By Kristen Moore, MD

With careful planning and prompt involvement of your pediatrician, you can ensure that your child is physically healthy for the school year and can transition with ease, both academically and socially. Here are some tips to give your child a healthy start:

1. Schedule a wellness visit.

  • A yearly wellness visit allows your pediatrician to monitor your child’s growth, physical development, and achievement of developmental milestones.
  • For adolescents, a wellness visit can also allow us to screen for substance abuse, depression, and sexual activity.
  • As your child becomes involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, don’t let a wellness visit be replaced by pre-participation physicals, which do not include these essential screenings.

2. Get vaccinated.

  • At your wellness visit, we will check to make sure your child has had all of the recommended vaccines for their age. Keeping children up-to-date with vaccinations is the best way to protect our communities and schools from outbreaks that can lead to unnecessary illnesses, and unfortunately, in some cases, death.
  • Many vaccinations require multiple doses for full immunity, while others require a booster dose in the preteen/teenage years. See your pediatrician as recommended, so that these essential vaccines are not missed.
  • An annual flu vaccination is recommended for all children ages six months and older, and will protect your child from illness and complications from influenza. You can make an appointment for a flu vaccination for your child starting in October.

3. Eat healthy and drink enough water.

  • Studies show that children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better in school and have more energy. If mornings are too hectic for a sit-down breakfast, there are many healthy options that children can grab on their way out the door. Try these dark chocolate blueberry clusters.
  • If you pack a lunch for your child, be sure to include healthy options including fruits and vegetables. If your child eats school lunch, pay attention to the menu and send a packed lunch on the days when the cafeteria is serving something he/she may not care to eat.
  • Also, make sure your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the school day. Remember many children are nervous about going to the bathroom at school. Holding it all day can lead to several health problems, so discuss your child’s habits and encourage him/her to use the bathroom when they need to rather than holding it.

4. Get enough sleep.

  • Academic success is dependent upon adequate sleep. At a minimum, children, ages 5-12, and adolescents need 9-10 hours of sleep per night, while some children require as much as 12.
  • Insufficient sleep is associated with lower academic achievement at all school levels and higher rates of absenteeism.
  • Remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your child’s bedroom be a screen-free zone. Electronic use can interrupt sleep patterns.

5. Support your child if he/she is feeling anxious.

  • Talk with your child about their fears and concerns. Reassure them that other students are nervous about their first day of school too.
  • Remind them that teachers are aware of students’ anxieties and will make an extra effort to see that everyone transitions and has a great first day.
  • Point out to your child all of the positive aspects of starting school: reuniting with old friends, making new friends, and learning interesting things.
  • If your child is going to a new school for the first time, be sure to attend any offered orientation sessions, and tour the school before the first day if possible.
  • Driving your child to school and/or walking him/her into the classroom can also help alleviate anxieties for some children. 

6. Eliminate distractions during homework time.

  • Provide your child with a quiet and well-lit place with minimal distractions for homework.
  • Your child may need a planner to help organize their homework assignments.
  • Turn off the TV and other electronic devices during homework time.
  • Make sure your child does not have too many extracurricular activities after school, so that they have enough time to devote to homework.
  • Help your child, as needed, with homework. If your child is struggling in a particular area, talk to your child’s teacher about what you can do to help. Hiring a tutor may be a good solution.
  • Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician if your child is having any academic difficulties.

7. Teach your child how to respond appropriately to bullying.

  • If your child is being bullied, teach him/her to look the bully in the eye, remain calm, and walk away.
  • Tell your child to say firmly, “I don’t like what you are doing” or “please do not talk to me like that.”
  • Advise your child when and how to ask an adult for help.
  • Notify school officials of the problem.
  • If your child is the bully, make sure he/she knows that bullying is never acceptable, set firm and consistent limits behavior, and use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges. Show your child that he/she can achieve goals and get what he/she wants without teasing or threatening others.
  • If your child witnesses another student being bullied, encourage him/her to join others in telling the bully to stop and to tell an adult.
  • Encourage your child to invite children who are being bullied to join him/her in play and activities.

8. Travel safely before and after school.

  • Keeping our children safe is always the top priority. Make sure to go over the plan for travel to and from school with your child. Remind them to never go anywhere with a stranger.
  • If your child will be riding a bus to school, instruct him/her to wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching it. Remind your child to walk where they can see the bus driver and the bus driver can see him/her, and to remain seated while the bus is in motion.
  • If your child will be traveling to school by car, make sure he/she is wearing a seatbelt at all times and/or is seated in an age- and size-appropriate safety or booster seat. Children younger than 13 years old should be in the backseat.
  • If your child is driving to school, set some ground rules, as many crashes occur while novice teen drivers are traveling to and from school. Require seat belt use, limit the number of teen passengers, and forbid distracting behaviors, such as eating, drinking, and cell phone use while driving.

A WVU Medicine pediatrician can be an excellent resource for you and your child. Call 855-WVU-CARE to schedule an appointment.