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It is that time of year again. Parents, teachers and children are starting a new year with freshly sharpened pencils, clean sheets of paper and expectations that this school year will be a great one. It is also that time of year when hundreds of children fill the halls at the first bell, leaving sun-filled days of summer but not necessarily the germs behind. As we gather for nine months of academic achievement, here is an overall health checklist to get everyone off to a healthy start.

Adjust Bed Times

The first day of school is unlike any other day that year. However, that doesn’t mean it is any easier to wake up. Help your children adjust to the school schedule a week or two ahead of time. If your child usually goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. during the school year, but has been staying up until 10 p.m. this summer, start moving up bedtime 10 to 15 minutes every other night until they are going to be closer to 8:30 p.m. Not only will this help reset their bedtime schedule, it will also make getting up earlier a little easier.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Many of us experience stress and anxiety when we are heading into new and unfamiliar situations. If this is your child’s first year at a new school, make sure you attend an open house or take a tour of the school prior to the first day. By getting an idea of what the layout is (where lockers, restrooms and the classrooms are) children can feel better about their new surroundings. Also, if you have an opportunity to meet new classmates before the first day, that can help build new relationships.

Healthy Breakfast and Lunch

The first few days of a new school year can be a little overwhelming and tiring. Give your children the fuel to make it through the day with healthy and balanced meals. At home, prepare breakfasts containing whole grains and fruit, along with a protein like eggs or yogurt. If you pack your child’s lunch, make sure to use whole grain bread for sandwiches, lean meat like turkey and don’t forget another serving of fruit. If your child doesn’t like sandwiches, hummus with strips of bell peppers or carrot sticks is a great alternative. 

School lunches are also getting healthier this year. Albuquerque Public Schools has made changes to its menus, with age-appropriate meal caloric totals and at least half of all grains served are whole grains. 

Keep Germs at Bay

Bringing hundreds of children together under one roof can be a haven for spreading germs. Educate your child how to keep germs at bay by reminding them to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before they eat, and after using the restroom and playing outside. Teach your children to cover their mouths when coughing and stay away from other children who appear to be sick. Remind your child that while it is good to share, that does not apply to food or drinks at school. Either wash hands immediately after or avoid contact altogether with germ hotspots like the water fountains and plastic cafeteria trays. Make sure your child is up to date on his or her immunizations, often a requirement before starting a new school year.

Exercise – Yes, They May Need It

Even though your children may come home seemingly exhausted from a day in the classroom, it is still important to make sure they get exercise to help boost their energy and clear their mind from the day. Sixty minutes of moderate activity is recommended for elementary age or older students for optimal health. However, recent studies have found that 74 percent of children ages 5 to 10 are not getting enough physical activity. This time can be split between physical activity at school during the day and afterschool activities. Not only does exercise help reduce their risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and other illnesses, it also helps with their mental health and self-esteem.

Refuel with the Right After School Snacks

Childhood obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise.  Is it OK to allow your child to snack when they get home from school instead of waiting until dinner? Experts say healthy snacks can combat obesity and diabetes. When children are feeling too hungry between meals, they may reach for anything, including unhealthy options, to satisfy their hunger. Help keep nutrition on top of kids’ minds by proactively having healthy snacks such as smoothies, veggie sticks, low-fat cheese and easy to eat fruits on hand.

Fight Illness with Good Sleep

Did you know nearly 22 million school days a year are missed because of the common cold? One way to help strengthen your child’s immune system is by making sure he or she gets a good night’s rest every night. Start with setting a schedule and sticking to it. Yes, there are late games and tests to cram for, but the more your child stays on the same sleep routine, the better they will be able to achieve quality sleep at night. A good night’s rest is the foundation for kids’ overall health, including avoiding the common cold.

Lighten the Load

Growing minds also have growing bodies. It is important to keep that in mind for children carrying backpacks loaded with books, supplies and other items. Make sure your children are wearing their backpacks correctly, with both straps on their shoulders and adjusted to the right length for their height. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends children carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight in their backpacks.  

Allergies: Be on the Lookout

Nearly 6 million children have food allergies. This can be especially serious at the start of a new school year. Be mindful of your school’s policy on foods allowed, such as peanut butter, to help protect children with serious allergic reactions to certain foods. The Food and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has prepared a back-to-school kit to educate parents and teachers on how to be a PAL (Protect a Life from Food Allergies).

Talk About Bullying

Unfortunately, new school years bring new opportunities for bullying. Talk with your child about what bullying is and what to do if they feel they have been bullied. Your plan to combat bullying might depend on the age of the child and the circumstances. Make sure you have an open line of communication with your child so they feel comfortable reporting any unwelcome behavior to you. Reassure them that it is OK to speak up. 

If you believe your child is the bully, pay special attention to his or her behavior at home. Communicate with your child about what bullying is and how it affects others. Listen to what your child says. Be open and accessible to your child to understand what the problem is. If you believe your child needs professional help, seek the advice of your child’s pediatrician.

Bullying can have serious consequences on a child’s health and well-being. Children who are bullied often complain of headaches or stomachaches and other symptoms of anxiety. They may also develop mental health problems, such as depression, which can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, violence or suicidal thoughts. 

First Day of School, August 13

Albuquerque Public Schools’ first day of school is Aug. 13. APS has prepared a blog with everything you need to know to be ready, including links to school supplies, information on school lunches and the dress code. Have a great start the school year and stay healthy!

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