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Getting your Child Ready for Back to School

Posted on Jul 19, 2021

Many parents and kids may not think about heading back to school during the middle of summer, but it’s a good time to make sure children are up-to-date on their health records and prepared for the first day of school. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Rachel Dawkins, M.D., FAAP, medical director of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, reminds parents about the most important things as they prepare for the beginning of the school year.

Why is it important to schedule a visit now?

In August, pediatrician offices are packed with the rush of kids who need an annual physical or vaccines in time for the start of school or the sports season. If you haven’t already made an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, it’s a good idea to make sure kids are up to date on their vaccines and have an exam for any new or recurring health issues.

What is typically discussed at a preventative care visit?

The pediatrician usually discusses all aspects of the child’s growth and development including:

  • development
  • learning and behavior
  • growth spurts/puberty
  • nutrition and exercise
  • vision and hearing

Your child’s doctor will also talk about safety issues, including switching from car seats to booster seats or making sure your child always wears a helmet when bike riding.

When are immunizations required for school?

There are several vaccines your child should receive throughout childhood. It’s important to make sure they receive these at the correct times to protect them from harmful diseases. Many day care centers, schools and camps also require shot records to be up to date, so it’s a good idea to get a copy of your child’s immunizations at their annual visit. The state of Florida requires children to be up to date by kindergarten and seventh grade.

Many student athletes are coming in for sports physicals. What is special about a sports physical?

An annual exam is important for young athletes. During the sports physical, we focus on a quite few things like:

  • Family history: sudden cardiac death or any other heart concerns
  • Past history of sports injuries and concussions
  • Physical exam: good heart, neurological and musculoskeletal/joint exam
We also talk about sports safety and topics such as preventing injuries and keeping hydrated

What else do parents need to know to help their children on their first day of school?

Remember that some kids are very nervous or anxious about the first day of school. Be positive and try to calm their fears. Introducing them to their teacher ahead of time or doing a practice run to the school might make the first day a little easier.

How can parents help ease some of this anxiety?

  • Remind your child about the positive aspects of starting school: seeing old friends and making new ones
  • Let your child know that it is normal to feel nervous about the first day of school — and most other kids and even teachers might be nervous
  • If possible, introduce your child to another child who will be riding the bus or walking the same route to school. Familiar faces help!

Most kids have gotten out of the usual school-time sleep pattern. How important is sleep and how do we get our kids back into a good routine?

Sleep is so important. Most kids require 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Without a good night’s sleep, children have been shown to have behavioral and learning problems at school.

It’s important to get your kids back into the school night bedtime routine — start now! It can take up to 10 days to adjust to a new sleep schedule

Roll back bedtime to their usual hour, stop all electronics at least one hour before bedtime and limit caffeine.

What about backpacks? So many kids are carrying so many books!

Backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20% of your child’s bodyweight. If your child can leave books at school, that can help (as well as the occasional cleaning out of the backpack).

Pick a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and encourage your child to use both straps. If your school allows, consider a rolling backpack.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Rachel Dawkins, M.D., or download our free Pocket Doc app, which features a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.

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