Some schools and many sports teams call for a routine physical exam for children as they return to the classroom or the field each year. And August is designated National Immunization Awareness Month to remind people of the importance of making sure everyone’s immunizations are up-to-date. It’s a good time to see a family physician.

And it’s not just time to check on immunizations. Preparing in advance for the children’s return to school is an excellent marker for a busy family to focus on some parenting priorities that really work well all year long. In fact, you might say that back to school is just a distillation of things we should pay attention to continually.

Concise and thorough, one of the best reminder lists of back-to-school health tips comes from Johns Hopkins University, and it serves as a good outline for those parenting priorities.

Power Down to Make Sleep a Priority

It’s always been true, but has never been more challenged than now in the digital age, that children need more sleep. Their bodies and minds are doing most everything we do, plus they’re growing and developing in new ways all the time. Mobile devices are cutting into their sleep time nowadays, research shows. Disconnecting for a good night’s sleep calls for some parental encouragement, a kind of digital curfew. It may take some repetition, but the effort is worth it.

Many of us don’t realize that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for children’s healthy growth. In fact, most kids need eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. As with adults, too much interest in electronic devices robs children of some of these important hours of sleep.

They Become What They Eat

The impact of obesity reaches throughout a person’s body and outlook on life, and in children, the impact can extend on through their lives. It’s estimated that 40% of daily calorie intake for children two to 10 years old is from added sugars and solid fats – “empty calories.” As a result, about one-fifth of our youth in that age range – two to 10 – are already obese.

The first suggestion for parents is to be a role model for a healthy diet. Because diet is cultural as well as physical, demonstrating what a good approach to eating looks like may be one of the most important and lasting gifts we can give our children. Continuing to offer healthful foods, even to picky eaters, is important. And it’s suggested that we don’t use food as a reward.

Knowing the Other Risks

Apart from obesity, which threatens diabetes, heart disease, skeletal stress, and a host of other issues, children in the school environment face risks ranging from head lice to spine curvature. Knowing the risks helps us know what to prepare and watch for. Your family physician is an excellent source for identifying these risks.

Poor vision, for example, is in many cases not discovered until a child has been struggling for months or even years. The school environment is an excellent place to uncover this, as squinting at the board and holding electronic devices too close are signals to look into further. Ask the teacher to help you watch for these.

As Your Child’s Advocate

Consider yourself your children’s spokesperson in developing the relationship you would like to see them have with their teachers. Make sure the teacher knows particular strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, and especially what you’ve observed about their preferred learning styles.

Though no one want to be “that parent” who hovers, it’s still good to realize there are subjects that you can introduce into the dialogue with their teacher that they are not nearly so able to do themselves.

This back-to-school time reminds us of the joys as well as the responsibilities of being a parent. Often the job calls for the professional awareness and skills of a family physician, and we’d be proud to become yours. Just call us at 843-815-6468.