Because there is no such thing as an endless summer, Rowan Family Medicine physician Dr. Jennifer Caudle is advising parents that it’s not too soon to begin preparing their children – and themselves – for the big transitions that arrive with the beginning of every school year.
“As the department store sales remind us, the languid pace of summer is about to be replaced by the frenetic beginning of back-to-school scheduling,” said Dr. Caudle, who is an assistant professor of Family Medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. “This can be a big, stressful transition for kids and their parents. Starting to prepare for those changes now can mean fewer problems once that first school bell rings.”
Connecting ABCs to Zs
Perhaps the biggest challenge that parents face is getting their children back to a sleep schedule that is consistent with being in school.
“For the most part, kids have been out of a regular nighttime routine for a couple of months, but getting enough sleep is an invaluable asset to learning,” Dr. Caudle said, adding that preschoolers need about 12 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers can get by with eight hours nightly. She also added these tips:
- Start changing sleep schedules two to three weeks before the start of school, sending kids to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier each night.
- Establish bed time routines for smaller children, such as 15 minutes of story time, before “lights out.”
- Avoid late night sugary snacks or caffeinated drinks for pre-teens.
Backpacks can mean back pain
From preschools to college campuses, backpacks are ubiquitous among students because they can handle of heavy load of textbooks and school supplies. But that added weight can lead to both acute and chronic medical conditions.
“A good rule of thumb: if your child needs to lean forward to carry her backpack, it may be too heavy,” Dr. Caudle said.
She also advised parents to look for backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps and to teach children to carry their backpacks using both straps (one over each shoulder).
“Carrying a backpack over one shoulder puts uneven stress on your muscles which, also puts uneven stress on your spine. Using both straps distributes the weight more evenly over both your muscles and your bones.”
How heavy is too heavy? Children shouldn’t carry more than 10 to 15 percent of their weight in their backpacks. Consider purchasing backpacks with a waist belt or with multiple compartments – both can help distribute the weight more evenly.
It’s the sneezing season
Late summer and early fall is “hay fever” season, but getting school buildings and books ready for students can also stir up dust mites, mold or other allergens that can cause the sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes that interfere with a child’s ability to learn. Dr. Caudle recommends that parents of children with allergies consult with their child’s physician on ways to manage allergy symptoms at school, and that parents of children with asthma or severe allergies consult with the school’s nurse as early in the school year as possible.
And it’s the headache season, too
If your child complains of a headache, there’s a good chance that it isn’t just a ploy to avoid going to school, Dr. Caudle said.
“According to a study by physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, headaches among children increase with the start of the school year,” she said. “The research looked at five years of emergency room visits by children aged five to 18 years. The researchers found that when ER visits for headaches were grouped seasonally, there was a noticeable increase in visits for headaches in the fall.”
Stress, lack of sleep or changes in diet can all contribute to headaches, Dr. Caudle said. Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, but she advises parents to seek medical attention if their child experiences a headache related to trauma or the headache is accompanied by a fever and stiff neck, if vision is affected, if the headache doesn’t go away easily or causes your child to miss school or other activities.
Once school is back in session, it will only be a matter of time before most parents will come face-to-face with a child who wakes up with a cold, fever or upset stomach.
“When that happens parents need to be able to quickly assess whether their child is well enough for school, should stay home or needs to see a physician,” Dr. Caudle said, and provided these guidelines for responding to common childhood ailments:
- Colds. In general, if feeling ill, it is best that your children rest to help fight off cold symptoms. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sinus pressure and mild sore throat or body aches can not only keep a child from being able to concentrate at school properly, but may also help spread the cold virus to other children. Children who have a fever should definitely stay home from school. Treat with child-strength, OTC medications, but contact a physician if symptoms do not improve or if they worsen. Contact your child’s physician if an already high fever increases or if it continues for more than 24 hours.
- Conjunctivitis (“pink eye”). This can be highly contagious, so if you suspect pink eye, keep your child home and call your pediatrician or family physician for treatment that usually includes antibiotic eye drops. Your physician will let you know when your child can return to school.
- Stomach bugs. Children who vomit or have diarrhea should remain at home. Gradually introduce clear liquids and bland foods. Children can become dehydrated very quickly so it is best to contact your child’s doctor right away to review their symptoms. Contacting a physician is especially important if vomiting or diarrhea persists for 24 hours or if the child has a fever or has blood in the vomit or stool.
According to Dr. Caudle, there is one more piece of advice that supersedes all others.
“When in doubt about the seriousness of your child’s illness, or if your child has underlying illnesses that make them particularly susceptible to the conditions above, always err on the side of caution and contact your child’s physician for advice.”
Dr. Jennifer Caudle is a board-certified Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine. Also known as “Dr. Jen,” she practices medicine and she appears on television and radio as a media expert on CBS Philadelphia News, Fox News, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show, TvOne, Doctors Radio (Sirius XM) and many others.
SOURCE: Rowan University