Back to school health and safety tips

Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 7:36 PM

Now that our community’s children are back in school, here are some tips to ensure that they stay healthy both in and out of the classroom throughout the year. First, two tips for everyone, whether you are a parent or not.

First, pay close attention when driving and observe speed limit signs in school zones. It may feel as though 15 MPH is a crawl on city streets where you’re accustomed to driving 25-30 or more, but children can be unpredictable and if a little one steps into the street as you’re driving by you’ll be glad you were going slowly.

Second, watch for school busses on county roads and heed the warning lights on the vehicles. Never try to “ease around” a stopped school bus. Remember that traffic in both directions must stop for a school bus loading or unloading children. Wait until the red lights are off, the swing-out stop sign is no longer visible, and the bus is back in motion before moving your own vehicle.

Now, for parents:

Create a consistent routine for children. Get them into the habit of waking up early enough to dress and have breakfast without being rushed. They’ll be less stressed and so will you. Be sure to schedule enough time each day and week for homework, extracurricular activities, and unstructured blocks of time for play and relaxation.

Be sure your children get the rest and sleep they need. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children between the ages of five and 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers should get at least 8½ hours of sleep each night, and some need nine or more to function optimally. Lack of sleep can negatively impact a child’s ability to concentrate, listen and learn.

Food is fuel for the body and the brain, so make sure that your children head off to school with a full tank. According to the National Education Association, children who eat breakfast perform better in school, have better attendance and exhibit fewer behavioral problems., the website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, says students who eat breakfast have better memory, test scores, attention span and healthier body weights.

Backpacks are an efficient way for children of all ages to transport books and other school supplies, but care must be taken to prevent injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 10-20% of a child’s weight. Load up your child’s backpack with what they routinely carry, put your child on the bathroom scale with and without the pack, then do the math. Choose a pack with padded straps and instruct children to use both shoulder straps at all times.

Preventing the spread of colds and flu is especially important this time of year. It’s a judgment call on the part of parents, but as a rule if a child doesn’t feel well enough to go to school they should stay home. A child with a fever or suspected flu should always be kept at home until they are without a fever for 24 hours without the use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Bullying and cyberbullying is real, and it’s not acceptable – on or off campus. If you feel that your child is being bullied communicate openly to get the full story and, when warranted, alert school officials about the situation. If your child is being a bully, take the matter seriously.

Talk to your children about drug and alcohol use. Believe it or not, studies show that children and teens really do pay attention when their parents discuss this subject with them. For information about how to have these conversations, visit and type “drugs” in the search box in the upper right of the home page.

Are you familiar with the emergency procedures that are in place at your child’s school? If not, find out what to expect and what to do in the event of a natural disaster, severe weather alert, threat or violence on the campus, or other situations that might result in an evacuation. In addition, make sure the school has a quick and easy way to get in touch with you should your child need to be picked up for any reason.

Establish a relationship with a primary health-care provider for your children for well-child check-ups, immunizations, and so that you’ll have a place to take them should they become ill or injured.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal health-care provider.