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A guide to getting kids ready to head back to school

From sleep to snacks to gun safety, doctors offer advice

kids getting on school bus
Backpacks should never be heavier than 10 to 20 percent of a child's body weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Helen Adams | | August 10, 2018

As kids across the Lowcountry get ready to head back to school on Aug. 20, MUSC Children’s Health experts have some advice for getting classes off to a healthy and safe start.

Shift to a school night sleep schedule now

“We know kids don’t get enough sleep, especially teenagers,” says pediatrician Anne Andrews. “Getting back into the habit of getting solid 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, depending on the age, so they can be rested for school is super important.”
MUSC Health dietitian Molly Jones says not getting enough sleep is associated with obesity and poor eating habits. “Think about your morning routine. Is it hard to wake your child or teen up in time for school? Are mornings rushed and breakfasts often forgotten?” she asks.
“Start the school year off right by setting some guidelines that will help ensure a good night’s sleep and less stress in the morning. Establish a bedtime routine now. Turn electronics off at least 30 minutes before bedtime and keep TVs, computers, tablets and other screens out of the bedroom altogether.”

Focus on food

“Plan for breakfast the night before,” advises Jones. 

She suggests:

  • Boiling eggs in advance and pair with fruit for a grab-and-go option.
  • Washing and cutting strawberries, peaches or mangoes to serve as easy toppings for Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • Using muffin tins to bake mini omelets that can be stored in the fridge and microwaved for 30 to 40 seconds.
  • Combining low-fat milk, oatmeal, vanilla Greek yogurt, cinnamon and diced apples and refrigerating overnight.

When it comes to school lunch time, “Meal skipping is a common concern for a lot of children, especially teens,” Jones says. “Talk to your child to determine why they may be skipping meals, whether it’s dislike of school food, not enough time to eat, they don’t like eating in front of others, other kids make fun of the food they bring from home or whatever the reason. Allow them to help you come up with possible solutions. Some families find it helpful to review school lunch menus in advance, circling the days your child plans to eat at school and planning ahead for the days your child wants to bring lunch from home.”

And it’s not just getting the child to eat lunch that’s important. What’s in that lunch may be linked to how well a student does in school. A recent study found healthy school meals led to better achievement test scores.
On the days a child brings lunch from home, Jones suggests:
  • DIY Lunchables. Cut meat and cheese into small squares and pack along with whole grain crackers and a few sides such as sweet bell peppers and fruit. 
  • Roll-ups. Roll slices of deli meat around string cheese. Serve with a pickle, pita chips and a side of guacamole or hummus. 
  • Kebabs. Use a popsicle stick or toothpick to skewer fruits grapes, strawberries, sliced pineapple or kiwi and vegetables like cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, or bell peppers. Pair the kebabs with a scoop of chicken salad and pretzels.   
After school, skip the sweet and salty snacks. “Reframe your family’s mindset and offer a mini meal after school when your child is likely the hungriest. A mini-meal should include a protein and fruit, vegetable or other complex carbohydrate. It may be similar to the food you offer at dinner, but in a smaller portion,” Jones says.
“Plus, when quality foods are offered at every eating event it can take the pressure off of dinner. Imagine no more bargaining with your child to just eat two more bites of vegetables.”

Medication prep

Now is also the time to make sure any medications such as asthma rescue inhalers and Epipens are ready to hand to the school nurse. Andrews says some parents think that since their child hasn’t had a problem with asthma or allergies over the summer, they don’t need to take medication any more. 
“The consequences can be very serious. We see lots of kids who come into the emergency department and who are admitted into the hospital with severe asthma exacerbation who have been feeling well all summer and haven’t had any colds in a while, so it’s off their radar. They haven’t been taking their daily controllers and they get back to school and pick up a new virus and get seriously sick.”

Transportation talk

Another MUSC Health pediatrician, Elizabeth Mack, says moms and dads need to take their kids’ mode of transportation seriously, especially if it’s something like a hoverboard, skateboard or bike.

“Put a lid on it,” she recommends. As in, make sure the child wears a safety helmet. 
Kids who ride hoverboards and skateboards to school also need elbow and kneepads plus wrist guards, Mack says. “The most injured body part is the wrist, followed by forearms and head.”
And if it’s a bike your child opts for, make sure it’s not too big. “Oversized bikes are dangerous. They need to be able to sit on the seat, have hands on handlebars and have the balls of both feet on the ground – not just one.”

Avoiding illness/when to keep a child home

Andrews encourages parents to remind their kids to wash their hands with soap and avoid drinking or eating from other kids’ meals.
And when a child does get sick, keep him or her home. “Don’t send them to school when they have a fever even if it has come down with ibuprofen. You’re just going to spread those germs to kids in their classroom. I’d say no fever or vomiting for 24 hours.”


The federal government estimates between one in four and one in three American students say they’ve been bullied at school. Mack says parents need to screen for it through conversations. “Ask your child, ‘How are things going at school?’ ‘What do you think of the other kids in class?’ ‘Does anyone get picked on?’ Maintain open lines of communication and ask regularly.”
And help the child understand how to respond to a bully. “Teach them when and how to ask for help. Look that person in the eye, don’t break eye contact. Stand tall and confident and stay calm. Walk away rather than continue to engage. And then to make assertive statements like, ‘Please do not talk to me like that. Why would you say that sort of thing?’”

Gun safety

Andrews encourages parents to talk with curious kids about gun safety and other parents about gun storage. “You have to be open and talk to your kids about guns. It is important for parents to stress that it’s the adults’ responsibility to keep kids safe from guns and store guns appropriately. Tell your kids if they see something on social media, if they see something a friend or classmate posts that concerns them, they need to tell a responsible adult.”
She says the guns used in school violence generally come from family members or friends. “And they’re stored improperly.”
With that in mind, she suggests parents speak up. “When we talk to parents before play dates about our own kids’ allergies or asking if there are pets or a pool, one of those questions needs to be, ‘Is there a gun in the home?’ You need to know. Then I follow that up with, ‘How is the gun stored?’ Anything short of locked, unloaded, separate from ammunition is not good enough for me,” Andrews says.
“We need to normalize that conversation. We know guns are out there.”

Home alone?

Finally, Mack says parents should think carefully before having a child come home from school to an empty house. “The commonsense rules depend on the child’s developmental age and stage. Safe Kids recommends no child younger than 12 be left alone. In general, 12 is the lower limit that’s developmentally acceptable.”

MUSC feeds hunger for summer meal programs (MUSC Catalyst News, May 25, 2018) 

Suggest a story to MUSC Catalyst News



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