Health Report: 5 Smart Back-to-School Tips for Parents

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – For many San Diego County students, summer break is coming to an end.  If you’re a parent with school-age kids, now is a great time to make sure they are ready to go back to the classroom. The following tips can help your family prepare for a safe, healthy start to the school year.

1. Schedule a check-up.

Before school is back in session, schedule a physical exam for your child, especially if he or she plays sports.

Discuss any concerns you have about your child’s health, such as nutrition or weight problems. “It’s a good idea to let your child have time alone with the doctor to talk about personal matters and ask questions that they may not feel comfortable bringing up with a parent in the room,” said Mark Shalauta, M.D., family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo.

Also, make sure your child’s school has updated medical records that include any current conditions such as diabetes, asthma or allergies, as well as special dietary needs and medications. The school also should have contact information for your child’s pediatrician or family physician.

2. Make sure immunizations are up to date.

In California, children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools, child care centers and other educational programs. You may be required to show an Immunization Record as proof of immunization before your child is admitted.

“Talk to your child’s physician about any coming changes in vaccination or immunization requirements,” Dr. Shalauta advised.

A new law that is scheduled to go into effect in 2016 eliminates personal and religious belief exemptions for vaccines. The law allows an exemption for children who have a medical reason to remain unvaccinated (such as an immune system disorder) and requires parents to provide a doctor’s note recommending against vaccination.

Vaccination requirements vary by age. Immunizations required to attend kindergarten include:

  • polio
  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis or whooping cough)
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Varicella (chicken pox)  

The varicella vaccine is recommended at ages 1 and 5.

All students entering seventh grade will also need proof of an adolescent pertussis (whooping cough) booster immunization (Tdap) in order to begin school.

Although not a requirement for middle or high school, the meningitis vaccine is recommended at ages 11 and 16.  This will help protect your child after high school as well, when they are also at high risk.

Finally, we also recommend the Gardasil vaccine series at age 11 for prevention of several types of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)-related cancers. While we understand that many parents feel 11 is too young to be concerned about the HPV virus, it’s important to understand that the vaccine is most effective if all doses are given long before any potential exposure. The vaccine will not eradicate disease in someone who has already been exposed and infected.

Talk to your child’s physician about any vaccine concerns you may have.

3. Get back on schedule.

Summer break often means staying up later and sleeping in. In order to help kids transition back to a school schedule, have them start going to bed and waking up at times more in sync with the school calendar. This can be especially helpful for teens, whose natural circadian rhythms make them more prone to being night owls than early birds.

4. Pack lightly.

Along with shoes and clothes, kids can outgrow their backpacks.  A backpack that is worn out, doesn’t fit correctly or is just too heavy can strain a child’s neck or back and may cause injury.  Check straps for signs of wear and tear, and adjust the fit of the backpack to accommodate body changes.

If it’s time for a new one, choose a lightweight backpack with two wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. The pack should fit snugly against the child’s back but not pull on the shoulders. Evenly distribute books and other contents on both sides of the pack, and aim to keep its weight below 20 percent of your child’s.  

5. Don’t overdo activities.

Extra-curricular activities like sports and clubs can be great ways for kids to socialize and learn new skills, but be careful not to overdo it. “Too many after-school obligations can make it difficult to fit in other activities such as homework, family time and rest,” Dr. Shalauta said. This can create stress and anxiety, and affect both academic performance and health.

Also, remember that your young athletes are students, not pros.  Encourage them to focus on having fun and learning sportsmanship, not on winning or losing. “Give kids the freedom to try new activities if they no longer enjoy the usual ones,” Dr. Shalauta advised. Regardless of the activity, make sure they have the proper equipment and training to play safely.

For more information, visit or call 858-240-5075.

Categories: Health