10 Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips

Check ups, vaccinations, emergency contacts and more

A diverse group of kids smile as they prepare to board a school bus for the first day of school.

Check ups, vaccinations, emergency contacts and more

The new school year is approaching for many children. It’s a time of transition. Is your child ready?

You may have bought them new clothes, new shoes and school supplies already and checked them off your list. What about health and wellness? Are they healthy and ready to learn?

Help keep your child stay safe during the school year with these 10 tips.

1. Get a check-up

If you haven’t done so already, make sure your child has seen their primary care provider for a well-child visit during the past year to check their health and discuss any concerns, such as allergies or nutrition. 

“This is a great chance to talk to your pediatrician about any health changes your child may be experiencing,” says Daniel Lichtmann, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “Based on your family and child’s medical history, your physician can also identify and screen for specific health risks unique to your child,” he says.

2. Keep immunizations current

Parents are strongly encouraged to keep their children up to date on all their vaccinations to help keep them healthy and well-protected. Children who are not protected by vaccines are more likely to get vaccine-preventable diseases.

Children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools, childcare centers and other educational programs.

“Not only do these vaccines prevent your child from getting a potentially serious illness, but they also go a long way toward eradicating these dangerous diseases,” Dr. Lichtmann says. 

3. Update medical information

Let your school know of any medications your child takes, both at home and at school, as well as any medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, allergies or psychological issues.

Be sure to provide contact information for your pediatrician along with medical emergency instructions.

If your child has a disability, make sure plans can be developed around his or her specific needs so they can fully participate in school.

4. Review safety rules

Remind your children not to talk to strangers and never to get into a stranger’s car, no matter what the circumstances.

Choose a “code word” that only you, your children and trusted friends and family members know in case someone else has to pick them up and instruct your children never to trust anyone who doesn't know the code word.

Teach your children their address and phone number to contact you. Instruct them to find a parent, teacher or other trusted adult immediately if they don’t feel safe.

5. Establish emergency procedures

Familiarize your family with the school’s emergency procedures and provide the school current contact information for parents and other relatives. Keep a backpack emergency card with your child to make sure this information is easy to find.

Ask how you can contact the school during an emergency and how parents and caregivers will reunite with their children.

If your child is old enough to use a cell phone, it may be a good idea to provide one that is reserved only for urgent situations.

6. Make helmets a must

Does your child ride a bike to school? Helmet use can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent. Choose a helmet that meets federal safety standards and fits correctly.

A helmet should fit low and snug across the forehead, according to the National Safety Council. If you look up and can’t see the helmet, it’s too far back. 

7. Avoid backpack overload

A backpack that is too heavy or worn incorrectly can strain a child’s neck or back and may cause injury.

Backpacks should be lightweight with two wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. Pull both straps tightly enough so that the pack fits snugly against the back, but doesn't pull on the shoulders. Distribute the weight of items within the pack evenly on both sides, and keep it light.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the child's weight. Consider a rolling backpack if allowed by the school.

8. Stand up to bullying

Bullying is a serious problem, yet many victims don’t speak up for fear of ridicule or retaliation.

If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, encourage him or her to tell you what is going on. Signs of bullying include bruises, scrapes, change in behavior and anxiety about going to school.

In addition to asking questions, make sure to offer support and comfort. Tell your child that they are not fault and that nobody deserves to be bullied.

“Controlling your own emotions can make it easier for your child to open up to you about what he or she needs to feel safe,” Dr. Lichtmann says. “Talk to teachers and administrators about the situation.”    

Children with disabilities or special health needs are at an increased risk of being bullied. Some may not realize their being bullied, so be aware of signs of bullying and get your child's teacher involved as soon as possible if that is the case.

Your child's pediatrician is a great resource for screening and counseling for bullying during routine visits.

9. Set reasonable schedules

Sports and extra-curricular activities help kids learn skills, socialize and have fun, but too much of a good thing can become stressful and ultimately negate the benefits. 

“Let your children choose what they want to participate in and change or drop activities that aren’t enjoyable or become too demanding,” Dr. Lichtmann says.

Pediatricians also recommend creating a media use plan to balance screen time with sleep, exercise and other healthy activities.

10. Keep talking

With everyone on busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time to sit and talk with your kids.

“Make a point of asking your children about their day every afternoon or evening,” Dr. Lichtmann says.

“Give them your full attention and let them know you are interested in their lives,” Dr. Lichtmann adds. “Not only does this let your kids know you care, it can help open the door to conversations about problems or concerns.”

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