Back-to-school season is here, and we want to help students and parents prepare for a healthy school year. High school students and older can benefit from our student checklist, while parents can use the second list for preschool and school-age children.
Back-to-school checklist: Students
- Wash your hands. It’s one of the simplest ways to prevent illnesses from spreading, from common colds to COVID-19. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, and after sneezing or coughing.
- Eat well and be active. Physical activity can help improve your sleep, reduce symptoms of anxiety, and improve your focus. Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity per day. And good nutrition can help keep you at a healthy weight and prevent health complications related to obesity.
- Limit sugary drinks. In the U.S., the No.1 source of added sugar is sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks. Try to limit yourself to 100 calories of added sugar per day; that’s about 6 teaspoons, or half a can of soda.
- Stay cool. Don’t let yourself get overheated! Make sure to stay hydrated (water is best), wear lightweight clothes, and avoid too much activity if the weather is too hot.
- Get vaccinated. And not just the COVID-19 vaccine, either. Make sure you’re up to date on all your vaccinations, including a flu vaccine. Flu season starts right after school starts in most states. Flu shots can help protect you, and even if you do get sick, your symptoms will be much less severe if you’re vaccinated.
Back-to-school checklist: Parents
- Schedule a sports physical. Sports physicals are different from annual checkups. They help tell if it’s safe for your child to participate in physical activity. The pediatrician will ask about your child’s medical history and perform a physical exam. If your child has any health concerns that might affect their ability to participate in sports, these visits are a chance for pediatricians to address them. If, for example, your child has Type 1 Diabetes, your pediatrician can discuss what to do to avoid low blood sugars while playing sports.
- Look out for their vision. Undiagnosed vision problems can lead to behavioral or academic issues in school. Make sure your child’s vision is healthy with regular eye exams. Your child’s eye doctor will let you know if your child needs vision therapy or correction.
- Keep up with yearly checkups. Yearly checkups with your child’s primary care provider are the pediatrician’s opportunity to make sure your child is healthy and reaching the right developmental milestones. It’s a chance to make sure vaccines are up to date (measles, polio, rubella, and chickenpox, to name a few); it’s a time to discuss any physical or mental health concerns your child might be facing, and it’s when your pediatrician can perform regular screenings for health concerns. Treat the new school year as your annual reminder to schedule your child’s checkups.
- Talk about mental health. In an article with NPR about students and mental health, clinical psychologist Nathaan Demers recommends asking kids about what is and isn’t going well at school. He also suggests using “what” instead of “why” (“What don’t you enjoy about school?” versus “Why don’t you enjoy school?”) to avoid sounding accusatory and let your child talk more openly about what might be bothering them. As a bonus, it also teaches kids it’s okay for things to be good and bad at the same time.
- Make sure kids have a good sleep schedule. Sleep is just as essential to good health as exercise and nutrition—and, much like adults, most kids aren’t getting enough. Kids need 8-10 hours of sleep every night. A consistent bedtime and nightly sleep routine can help kids get the rest they need.