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Back To School is just around the corner

July 29, 2014

SPRINGFIELD - “Just as it is important that your child take advantage of the good weather getting exercise by playing outside, there is much that you can do to help your child get ready for school in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Matthew Sadof of Baystate Children’s Hospital, who provides pediatric care at Baystate High Street Health Center.

Back-to-school physicals/sports exams

According to the Baystate Children’s Hospital pediatrician, it’s a good idea to schedule a yearly physical exam for your child – so that doctors can monitor you child’s health and development – and there is no better time than using the back-to-school season as a reminder each year to schedule those well-child visits.

A sports physical is very different from an annual check-up exam. Interscholastic athletics requires an MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) form. This form has a questionnaire that inquires about the student’s health history and family history. A focused physical exam is targeted on joints and muscles and cardiovascular health. One of the purposes of the exam is to insure that athletes are healthy and avoid injury from underlying undiagnosed conditions.

Time to immunize

“Well-child examinations are also an important time to be sure your child is properly immunized,” said Dr. Sadof.

By state law, children must be up-to-date on their required immunizations to start school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making sure children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is “one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their child’s long-term health, as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in the community.”

“While there has been public controversy about the relationship between vaccines and autism – causing some parents to delay or refuse to have their child vaccinated – the concerns are unfounded and vaccines are safe,” said Dr. Sadof.

Parents should follow the vaccination schedule provided by the CDC, which is designed by experts to ensure maximum protection and safety for children at various ages. Schedules can be found online at here.

Backpack safety

From heavy books to electronics and much more, kids are packing more school supplies today than ever before. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), backpacks that are not used properly may injure muscles and joints and lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, posture problems and more. They recommend:

• Choosing a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Or, if permitted at your child’s school, consider a rolling backpack.

• Always using both shoulder straps, since slinging a backpack over just one shoulder can strain muscles.

• Organizing your child’s backpack by spreading the weight and using all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Also, the backpack should not weigh more than 10-20 percent of your child’s body weight.

Parental involvement and support = success

“After a long, hot summer away from the classroom, kids may need a little extra nudge from parents to get them back into the study mode. Helping your child to succeed in school requires just a little extra effort that will pay off in the long term,” said Dr. Sadof.

He noted it’s important to create a quiet space in your home where there are no distractions and your child can retreat to every day to do his or her homework.

As for when it comes time for school to begin, leaving the nest can be an emotional time for college-bound teenagers, who will also be faced with the pressures that freshmen year brings from fitting in and making new friends, to the stress of a rigorous academic workload, all combined with leaving behind an established support system of friends and family. In fact, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, half of all college students will suffer from depression at some point in their college career.

As feelings of homesickness set in and the stress begins to mount to maintain good grades, it’s crucial that parents realize their ongoing support and encouragement is as important as ever for the success and well-being of their new college student.

And, it’s not easy for younger children, either, who are heading off to kindergarten.

On the first day of school, some children may show a return to earlier problems they have had with sleeping, eating, temper tantrums, thumb sucking, and others. If this occurs only briefly, your child may simply need a little extra nurturing to support them at a time when they are stretching the boundaries of their independence. However, if the problem persists or becomes extreme, it may be helpful to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician or even a mental health professional if warranted.

“Back to school may also mean back to bullies for some children,” said Dr. Sadof.

One of the most important things a parent can do if their child is being bullied is to report

the situation to a school leader. Parents should ask school leaders about what they are

doing to empower the bystanders to become “upstanders” – those children aware of the bullying, but who are not the victims themselves – to speak out in defense of a victim. Encouraging speaking up is an important effort schools can undertake to help change the culture around tolerating bullying. The AAP suggests that a parent “go in calmly” with a list of exact events and make sure to ask what the school is going to do to end the problem.

“If you have any concerns that your child is being adversely affected by the actions of bullies, contact your pediatrician, who can refer them if need be to a mental health specialist,” said Dr. Sadof.