for smaller kids, assisting them with accessing the sink or simply washing their hands for them.
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2. Add protein and probiotics to your daily routine
More studies are being done on probiotics to determine their effectiveness, but in some cases, they have been shown to alleviate digestive issues in children, which can be common during the school year.
“Probiotics have been shown to ease diarrhea brought on by viral gastroenteritis (i.e. the “stomach bug”), by reducing how long it lasts. They can also be helpful in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea in healthy children, so giving your child probiotics following a course of antibiotics may be helpful.” Jerome Esser, M.D., a pediatrician at Mayfair Pediatrics, shared in an article published by Children’s Hospital Wisconsin.
Children who have compromised immune systems or other serious illnesses should not take probiotics. Consult your child’s doctor before adding a probiotic to their routine.
Protein-rich meals, especially breakfast, will help keep kids full and focused for the day ahead. Packing energized protein-based snacks will help to avoid midday slumps. Consider stocking up on tasty protein bars to add to lunch boxes.
Health care technology company, Abbott, recommends that you speak with your pediatrician about tailoring your child’s protein intake to their specific needs.
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From Left: Primadophilus Optima Kids Probiotics 10 Billion by Nature’s Way, $25.49; Ultimate Flora Kids Probiotic 1 Billion by Renew Life, $12.74, Infinity Protein Chocolate Superbar by Billy’s Infinity Greens, $3.95
3. Prevent insect bites and allergic reactions
Since heading back-to-school coincides with the warm summer months, we know that bugs will inevitably come out. Stings, bites, and potential allergic reactions are definitely a cause for concern, especially as kids start to spend more time outside for school activities. Even common mosquito bites can result in severe swelling and painful inflammation in some children. Those who may not have been exposed to certain insect bites or stings may not be aware of any allergies.
According to Beaumont Health, allergic reactions to insect stings can include symptoms like hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site, abdominal cramping, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing, hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing.
Avoid uncomfortable bugs bites, dangerous allergic reactions, and bug-bourne illnesses as you prep for back-to-school season. Try a natural, non-toxic alternative to DEET, that’s safe for skin and clothing.
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4. Adjust your sleep schedules
It’s incredibly important to prioritize creating a healthy sleep routine in anticipation of the new school year, but readjusting to a regular sleep routine after summer vacation can be difficult for kids of all ages.
“We have discovered that sleep is instrumental not only in making us alert and receptive to learning but also that it helps consolidate and preserve memory of information learned during the day,” said Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., Wayne T. Smith distinguished professor at the College of Education at Auburn University in a press release published by the American Psychological Association. “Every day, children are learning relatively more new information and building more cognitive skills than adults, so sleep loss has a more negative impact on children.”
When the school year begins Dr. Buckhalt suggests making gradual adjustments to your kid's sleep schedule. Pushing up both bedtimes and waking times by 10-15 minutes will help to make that adjustment easier. Adding sleep and relaxation products into your routine and that of your children can also help when trying to wind down before bed.
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5. Regularly check for head lice
Head lice is a common occurrence for all children, regardless of hygiene or socioeconomic status. A large number of children in close proximity to one another can result in lice spreading very quickly. Actively discourage children from sharing hats, clothes, scarves, hairbrushes, helmets, and other personal care items to avoid the transmission of head lice. Send your child’s own pillow to any sleepovers.
Do a weekly visual head check by dividing the hair into sections with a fine-toothed comb and looking for lice or nits up against the scalp, behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. Head lice can be treated at home with medicated shampoos and special combs. To prevent reinfestation, the Mayo Clinic recommends washing bedding, stuffed animals and clothing in hot, soapy water and drying them in high heat. Items that can’t be washed should be stored in plastic bags for two weeks. Floors and upholstered furniture will need to be vacuumed.
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Handwashing, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005.
Effectiveness of a Hand Hygiene Program at Child Care Centers: A Cluster Randomized Trial, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018.
Getting Children To Wash Their Hands, Partnership For Food Safety Education, 2013.
Kids and Probiotics: Should Parents Believe The Hype?, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, 2018.
Why Is Protein Important For Kids' Growth?, Abbott, 2018.
Common Bug Bites And When To See A Doctor, Beaumont Health
School Year Means Sleep Challenges For Kids Of All Ages, American Psychological Association, 2012.
Head Lice, Kids Health by Nemours, 2015.
Head Lice Diagnosis And Treatment, Mayo Clinic, 2018.