Back to school means meeting new teachers, new classmates, school supplies, clothes, choosing sports and so much more! This time of year can generate a lot of anxiety in parents and kids. While all of these things are important, perhaps the most important element is your child’s health. Parents have so many questions about their children’s health and the return to school. Will my child need shots? What’s the difference between a physical exam and a sports exam? How do I tell if he is too sick to go to school? Might she have a vision or hearing problem? There’s just so much to deal with.
To help you and your children start the school year with less stress and the right information, Our Health asked parents what they most want to know before sending their children back to school. Then they asked the experts for feedback. Local doctors, counselors, nurses, and other professionals have provided answers to some of the most important questions you may have at this time of year.
During the summer, my kids don’t follow any type of bedtime schedule or routine and often stay up late. What’s the best way to get back to a bedtime schedule that will prepare them for the start of the school year and ensure they are getting enough sleep?
Sleep is a necessary part of maintaining good physical and emotional health. Children who get proper amounts of sleep perform better at school and have improved mood and attention. Sufficient sleep followed by a healthy breakfast has even been shown to help prevent obesity. A good night’s sleep can help your child start off the school year on a positive note. Below are some simple tips to help your child transition from summer to school year schedules.
- Begin transitioning to school year routines two to four weeks prior to school start dates. You can help prepare your child to go back to school by starting school night bedtime routines early.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and routine even on the weekends.
- Create a good sleep environment and habits
Recommended Sleep Guidelines:
Preschoolers (three to five): Allow for 10-13 hours of sleep
School age children (six-13): Allow for eight -11 hours of sleep
Teenagers (14-17): Allow for eight -10 hours of sleep
Barbara A. Hutchinson, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Carilion Clinic Department of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine
Roanoke | 540.981.7653
My husband and I are going through a divorce. How can we help ensure this stress doesn’t impact our child’s performance in school?
When parents divorce they still have to co-parent, and often this means putting their own feelings or needs aside for the benefit of the child. Consistency and follow through are key. Determine a schedule between the two homes, have school supplies in each home and establish a “homework spot.” Both parents should stay involved with the homework, school projects and be aware of academic expectations. If possible, set up the same schedule in each home such as dinner, homework and bed time. The right amount of sleep is essential so having a consistent bedtime regardless of which parent has the child will help the child in school and emotionally. A tired child is not only a cranky child but also a child that can't focus. It is also important not to use the child as your “messenger”; as this can be stressful to the child. An essential part of co-parenting is communicating with the other parent. Finally, be there to listen to your child. It is helpful to set aside one-on-one time, away from electronics and everyday busy life, on a daily basis.
Tara Mitchell, PhD, LCP
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Carilion Clinic Children's Hospital
Roanoke | 540.266.6345
My son was diagnosed with a ‘growth-plate fracture’ after a football injury – what is that?
A growth plate injury is an injury to the area of cartilage where the bone grows from. Occasionally this can lead to a premature/abrupt stoppage of growth of the cartilage, either partial or complete. It is also possible that it could resolve and not cause any long term problems. The location/area of injury is one of the main factors in helping a physician understand the likelihood of potential premature stoppage of growth. If the fracture has to undergo manipulation more than one or two times, this can also lead to higher incidence of growth arrest. Something like this needs to be followed with an x-ray at minimum every three to six months while the patient is still growing, to verify the health of the growth plate/cartilage. If not, the ability to fix the problem becomes much more difficult. Treatment can include anything from simple casting to surgery depending on the finding. Also – the patient may require CT and/or MRI to verify the growth plate and cartilage. A growth plate injury can be a very benign thing, or can cause potential long term problems and should not be ignored.
Micah W. I. Jones, DO
Salem | 540.772.3530
How often should my child have a dental ‘well visit’?
The answer to this question has changed a bit over time. We used to say every child should visit the dentist twice a year. The current thought is more specific to your child’s history of tooth decay or other dental problems, such as teeth crowding. If your child has a history of cavities, your dentist may recommend more than twice a year; however, if your child has no history of tooth decay, once a year may be fine. There are other factors that can influence your dentist’s recommendations, so be sure to bring your child in as soon as their first tooth appears and have the discussion with your dentist
Joseph Dill, DDS, MBA
Vice President Professional Services
Delta Dental of Virginia
Roanoke | 540.989.8000
What are some good food ideas to include in my child’s lunchbox that won’t spoil and are not heavy in sodium and preservatives?
Packing your child’s lunch for school or daycare can be a challenge, but by keeping a few tips in mind, your child will have tasty foods that are full of nutrition.
Start with a sandwich or salad, or perhaps a thermos of rice and beans. Vary the type of bread, but bagel slices are less bulky and fit in a lunch box well. Protein can come in the form of meat, eggs, beans, cheese, tuna, or nuts.
Next, add some fruit. While it can be easy to throw in a whole orange or apple, often kids will be more likely to eat fruit that is already “prepared” in serving size bites. Peel oranges and cut apples, pears or other fruits in chunks. Berries are delicious ripe, but frozen berries work as a fruit for lunch as well.
Now, add a vegetable, unless your main course is a veggie filled salad. Add different dips for dipping veggies in to keep things interesting.
Then add a snack such as almonds, toasted pumpkin seeds or baked tortilla crisps. Avoid pre-packaged snacks with artificial coloring and sweeteners.
Finally, add a drink. Water or skim milk is the best option. Avoid juice and other sugar sweetened drinks.
The best way to provide your child with healthy and tasty lunch options are to plan ahead, make sure you have the appropriate containers to keep food fresh, crispy and at the correct temperature. Often, leftovers from a healthy dinner can form the basis for a nutritious lunch the following day.
Moriah Krason, MD, FAAP
Salem | 540.772.3580
How often should I replace my child’s toothbrush?
Children’s toothbrushes should be changed every three-six months, preferably every three months. Studies show that after three months of normal wear and tear, your toothbrush is less effective at removing bacteria. Toothbrush bristles are breeding grounds for bacteria and germs, which over time can build to significant levels. This is why changing your toothbrush regularly is so important. You also want to make sure to change your toothbrush after any illness such as a cold, virus or sore throat. Germs can hide in the bristles of your toothbrush and cause a re-infection. It’s important to keep your toothbrush from touching other toothbrushes to prevent spreading those lovely germs and viruses. One other indicator that it’s time for a new toothbrush is flattened or frayed bristles on the toothbrush. This may also indicate that your child is brushing too hard, very light pressure is needed for adequate plaque removal. You always want to choose an age-appropriate toothbrush for your child. Choosing a toothbrush that is either too big or too small for your child will affect plaque and bacteria removal. Always feel free to express any concerns or questions to your dental team at your six month cleaning appointments.
Registered Dental Hygienist
Mills & Shannon Dentistry
Salem | 540.989.5700
Should I let my young child drink caffeinated coffee or energy drinks? At what age? Amount?
Many of us remember when we were children being told that drinking coffee would “stunt our growth.” Truthfully though, there is insufficient evidence to support or discourage the use of caffeinated beverages. Coffee and tea contain several chemical components thought to confer beneficial health effects, including caffeine and antioxidants. Most are familiar with the short-term benefits of caffeine consumption, including improved mental alertness, reaction time, cognitive performance, and athletic performance. What many do not know is that long-term caffeine use is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes
, and gout. Adults can safely consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day on average without any apparent adverse effects. Safe levels of consumption have not been established for children; however, those levels are thought to be considerably lower. Parents should exercise caution when considering whether their children should consume caffeine, as higher levels of caffeine consumption (a single energy drink may contain over 200mg) can lead to abuse and dependence, and is associated with headaches, anxiety, substance abuse, insomnia, tremors, palpitations , and cardiac arrhythmias.
Scott J. Crosby, MD
Express Family Care
Roanoke | 540.400.6676
My teen is listening to music with earbuds for long periods of time should I be concerned?
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs from too much sound exposure. Too much sound can permanently damage ears. A troubling trend is appearing in the U.S., where it is reported that approximately 16 percent of teens ages 12 – 19 have NIHL. A surge in NIHL is occurring directly from the use of MP3 players. NIHL occurs after 85 dB; yet, MP3 players maximum output exceeds this at 100 to 115 dB of volume. Damage occurs from the combination of volume level and length of listening time. Symptoms can include a muffled sound quality, difficulty hearing conversation or in noise
, and ringing in the ears.
Music has a common thread for most people. Its use is widespread in our population, but even more so in our adolescents. They tend to use it louder, longer, and more often simply because they have more opportunities to listen.
Here are some helpful hints to prevent NIHL:
- Limit volume levels
- Limit amount of time exposed
- Allow time between exposures
- Apply a 60/60 rule – 60 minutes at 60 percent of maximum output of device
Scan here for more information on NIHL: [QR code]
Joann F. Dillon, MS, CCC-A, FAAA
New River Valley Hearing
Radford | 540.731.4327
Floyd | 540.745.8327
My son often has bad breath, sometimes brushing does not seem to help, what could be the problem.
Whether you call it bad breath or halitosis, it can be an unpleasant and embarrassing problem. Unfortunately, there are many causes and it may take some patience to figure it out. Some of the more common culprits are foods you eat, poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, post nasal drip, allergies, sinusitis, gastric reflux, diabetes, using tobacco products, and bronchitis. I would start with making sure he brushes (including the tongue) and flosses twice daily. Visiting the dentist every six months will help insure his hygiene is on track. Make sure he is staying well hydrated and leave off the onions and garlic for a while. If you’re confident in your son’s oral hygiene (and he does not use tobacco products), go ahead and schedule a visit to your pediatrician or family physician to rule out any medical causes.
Richard L. Anthony, DDS
Blacksburg | 540.552.8870
My teen is struggling with acne. Do we have options other than oral medications?
Yes. With mild forms of acne, there are a variety of topical medicines available. If the first choice of topical medicines are not helping or if there are side effects, make sure to follow up to allow your doctor to tailor your prescription to your situation. Also, we urge patients to be ready to consider oral medicines for more severe forms of acne in order to decrease the risk of scarring.
Philip Wakefield, MD
Dermatology Associates of Roanoke, PC
Roanoke | 540.981.1439
While this information may have answered many of your questions, you may want to schedule a back to school physical to give you (and your child) the opportunity to get more answers from your pediatrician or other medical professional. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that every child have a yearly physical exam and suggests that just prior to return to school is a good time for that exam. Many studies show that your child’s health will affect his ability to learn.
A back to school physical can help identify and treat problems such as: hyperactivity, sleep disorders, vision or hearing problems, swings in blood sugar from prediabetes, diabetes or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and other disorders. For teens especially, adolescence is a time when important changes are taking place physically and mentally. Back to school physicals can help identify and treat physical or mental health problems and can be the most important part of your plan to help your child ensure academic success. Knowing that you have done the best you can to improve your child’s health will help both of you relax and enjoy the new school year!