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To Your Health: Back to school basics

by UofL Physicians last modified Sep 06, 2012 08:43 AM

UofL Physicians Pediatrics sleep psychologist Sarah Honaker provides excellent tips for parents working to create a smooth transition from summer to school for their children. One of the key factors to a successful start is sleep.

“Parents sometimes don’t realize the amount of sleep their children need. Preschoolers require 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 need 10 to 11 hours. Middle and high school aged students need about 9 hours of sleep. Families should make sleep a priority if children are going to succeed academically and stay out of trouble in school,” Honaker said.

According to Honaker, children sleep best if the parents make sure to:

  • Keep a regular sleep routine (vary by only one hour on weekends).
  • Avoid electronics within an hour of bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine six hours before bed.

In addition to the importance of a good night’s sleep, parents should consider these five factors as they help their children adjust to being back in school.

Balanced diet: Students need to feed their brains as well as their bodies. Experts say that eating breakfast improves cognitive function related to memory, test grades and school attendance. A balanced diet is crucial in maintaining physical health and promoting emotional well-being.

Back-to-school phobias: These are fairly common and can occur at various times during a child’s school career.  Fear of returning to school can be caused by difficulty separating from parents, concerns about academic and social performance, previous experiences of being bullied and food allergies. When a child is anxious about school, it can help to remind the child of previous successes in anxiety-provoking situations. Some children find it reassuring to take age-appropriate comfort items to school, like a family photo.

Medicine in school: Asthma, diabetes, epilepsy — a number of chronic illnesses require children to take medication while they’re in school. Parents must carefully coordinate their children’s medication schedule to ensure their children’s safety and optimal performance in the classroom.

Food allergies: Food allergies, which can be life threatening and cause social issues in the classroom, are estimated to affect 3 million children. So, it’s important to inform the teacher about your child’s food allergies and make sure the child knows what foods are safe. Discourage trading foods or eating unfamiliar foods and discuss how to alert the teacher when an allergy problem arises.

Backpacks:More than 79 million students in the United States carry school backpacks, and in one study, 64 percent of students reported back pain related to heavy backpacks. Children’s backpacks should weigh no more than 10 percent of a child’s body weight. If the load is heavier, a child can carry a heavier item separately, leave supplies at school or switch to a rolling backpack if the school allows them.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health articles from the “UofL Physicians-Insider” newsletter. Read the entire September issue (opens as a PDF document).

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