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Wellness Wednesday: Preparing for back to school

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Posted at 8:29 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 11:54:15-04

IDAHO — Students across the nation are heading back to class soon, and whether it's in-person or virtual, there are a few things families can do now to make sure they start the year in a healthy way.

One place to start is by making sure basic immunizations are up-to-date. A CDC report shows immunizations dropped dramatically during the pandemic, including here in Idaho.

"It's very important that kids are vaccinated when they're back in school because, remember, they're getting exposed to all kinds of things from other children," says Dr. Jim Polo, an Executive Medical Director with Regence. "One of the reasons why children missed vaccines this past year is because they didn't go in for their well-child visits."

Well-child visits cover more than just childhood vaccinations. They're also good for marking milestones in your child's growth.

"A lot happens during those well-child visits. The doctors will check to make sure your children are reaching their milestones for both growth and development, but they also check for other things like learning disabilities or potential behavioral problems and these are the kinds of things parents need to know about so they can help their children get early attention so those areas to make sure they're doing well," explains Dr. Polo.

Right now, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is the only one able to be administered to children as young as 12 years old. More data is expected this fall, along with data from Moderna's trials, but despite the wait for a COVID vaccine, Dr. Polo says every child should get their flu shot.

"We're expecting the flu is going to be pretty significant, and if you've had a flu shot, the likelihood that you're going to get sick with the flu is minimal and so at least you won't be worried that symptoms that you're having are a cause for potential COVID. Usually, the flu shot is available in September. Definitely, by October or November, everybody should have that flu shot for the season to be ready to not get sick."

Besides getting immunizations and a well-child visit scheduled, there are things parents can do in the home to get their children ready for their school year routine.

"The best thing parents can do are the traditional things we always talk about. First of all, making sure your kids are physically active. Kids need about 60 minutes a day of good, physical activity so break it up with games or things they can do outdoors that require them to get winded to so speak," suggests Dr. Polo.

Nutrition is also a big focus for back to school. Dr. Polo says it's important kids aren't skipping breakfast before they head to class so they can focus and pay attention. August is National Kids Eat Right Month, encouraging families to get into the kitchen and make sure they're picking healthy and delicious meals and snacks.

Finally, Dr. Polo says making sure children are sticking to a bedtime routine will help with their day-to-day routine.

"Kids need sleep. Kids that are between ages six and 12 or so need between nine to 12 hours every night. Adolescents, a little less, nine to ten, but they need sleep so they can rejuvenate and really be ready for the next day."

Many students may be returning to class in person for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020 and schools pivoted to virtual learning. With their return to class, parents should make sure to focus on their child's mental well-being in addition to their physical health.

"Kids are going to be anxious about getting back to school. They're going to be excited but anxious so one of the best things parents can do is talk to your kids, give them a good sense of what to expect, and anything you can find out about changes that have occurred at the school," says Dr. Polo. "If kids have a sense of what to expect, they will have less fear."

Dr. Polo adds it's very important to listen to your child as well and see what their concerns are and give them plenty of reassurance. Parents can also use this as a time to take note of any changes in their child's moods or behaviors.

"If you notice any significant changes from baseline -- moodiness, irritability, anger, changes of sleep, changes of appetite -- those are the things that might indicate a child is either struggling with some anxiety or maybe they're even being bullied."

For more back-to-school tips, click here.