Back-to-School – Tips, Ideas & Advice

August 14, 2012 11:59 AM with Dr. Kenneth Fox

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With the 2012-2013 school year weeks away from starting, it’s time to prepare your kids for another year of learning. Join Dr. Kenneth Fox, pediatrician, as he answers your questions about immunizations, sleep schedules, healthy lunch options, stress and more. Your early questions and participation are welcomed.

Angela (Moderator) - 11:49 AM:
Welcome! Today’s chat: Back-to-School – Tips, Ideas & Advice will begin shortly. Please start submitting your questions and Kenneth Fox, MD, pediatrician, will begin answering them as soon as we get started. While you are waiting for the chat to begin, feel free to read our blog post, Safety First – The Prescription for a Long, Fun Fall Sports Season. We will do our best to answer all of your questions, but because this is such a popular chat, the physician may not be able to answer all of your questions in the time allowed. Your understanding is greatly appreciated.

  Kelly - 12:01 PM:
My son goes back to school in mid-September. How far in advance should I be scheduling his physical exam? It is best for him to see the same doctor he did last year or does it not matter?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
A routine check up few weeks to months before the start of school is fine for most kids. Continuity of care is a great idea, so I endorse seeing his primary care doctor. Strengthening that relationship makes good pragmatic sense and is associated with better health outcomes. But more than that, a trusting relationship with a high quality primary care doctor is sacred.

  Alan (chicago il) - 12:07 PM:
My kids always seem to get sick during the school year, especially when it first starts. What can I do to help keep them healthy this year?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
This is such an important issue. Keeping kids well is what we aim to do. First, making sure they are protected from vaccine-preventable illnesses is key. So make sure immunizations are up to date. Second, reminding kids to wash hands with soap and water for an adequate time is important. (we often suggest they should wash for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song). It's especially critical before meals, after playing outside or going to the restroom. Also make sure their school desks are wiped off with sanitary wipes. And, if possible, encourage teachers to remind other kids to wash hands as well. Third, kids with good nutrition and adequate sleep have fewer illnesses. Good hydration also helps. So make sure bedtimes are appropriate and healthy eating is supported-- especially breakfast.

  Diane (Evanston) - 12:19 PM:
I noticed toward the end of the school year last year my daughter (starting 7th grade this year) was staying up pretty late. How many hours of sleep are recommended?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Typically about 9-10 hrs would be required for optimal performance for most kids that age. The younger set 3-8 yrs old probably need a bit more--in the 10-12 hr range.

  Paulette (Highland Park, IL) - 12:23 PM:
If my child is sick, when do I know it’s okay for them to go to school? Is it okay to send them to school with a common cold?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Typically, we recommend that kids with fever (100 degrees F) stay home. Infectious illnesses are usually most transmissable in the febrile phases. So as a practical matter, they can return after 24 hrs of no fever (without the help of fever reducer like Tylenol or Advil). Going to school with a cold is ok, as long as they know to cover their mouth and wash hands. Having a "sick day plan" in place ahead of time is a great idea, in my opinion. Knowing who will look after sick kids if the need arises may go a long way to reducing anxiety and the temptation to send them when they should stay home to rest and recover.

  Donna (Evanston) - 12:32 PM:
My daughter is extremely nervous about starting high school. What can my husband and I do to help reduce her anxiety?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Talk it out is my best advice. Listen to what she says about what concerns her and provide answers that address those concerns. Make sure she knows how transitions will happen and when. Taking a trip to the school and classroom ahead of time may also be helpful. Meet the teachers if possible. And if there are other friends or kids she knows who will be in her class or school, encourage her to hang out and talk with them. Feeling some anxiety is a normal thing. This is big milestone and transition.

  Joann (Chicago, il) - 12:41 PM:
My daughter was subjected to a lot of bullying in middle school. She’ll be a freshman this year and we decided to send her to a school where she won’t be around too many of the same kids. What can my husband and I do to prepare her for this new school? Is there anything we can do to hopefully reduce her chances of being bullied?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Bullying is such a tough issue. Glad to know she'll be in a new environment with new kids this year. So much depends on adults'(teachers and adminstrators) abilities to monitor and protect. They have to be in charge and accountable. But for kids themselves, sometimes rehearsing how these situations are best handled can be helpful. How do I speak up and be firm? Who do I go to for support? What other kids-- friends or allies or even bystanders-- can I count on? Helping her think through these questions may be helpful. She should know that she's not alone and that she needs to keep you in the loop. Never suffer in silence.

  Sammy (Glenview) - 12:48 PM:
My daughter is deathly afraid of getting shots, and at her appointment next week she needs to get two. Any tips to help calm her nerves?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
You might want to inform her ahead of time-- a couple of days is ok. Let her know this is to help keep her well, and not optional. You might go through exactly how the process will work, that it will last seconds and it's ok to cry. Sometimes deep breathing or calming visualization is useful for kids. She can sit on your lap or by your side. She can get a bandaid and a kiss or hug after it's over.Plan a special treat following the visit. Remember, bribery works!

Angela (Moderator) - 12:49 PM:
Thank you everyone for your great participation. The chat will be ending in approximately 10 minutes. Please submit your final questions.

  Barbara (Evanston, IL) - 12:56 PM:
My high school son has lost an interest in his school work and his grades have started to suffer as a result. What can I do to help him improve his study habits, increase his motivation and boost his grades?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Helping him stay organized is key. Make sure he has an assignment notebook and that he reviews it at the end of the school day. Gentle reminders will help him to know you care about his performance and that you expect him to succeed. Positive reinforcement also works. And a clear review of consequences is often also useful. Make sure you stay in touch with teachers on a regular basis-- and that he knows you will be doing this. The other thing to make sure of is that there's nothing else going on that might find expression in school performance-- like sleep, nutrition, depression or bullying. Peer pressure can be a force for good or bad, so make sure you know who his friends are and what they're up to.

Angela (Moderator) - 1:04 PM:
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