There is a certain time of year where pediatrician office visits typically slow down a bit after children head back to school. It usually follows the completion of all those last minute school physicals and lasts for about 2-3 weeks. Roughly the same amount of time a good school illness needs to travel through a few classrooms, as well as through homes of the students, when the “sick bug” jumps to the siblings as well.
Now since my goal is to keep children healthy, I enjoy this brief reprieve. But over the years, I have learned that whether it lasts until mid-October or only for a few days (as it did with the H1N1 influenza 2 years ago), at some point, the pace in my office will pick up once the school year gets rolling.
And although it may just be one of those truisms of life, I do feel there are some healthy lifestyle tips that students and families can follow to help diminish the chances of getting ill during the school year. Granted, if your child sits at a table where the other students all have a “stomach bug,” the chances are pretty good your child will come down with some similar symptoms, at some point.
But with that in mind, here are 7 tips to keep in mind as the school year gets rolling:
- Hand washing: Yes, I realize this makes just about every list I ever bring up, but hand washing is just about the most basic #1 public health measure out there. Remind your children the importance of hand washing (with soap) during school, and make sure that when they get home after school, the first thing they do is wash their hands. Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but I still prefer a simple hand washing with soap.
- Healthy eating: This is probably a good time to remind you all of the recent change by the USDA from the food pyramid to the MyPlate. Please take a look at some of the new guidelines, but the main point is healthy dietary intake helps to maintain a healthy body and immune system.
- Get some sleep: In a previous blog, I alluded to the fact that many children go to bed later during the summer, and they can sleep in a bit later to maintain the necessary hours they need each day. During the school year, sleeping in until 9AM is not an option. So please get your children to bed at a reasonable time (obviously, this is age dependent) as this will also maintain a healthy body and immune system.
- Remove the stress: As adults, I think we all realize when we get a bit overwhelmed or stressed out with things, illnesses tend to follow. Well, the same thing occurs with children and since the school year may bring about many stresses both in and out of the class room, work with your child to make sure he/she isn’t too overwhelmed with things. With younger children, it usually is easier to figure out if something is stressing them out but with your older children (‘tweens and teens), please make sure you talk with them to make sure you have an understanding of how things are going.
- Get some exercise: Following points #2 and #3 above, exercise helps maintain a healthy body and immune system. In my house, we have a simple rule - whether it’s a team sport (e.g. soccer, basketball) or an individual sport (e.g. swimming, karate, dance) - one organized activity each season.
- If sick, stay home: Granted, this implies your child is already ill, but by keeping your child home when he/she has a fever or has a significant cough or even a “stomach bug,” this will obviously help reduce the transmission of the illness to friends and fellow students.
- Get a flu shot: The influenza vaccination (AKA flu shot) will not prevent every cold out there, but its goal is to prevent about 3 of the most common strains expected for the upcoming flu season. And who really wants an illness that includes high fever for a few days, aches all over the body, and significant runny nose and congestion?
As always, I would love to hear from you all if you have any advice or stories to share.
- Dr. Jeremy