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Categories > Parenting > Raising healthy kids

Have you done your health homework?

With children sporting bright, new sneakers and carrying pristine packs of crayons, a new school year always feels like a fresh start for families. But the return to school also signals the start of the sniffle season. Keeping kids well calls for more than good luck, and you can take steps to bolster your child’s resistance. Answer the questions below to check how well you’ve prepared for a healthy school year.

  • Has your child had a physical? An annual well-child exam gives your pediatrician the chance to thoroughly assess your child’s health and development. The doctor will review your child’s medical history, perform a complete physical exam, take weight and height measurements and check blood pressure. Other tests may include a scoliosis screening, blood and urine tests and vision and hearing screenings. The doctor will also assess any chronic conditions and adjust treatment or medication if needed. If the doctor prescribes treatment changes, be sure to inform the school nurse and give her a supply of your child’s medication. If your child plays sports, don’t forget to bring any appropriate forms for the doctor to sign.
  • Are you up to date on shots? Children need as many as 27 shots by the time they reach 18 months of age—are you sure your child got them all? Have the doctor check your child’s immunization record and administer any missing doses. Ask your doctor if your child needs vaccines such as hepatitis A, pneumococcal, meningococcal or influenza.
  • Has your child seen the dentist? Even if your child seems healthy, tooth decay is a bacterial disease that can affect overall health and lead to problems eating, speaking and paying attention in class. American children miss 750,000 school days each year because of dental problems. Children should see a dentist twice a year starting at age 1 or within six months of a first tooth’s appearance.
  • Does your child eat breakfast? Studies show that children who eat a nutritious breakfast do better academically and socially and are less likely to overeat later. Good choices include high-fiber cereals with milk; pancakes or waffles topped with yogurt or fruit; and eggs and whole-grain toast. Bored with the usual fare? Try pizza bagels, grilled cheese, egg burritos, yogurt-and-fruit smoothies, peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches or last night’s healthy leftovers. Don’t forget some fresh fruit or juice and milk.
  • Have you taught your child well? The more you enforce good hygiene habits at home, the more likely your child will continue the practice. Insist on hand washing before every meal and snack and after visiting the bathroom or touching the class pet. Teach your child to lather for 15 to 20 seconds—or for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Show how to cover a cough or a sneeze with a tissue, the crook of an elbow or, as a last resort, the hands and then wash up. Remind your child not to share hats, combs, brushes or makeup.
  • Have you set a limit on screen time? The hours your child spends in front of the TV, on the computer or playing video games are linked to how much exercise he or she gets, and most kids are not active enough. Regular exercise can protect the heart, control weight, build strong bones and muscles and improve sleep and mental health. The average child spends 24 hours a week watching TV. Limiting total screen time to one or two hours a day frees up much time for physical activities.
  • Does your child get enough sleep? Sleep is as important to health as are nutrition and exercise. School-age children generally need 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, with younger ones needing the most. Longer daylight often means later bedtimes during the summer, so a week before school starts, establish a new school-night routine. Set a suitable bedtime and include a winding-down period for quiet activities such as reading before lights-out.