Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Back-to-School Health Checklist

A handy list for a healthy start

Back-to-school isn’t just about a fresh box of pencils and new shoes. (Although I do love both of those things, truth be told.) Get ready to give your kids their happiest, healthiest year at school by taking care of the following things. Here’s your checklist:

1: Backpack Weight

Resist the temptation to load your kids’ backpacks with the kitchen sink. Yes—you want them to have everything they might need. But heavy backpacks are tough on growing spines. As a rule of thumb, kids should carry no more than 10%-15% of their body weight in their backpacks. Bag too heavy? See if you can arrange to have duplicate supplies stay at school. Or consider a wheelie bag.

2: A Healthy Breakfast

A good, nutritious breakfast is a foundation for an enjoyable and productive day at school. A crummy—or worse, skipped—breakfast is a recipe for a tired, grumpy kid who will have difficulty concentrating and behaving well through the day. But the morning rush is brutal, right? You need some quick, healthy (and yummy) ideas for breakfast. Smoothies are perfect for that. Or try our household fave: yogurt and granola, with fruit. Also, many egg recipes take only minutes. Or try this: breakfast muffins. (And while you’re thinking about it: pack a  healthy lunch!)

3: A Good Night’s Sleep

Let’s back up even further...and start the day off right with a good sleep. A lot of kids don’t get enough rest at night. They’re not like adults—kids need way more sleep than we do: school-aged kids need about 10-11 hours a night. (While we’re at it—are you getting enough sleep?)  Insufficient sleep has been linked with poor academic performance, and higher rates of injuries. If you suspect your kid isn’t getting enough (clues: you’re consistently dragging him out of bed in the morning, she’s cranky or tired later in the day), try moving bedtime forward a little earlier. In the summer, bedtime tends to get pushed later and later, with lax schedules and longer daylight hours. September can be a rude awakening, in more ways than one. Try gradually shifting bedtime earlier, by 15 minutes at a time, starting a week or so before school begins. Also? All screens and electronic things go off an hour before bed.

4: Medical Information For The School

You need to make it as easy as possible for your kid’s school to deal with whatever comes up, no matter how unlikely. Most schools have forms, etc—don’t neglect to complete them. Give them all the details they need: emergency numbers, details on medical conditions and allergies, list of any medications your child takes including doses, immunizations, your child’s health card number, name & phone number of your family physician.

5: Germs

Take this opportunity to educate your kids on good hand-washing habits. Because, let’s face it, schools are petri dishes. At home, you can monitor your kids' hygiene habits. At school? Not so much. As a minimum, make sure they know to wash their hands before eating, and after using the washroom. And, please don’t hate me for saying this, but: although back-to-school season still feels very much like summer—cold and flu season is coming fast.

6: Stress & Overscheduling

The fall is a time for returning to routines and rituals and fresh starts. Which is a wonderful thing. But it’s easy to go too far. Overscheduling is a modern phenomenon for today’s families—and kids can suffer under the pressure of too many activities. With so many amazing opportunities out there, it’s easy to go a little overboard signing your kids up for everything—music, sports, art classes, languages...but you’re going to need to hold yourself back. Signs of stress in a kid are myriad: wetting the bed, poor sleep, moodiness, changes in behaviour.

7: Bike Safety

In September, lots of kids ride their bikes to school. (Or...here in Victoria, they do it year-round. Not to rub it in, or anything. How cheeky...) I’m a big fan of swapping cars for bikes, but please make sure your kid is well-versed in bike safety first. Helmets are a no-brainer, of course. And I can highly recommend Pedalheads, if they’re in your province. My oldest son has done Pedalheads the past two summers, and in addition to being a ridiculous amount of fun, they emphasize road safety and smart cycling.

8: Got older kids? You’ve got some talking to do.

Keeping lines of communication open, vis a vis smoking, drugs, alcohol...this is no easy task, that’s for sure. But you have to try. And keep trying. And, um, keep trying some more. Back-to-school time is a good prompt for these discussion topics. For more help along these lines: see here.

There. Now that you’ve got those kids off to a healthy start...what about you? I think it’s time for a little of this, don’t you?

You can learn even more ways to get organized and transition from summer to school on our Back-To-School 2014 page.