Is Your Child School-Ready?

A new academic year is almost here. Consider five wellness basics to make sure he or she is prepared for success.
School Ready


It’s a fact: Healthy kids are better learners. Studies show that children who suffer from poor vision, mental health issues, obesity, substance abuse or an array of other health disorders don’t perform as well in school as their peers. “If anything is bothering them—if their stomach is upset or their throat is sore—it’s harder for kids to concentrate and learn properly,” says Rebekah Lipstein, M.D., a pediatrician with the Unterberg Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center. She shares tips on what you can do to help make this year your kid’s healthiest and most successful yet: 

• Prioritize hygiene. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the importance of washing our hands regularly and covering our mouths when sick to avoid spreading or receiving germs. The common cold, the stomach flu, strep throat and other illnesses are common in schools, so Dr. Lipstein echoes the need for kids to wash their hands throughout the school day, particularly upon arrival at school, before eating and after each bathroom visit. Students should wash (or sanitize) more frequently if they’re blowing their noses, sneezing or coughing a lot.

• Establish healthy eating and exercise habits. Kids ages 5 and up should get at least an hour of physical activity a day that’ll get their heart rates up, notes the doc. This can be through organized sports, or simply “going to the playground or running around in your own backyard,” which are easier to do in the summer and should be continued once the school year begins. Also make sure your child’s diet is rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and that any fruit juice and sugary drinks and snacks are consumed as treats, just one or two times a week. “Eating a diet with fruits and vegetables is going to give your immune system a lot more support than adding supplements into your diet,” Dr. Lipstein says.

• Check in on mental health. A child’s mental state is just as important as their physical well-being. Keep an open line of communication and encourage your child to discuss her or his feelings. If you sense your child is struggling but won’t open up, make it clear that many people go through stages of feeling sad. And if it’s a persistent issue of emotional health, the youngster isn’t alone there either— just make sure that the line of communication is strong.

• Establish good sleep hygiene. “You’ll feel better and function better if you’re getting an appropriate amount of sleep for your age,” Dr. Lipstein explains. “Sleep is very important, especially with teenagers, who are chronically sleep deprived. They think it’s normal to get five to six hours of sleep.” She recommends teens get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, even more for younger kids. One of the biggest factors in good sleep hygiene is avoiding screen time an hour before bed; if kids’ eyes are exposed to blue light, their bodies won’t produce melatonin, which helps the body wind down. Proper sleep and nutrition, Dr. Lipstein adds, will set a child’s health baseline higher and “set it up so when kids are exposed to whatever viruses and illnesses that are going around [they] don’t get as sick or it doesn’t throw them for as much of a loop as it would have if they’re not optimizing baseline habits.”

• Encourage sensible limits with extracurricular activities. Though kids will be spending more time indoors during the school year, parents should make sure children are still going out to play instead of spending too much time inside with video games and television. If kids play sports, however, parents and children should be aware of their limits. Many of those can be addressed with a pediatrician during annual physical exams. During a regular or sports physical, “there will be questions and discussion about how things go when participating with sports, [such as] are you having any symptoms associated with activity or any concerns about your sports, keeping up with other kids your age,” Dr. Lipstein says. If your child seems stressed out by too many to-dos, encourage him or her to choose top two sports or activities and stick with those.


Yes, they’re disparate—like apples, oranges and pears. But the three problems below can affect even healthy kids in elementary, middle and high schools. So here’s your primer: 

  • Head lice: The bad news with lice is they’re extremely contagious with head-to-head contact. The good news: Once your child is treated for them (usually with topical creams and shampoo), she or he can go back to school the next day. 
  • Scoliosis: This is a horizontal curvature of the spine, usually in adolescents, that in mild cases often needs only careful monitoring, but that can occasionally require corrective surgery. Schools these days screen for scoliosis, as do pediatricians during annual well visits, especially when kids are going through growth spurts. If your child is experiencing back pain or complains about it more than once, get them screened as soon as possible, says Dr. Lipstein. She also recommends that the weight of a student’s backpack and contents shouldn’t exceed more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her body weight. 
  • Bullying: Sometimes a child’s vague comments about stomach aches or headaches can be a clue that something (or someone) at school is upsetting them. Parents should look for possible warning signs such as a drop in grades, resistance to attend a class or a shift in behavior and consider talking to teachers to determine if anything might be wrong, Dr. Lipstein says. This can help open a dialogue saying, “Hey, if someone’s bothering you or if someone is hurting your feelings, let Mom or Dad, a teacher, a doctor know.”
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