3 Ways to Keep Kids Healthy Before Heading Back to School
We've partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics to create the Parents AAP Panel, a special group of 99 pediatrician moms and dads to weigh in on health issues and offer real-life advice. This month, we asked members to share the single most important piece of wellness advice you should take to heart as kids gear up to go back to school in a post-COVID world. Here's what they had to say.
Stick to Your Annual Checkups
Yes, even during a pandemic. Well visits are more than just a chance to look at your child's height and weight. They are a vital opportunity to survey your child's development, offer intervention for concerns, and provide scheduled immunizations, says Katherine Trier, M.D., a pediatrician in Boston. However, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that many children, particularly those ages 2 and up, missed receiving vaccinations during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While doctors understand that you may feel nervous about entering a medical facility now, the CDC notes that it's critical for kids to get immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases on time, especially as social-distancing requirements relax. "Vaccinated children protect not only themselves but also their communities by increasing herd immunity," explains Dr. Trier.
Rest assured that offices are taking more precautions than ever. "Because we know the coronavirus is more likely to spread with prolonged face-to-face contact, we are trying to minimize the time that families are in the office," says Dr. Trier. At her clinic, medical histories are taken over the phone from the car, and parents and children are asked to wear a mask when they enter the office. If you're concerned about safety precautions at your own clinic, talk to your doctor.
We know you've heard this a million times, but it's so important for your kid's development. "Children and teens who are well rested have improved health, behavior, and school performance," says Kimberly Gayle Montez, M.D., a pediatrician at Wake Forest University Health Sciences, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "Developing a nightly bedtime ritual and sticking to it, even on weekends, helps create a sense of security and enables kids to better manage the evolving new reality." To make it less of a struggle, post your family's daily schedule designating when your kids need to bathe, brush their teeth, and get into bed. For kids who can't read yet, use pictures to show the routine.
If your child fights bedtime, try doing a calming activity in the evening like coloring, reading, or taking a warm bath. You can also dim the lights and play soft, slow music. If your child is afraid of the dark, switch on a night-light and assure her you've checked all of the nooks and crannies—you can even use a flashlight to show her each area.
If your child has a particularly hard time waking up in the morning, try setting an alarm with upbeat music, sending in your pet, or tickling her.
"Spend as much time outside as possible, and try to find ways to be more active. Research shows that physical activity in kids can decrease the risk of heart disease, treat fatty-liver disease and prediabetes, and help with ADHD and depression," says Maria E. Rivera, M.D., a pediatrician and chronic-disease-prevention physician in Houston, whose favorite outdoor family activities include hiking, going to the beach, and having picnics. "We have also noticed that our son will try new foods during picnics that he wouldn't otherwise at the dinner table."
If your kids aren't a fan of the outdoors, let them take their favorite indoor activities—reading books, playing on their tablet—out. "Frequent immersion and exposure are key," says Dr. Rivera. "From there, pay attention to your child's interests. He may hate bicycling but love scootering. He might despise hiking but enjoy walking around the neighborhood doing a scavenger hunt. Keep an open mind about what 'outdoor activities' are."
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's August 2020 issue as "Get Set for a Healthy Year." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here