Back-to-School Health

Immunizations and mental health important as families prepare to send kids to class

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Parents around the country are gearing up to take their kids back to school for a new year. Make sure they're healthy when the learning begins.

The transition out of summer is a busy time filled with paperwork, shopping for school supplies, working out carpools and organizing after-school activities.

During all the hectic planning, don't forget to check on your student’s health — both mental and physical.

Mental Well-Being

Kids can sometimes be nervous about going back to school or starting for the first time, noted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommended focusing your child on the positive aspects of school to make the change more comfortable.

Also, attend any available orientation sessions to get familiar with the school building and schedule. Familiarity with the school day and routine can ease the transition from home back to the classroom.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminded parents of the benefits of exercise in developing children: less stress, improved self-esteem, healthy weight, strong body and better sleep.

For a good night's sleep, the NIH recommended at least nine hours a night for school-age children. A set schedule can improve sleep habits, while a TV or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction.

"Children often acquire different sleep schedules over the summer that need to be adjusted prior to restarting school," Bridget Boyd, MD, a pediatrician and child safety expert at Loyola University Health System, told dailyRx News.

"Most children stay up and late sleep in during the summer. An abrupt adjustment in sleep makes the transition back to school difficult," Dr. Boyd said. "I recommend adjusting the bedtime by 10-15 minutes every few days and setting an alarm 10-15 minutes earlier until the school routine time is met. Well rested children learn more and are much more pleasant for parents and teachers. Ideally start this routine about 1 month in advance, but it can be done in a few weeks if needed."

Road Safety

Another tip was to go over bus safety with your child and even find another child in the neighborhood to walk to school or the bus stop with your child.

Important bus safety suggestions were to get on or off only at marked stops and after the bus comes to a complete stop, keep in the driver's line of sight when getting on or off, look both ways before crossing and use seat belts if available.

Children and adults should always wear a seatbelt when riding in a car — and kids younger than 13 should ride in the back seat. Use appropriate car and booster seats for your child's height.

Be sure to have your child wear a helmet when riding a bike, and go over the rules of bicycle traffic, such as pedaling with traffic, not against it.


Talk to your child about bullying, which is marked by a repetitive pattern of physical, verbal or social abuse, according to the AAP.

Also be aware of cyberbullying, which takes place on social media, email, text messages or other Web-based channels.

Tell your child to talk to a trusted adult if she is being bullied. Teach her the importance of reacting verbally, not physically.

To prevent your child from being a bully, teach her to control aggressive actions and show her she can get what she wants without resorting to hurtful behavior.

Exams and Shots

The NIH suggested an annual back-to-school physical and eye exam, particularly if your child is playing sports.

The NIH, along with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommended that your child stay current on vaccinations and immunizations required by public school systems.

States have different vaccine requirements. Your child’s school or doctor can fill you in on local laws.

Commonly required, CDC-recommended shots include the Tdap, which is generally given around age 11 or 12 to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough; MCV4, which protects against meningitis and similar bacteria and is given around 11 or 12 with a booster between 16 and 18; and an annual flu vaccine.

"Vaccines are very important to prevent disease. Every child should have a yearly well child check to update vaccines, check weight and height, and talk about important anticipatory recommendations," Dr. Boyd told dailyRx News.

"Most schools require shots prior to kindergarten (age 4-5 years), 6th grade (age 11 years) and high school. Some schools have started to require the meningitis vaccine, which is routinely given at 11 years and then a booster shot at 16-18 years. Schedule your well child visit today to make sure your child is protected," she said.

Study Smart

The AAP offered tips to improve your child's study habits — largely based on parental consistency and support.

Create an environment for studying that offers a defined workspace that is quiet and free from distraction.

The AAP suggested limiting electronic device use during homework time. Also be mindful of eye and neck strain associated with prolonged exposure to study materials or computer screens.

Be available to answer homework questions, help organize your child's schoolwork, and discuss any problems with a teacher or guidance counselor.

Review Date: 
August 7, 2014