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Joan Quigley 201 210-0100

Advice for parents preparing kids for a new school year

Preparing kids for the school season involves more than notebooks, pencils, and new clothes. Every parent wants to make sure they start out healthy and stay that way throughout the year.

Dr. Carmen Mallamaci, a pediatrician and chief medical officer for North Hudson Community Action Corporation, says it is very important for every child to have a complete physical check-up annually and there’s no better time to do it than before school starts next month. Depending on the youngster’s age, the doctor will note and record his growth and development, check vision and hearing, and make sure all immunizations are up to date. A dental exam is good, too.

Immunizations required for school attendance vary from day care to college. From ages one to six, they should have DTaP, polio, HIB, Varicella, Hepatitis B ,Pneumococcal ,measles, rubella and mumps vaccines. Children enrolled in day care (required 6 months to 59 months of age) must also be vaccinated against flu. When kids reach 6th grade, Tdap and meningococcal inoculations are necessary, too.
Although it is not required in New Jersey, Dr. Mallamaci recommends both males and females be protected against sexually transmitted viral infections with the HPV vaccine. Three shots are recommended during a six-month period, starting at age 11, even if the child is not sexually active.

When children have allergies or special needs, it is vital for the school nurse and teacher to be made aware. If allergies are severe or potentially life-threatening, there should be a detailed medical plan prepared by the child’s physician and given to the school so teachers know exactly what to do in an emergency.

Dr. Mallamaci says every child should have a healthy breakfast and lunch, but it is especially important for children who are allergic to some foods. Most school cafeterias will post warnings when foods contain nuts or other ingredients that can cause problems, and many will send menus home each week so kids and parents can make advance choices. However, it is safest for parents to pack a lunch for each child and caution against sharing or swapping with others.

Studies have shown that kids who eat well tend to perform better in school. Dr. Mallamaci says an easy scheme for parents to remember is 5-2-1-0. That stands for five servings of fruits and vegetables during the day, along with two hours or less of “screen time,” one hour or more of physical activity, and zero sugary drinks. She points out each 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Children who consume one can of soda per day increases their chances of obesity by 60 percent.

Continuing – Advice for parents preparing kids for a new school year

No matter how young a student is, she should know her own phone number and address. Most elementary schools demand a list of people who may pick up children from school and they won’t release a youngster to anyone not on that list. However, parents must also provide emergency contact information, and each child should know a special place to go in a disaster and a special codeword to identify parent surrogates in emergencies.

She also notes car-pooling parents must have a booster seat for each youngster smaller than four feet, nine inches.

All New Jersey schools are required to have evacuation plans and to practice lock-down drills. Doctors say parents should talk with youngsters in advance about bullying and personal safety in school, on the school bus, and while biking or walking home.

For a child attending school for the first time or attending a new school, there’s bound to be anxiety, Dr. Mallamaci says. She recommends parents make certain the child knows the route to and from school and suggests parents bring the child to the school for a walk-through before the semester starts so it won’t seem such a strange and scary place when the first bell rings. It is also helpful, she says, to ask around the neighborhood to learn which other youngsters attend that school and try to introduce your child to some of them early so there’ll be a few friendly faces in class.

Dr. Mallamaci acknowledges every kid wants a cool backpack, but she urges parents to look beyond the superstar on the outside. Backpacks should have wide padded shoulder straps and a padded back. A waist strap is helpful, she said, because it centers the pack on the spine. Heavier items should be stashed closest to the center of the back and the entire stuffed bag should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight. Rolling backpacks are good, she said, unless the child has to go up and down several staircases.

Teenagers should be aware that school administrators have the right to look into lockers and monitor student activity in corridors and classes. Parents should warn their kids to be alert for trouble and avoid hanging out with peers who seem to attract trouble. No matter how strict the school and how safe the neighborhood seems, temptation is everywhere. Kids who can talk freely with their parents about the things they see and experience are less likely to encounter problems than those who try to deal with things alone.

Acknowledging that not every family can set aside a place for kids to study, the pediatrician reminds parents that good lighting and a quiet atmosphere are conducive to doing homework and earning high marks.

Dr. Mallamaci says all this advice seems like a lot to load onto a parent’s shoulders in the heat of summer, but she says preparing now will make everyone safer, healthier and more comfortable next month and throughout the school year.

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