Back to School: Health Checklist for Your Child

The clock is ticking on getting your child ready for the start of the new school year.

Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician at NYU-Langone Huntington Medical Group, said that while there are no new vaccine requirements this year, children need boosters prior to kindergarten or first grade for a variety of diseases, including MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), chicken pox and DTAP (Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis).

New York State has updated its forms and requirements for physicals, requiring physicals when students are entering the school district for the first time, and in grades Pre-K or K, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. But Siddiqui said doctors recommend annual physicals because “continuity of care with a physician is very important.”
Physical care of a child engaged in sports requires another level of attention.

“There are always concerns about sports and concussion prevention, injury prevention and things like that. There is more awareness about physical exams and cardiac history,” she said. “When we clear them for sports we try to have a discussion about those things, and coaches are more amenable now to having the child sit out” for injuries, she said. “Five or 10 years ago, it was sometimes difficult to get people on board with trying to get a child to rest. That’s a positive that we have seen.”

Another issue she addresses with her young patients is body safety, telling them, “ ‘You’re the boss of your body.’ You can’t start that message too young. Any time we start an exam, I tell the child what I’m going to be doing and try to make sure child is aware that it’s their body and they’re allowed to say no.”

Sufficient sleep, awareness of food choices and diet and backpacks are also of concern, Siddiqui said.
“We try to recommend that parents get children back on schedule prior to school starting.,” she said. Start by “turning off all devices, get onto a sleep and wake cycle similar to school, which helps them adjust. Younger kids need 10 to 11 hours of sleep; high school students should get 8-10 hours,” she said. Screen time, including computers, video games, TV and cellphones, shouldn’t exceed more than one to two hours a day. “That just helps gets kids outside and also to calm the brain. Less time on our devices so our brains have time to recover. That leads into activity: encourage 30 minutes minimum. You don’t have to do a school sport. Just get outside, breathe some fresh air, run around. It does wonders for mental and physical health.”

She also recommends a refocusing on a healthy diet, choosing a protein-filled breakfast instead of carb loaded meals. “It helps us to concentrate during the day. Snacks should include more fruits and veggies, lots of hydration that is sugar free. Sugar-filled juices provide hydration but kids will get thirsty pretty soon. It’s somewhat of a diruretic, going to urinate more and need to hydrate more.”

And, to prevent back problems, backpacks need to be lightweight, less than 10-20 percent of their body weight. They should have thick padded shoulder straps, with padding on the back, and worn on both shoulders, not draped over just one.

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