Here’s back-to-school tips to help with children’s sleep schedules, nutrition and overall health.
1. Set up a consistent sleep schedule. During the summer, children may grow accustomed to both falling asleep and waking up at later times. About a week or two before school starts, gradually alter bed times until your child is used to a school year sleep schedule.
2. No mobile or tablet devices before bed. Smart phones and tablets emit “blue light,” which can cause your child to feel more alert, making falling asleep difficult. Shut down all tech devices an hour before bed, and encourage your child to read a book before bedtime instead.
3. Make sure your child is getting adequate sleep. A study from the National Sleep Foundation has shown that the recommended hours of sleep for pre-schoolers (3 to 5 years old) is 10-13 hours, and school-aged children (6 to 13 years old) is 9-11 hours. Sleep is critical for a child to concentrate throughout the school day.
4. Eat breakfast. Students who eat a healthy breakfast perform better in the classroom. It is important that every child eats three nutritious meals a day and, most importantly, does not skip breakfast. A hungry child may lack the necessary concentration to do their school work.
5. Make healthy lunches from home. Instead of buying food in the cafeteria or from a vending machine, encourage your child to bring a healthy lunch from home. Try to make lunches with whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
6. Fight off germs. One of the most effective ways to avoid spreading or catching germs is hand washing. Encourage your kids to wash their hands frequently, especially before meals. If they catch a cold, remind them to always sneeze or cough into their sleeves, not their hands.
7. Schedule a physical. Every child should schedule an annual physical. The annual physical gives the pediatrician a chance to give your child a thorough physical exam that also addresses any emotional, developmental or social concerns.
8. Keep immunizations updated. Parents can help protect their children from serious diseases by getting them vaccinated. According to the CDC, every state requires certain vaccinations at different grade levels for children attending public and private schools. Flu vaccines are recommended for all school-age children every year.
9. Be aware of allergens. With the fall comes a new allergy season, and many allergens like dust and mold can flourish in the classroom. Discuss any allergy concerns with your primary care physician and speak with a school nurse about any medication or dietary needs your child requires during the school day.
10. Stay active. Fewer than half of America’s youth meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Children need 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate intensity activity a day. Make sure to schedule exercise for your child outside of school.
Dr. Joseph J. Abularrage is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens.