As summer comes to a close, local parents can be found buying notebooks, pencils and clothes and getting ready for the changes in routines and activities that a new school year brings. But what about safeguarding the health of children returning to school?
Along with new challenges and commitments can come new exposure to all kinds of viruses, not to mention that plague of camps and classrooms alike: lice. According to Dr. Ellen Lestz, a pediatrician with White Plains Hospital Physicians Associates in Armonk, weather changes such as those experienced in our area in the fall cause viruses to be more prevalent, and “your standard communicable things” are the most common at back-to-school time: Viruses that cause maladies such as colds, coughs and gastrointestinal problems.
Handwashing Is Key
Dr. Lestz said handwashing is the “most important” defense. Noting that many classrooms have hand sanitizer available, she stressed that children should clean their hands before lunch or a snack. “It’s good when teachers reinforce this at the beginning of the year,” she said, “and when they teach children how to cough and sneeze appropriately.”
Kids and adults alike should sneeze or cough into their elbows, not their hands, and if a hand is accidentally used to stifle a cough or a sneeze, handwashing should follow right away.
Lestz also pointed out that students need a nutritious diet and enough sleep to remain healthy, and she recommended that parents work on changing sleep schedules about a week in advance of the school year, back to school-year timeframes.
“I think that will kind of prime their immune systems,” she said.
Keeping Lice at Bay
As far as lice goes, Lestz said that while probably more common at camp, it can be a problem at school as well. Besides the usual admonitions not to share hats or combs and to keep long hair back, Lestz said there’s not a lot of evidence that over-the-counter products advertised to repel lice actually work.
But when a kid does have lice, Lestz said it can be a good idea to call on a lice professional. Besides great combouts, these lice-eradication experts are good at communicating to parents and children the steps they need to take in order to prevent recurrence. “They’re so, so thorough,” Lestz said.
The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) also recommends that parents review proper hygiene to prevent the spread of infections before school starts, and parents should know their school’s policy regarding when to keep sick kids home.
Parents should also have child care plans for sick children if needed, and in addition to required up-to-date vaccines, the NASN Back-to-School family checklist also recommends flu vaccinations. Of course, parents should communicate any health concerns or issues their children have with school nurses.
Other ways of preparing for optimal mental and emotional health may include getting youngsters back in touch with school friends after a summer apart. Lestz suggested arranging a few playdates. And to avoid anxiety, make sure all summer assignments are completed, if possible, with time to spare. “If your child’s nervous, understand their feelings and have open communication with them,” Lestz added.