How to prepare your children for a healthy school year

Summer is more than halfway over, and that means another school year is approaching. How should you prepare your kids for school?

Here are some important health issues to be aware of as you get your children school-ready.

Head Lice

These parasitic insects are mostly found among human hairs. They feed on blood from the scalp. They are highly contagious and spread through head-to-head contact. Classic symptoms include constant scratching of the head that does not subside, small red bumps and a rash. If you notice any of these symptoms, inspect the scalp for any tiny yellow or brown lice eggs or for grayish-white, sesame seed-sized lice.

Talk to your health care provider to come up with a plan to best treat your child and household. Treatment can vary, depending on your child’s age and what you have previously tried.

Before school starts, tell your child to avoid head-to-head contact, not to share personal items that touch the hair, and not to lie on things or places used by someone with lice. Finally, check the school’s return policy, which in most cases only requires one topical treatment before returning to school.

Back Problems

Even with lockers at school, increasing school loads are forcing children to carry heavier bags. If your children’s bags look too heavy, there may be cause for concern.

When carrying heavy shoulder bags, there is uneven weight on the shoulders. While the short-term effects of soreness may be nothing unusual, in the long term, a heavy shoulder bag can contribute to the spine curving sideways, a condition known as scoliosis.

On the other hand, backpacks pull you backward instead of sideways. This can contribute to a condition called kyphosis, also known as a hunchback, due to the effort to hunch forward while carrying the backpack.

Bags should be less than 10 percent of the carrier’s body weight. If a heavier bag is unavoidable, try using larger straps or carrying shoulder bags closer to the body and alternating sides.

Vision Problems

Vision change happens frequently in children and can lead to problems with behavior and attention in the classroom. Because simple vision screenings at school cannot detect the actual health of the eyes, you may want to have your kids take a complete eye exam before school starts.

For sports and outdoor activities, make sure your child wears proper, well-fitting eye protection. Also, teach your child to follow the 20-20-20 rule when using digital devices. This means taking 20-second breaks every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away during the breaks.

Most health insurance policies cover pediatric eye exams. If you notice any vision problems in your child, such as squinting, headaches, holding books close to the face or a short attention span, schedule an appointment with an optometrist.

Stress is part of everyday life. In fact, sometimes it's normal and not all bad. It can actually motivate people to prepare or perform. For example, stress may boost performance when you take a test. It can even be life-saving in some situations.

However, stress can negatively affect your health. It can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. If stress becomes chronic — meaning it lasts for too long — it starts to affect many systems in your body, such as your immune system. People under chronic stress tend to be more vulnerable to illnesses like the flu or common cold.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Because no one’s life is completely stress-free, it is important to know how to manage stress. Read the following tips to learn how to cope with stress.

1) Focus on Positive Thoughts
One way to manage stress is to change your mindset. Try to maintain a positive attitude by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, instead of thinking, “I can’t do this,” try thinking, “I will do the best I can.” Try to accept that you cannot control everything. Instead, decide what must get done versus what can wait. Although it may be difficult, learn to say no to new tasks, especially if they will make you feel overwhelmed.

2) Learn Your Stress Triggers
Learn what triggers your stress. Try writing in a journal when you are feeling stressed and then looking for a pattern. This can help you avoid stressors in the future. For example, if you have determined that a health problem is stressing you out, speak with your health care provider. He or she can help you better manage your health and, as a result, reduce your stress. By reducing your stress, you are, in turn, helping to prevent the negative toll stress can have on your health — a win-win.

3) Take Care of Your Body
Make sure you are eating well-balanced meals, getting enough sleep and exercising daily. Hunger can worsen stressful situations. Do not skip meals, and always have healthy, energy-boosting snacks on hand. A lack of sleep can also compound stress. Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night so your body and mind are well-rested. Also, try to limit alcohol and caffeine intake. These substances may aggravate stress or anxiety. Instead, try drinking more water.

4) Relax
Try a relaxing activity like meditation, yoga, tai chi or another gentle exercise. Try to schedule regular times for these activities. When you feel stressed, try taking slow, deep breaths or slowly counting to 10. If this does not help, try taking a quick timeout to meditate or listen to music. Stepping back from problems and performing these relaxation techniques may clear your head.

5) Ask for Help
Stay connected with people you can count on for support. Ask friends and family members for help. Speak with a health care professional like a physician or therapist if you need professional help.

Everyone faces stress occasionally, but it can be managed. For more tips on how to manage stress, speak with your local pharmacist.

National Institute of Mental Health, "5 Things You Should Know About Stress"
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress"
American Heart Association, "3 Tips to Manage Stress"
Image Courtesy of Juan Moyano | Dreamstime