Columbia University Medical Center

From Top To Bottom: Pediatrician Offers Health Checklist At Back-To-School Time

New York, NY (Aug. 2001) — When equipping your child for the first day of school with notebooks, pens, and a new set of duds, don’t forget about his or her health. Pamela F. Gallin, M.D., a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital of New York at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, who is also a mother of four and the author of The Savvy Mom’s Guide to Medical Care, provides parents and caregivers with a few tips to help their kids get a smart start to the academic year:

*Have your child’s vision screened. It is important for children to have an annual vision screening because young children don’t know if they can’t see. If your child wears glasses, be sure the prescription is current.
*Be equipped for sports! For children who wear glasses, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends one-piece wrap-around polycarbonate sports frames for all contact sports, including soccer, field hockey, and basketball. All children wearing spectacles need sports frames for gym. All lenses should be polycarbonate.
*Have your child’s hearing tested. Most states now mandate hearing tests for babies. But many school-age children have not been tested. If your child is listening to the television or music at a very loud volume, or tends to favor one ear over the other when listening to you speak, it may be a sign of hearing loss.
*Have you noticed your child scratching his or her scalp since camp ended? It may be a sign that lice was contracted during the summer. It is important that you check your child’s head yourself, and, if you are unsure, contact the school nurse or your child’s pediatrician. Head lice will not go away on its own but can be treated with over-the-counter remedies.
*Are your child’s immunizations up-to-date? The last thing you want is for your child to be turned away from school on the first day because he or she was not properly immunized. If you have recently moved from one state to another, check to see if your child meets the new state’s regulations. In addition, new immunizations, such as Hepatitis B, are now required. Check with your child’s pediatrician.
*Does your child receive medication on a regular basis for diabetes, asthma, or another chronic problem? School nurses and teachers must be made aware of your child’s needs, especially if they are the ones who administer the medicine. Be sure to speak with them about these procedures before school begins, and work out an emergency course of action in case there is a problem.
*Does your child eat breakfast? Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert in class. Also, be sure that your child is having a balanced, nutritious lunch, whether it is one you send or one provided by the school cafeteria. If your child is allowed to bring a snack, try to avoid junk food and focus more on fruits and other healthful food.
*Is your child anxious and apprehensive? Most children are anxious about the new school year. It normally takes about a month for children to adjust to new situations. A new school, fear of a class bully, or taking a school bus for the first time may cause anxieties. If after a few weeks, your child continues to be anxious and apprehensive, bring this to the attention of his or her teacher so that you can identify the source of his anxiety and work out a solution.
*Do you suspect a learning disability or dyslexia? If you suspect that your child is not processing information as he or she should, speak to the teacher or the learning center in your child’s school. Your suspicions should be noted to the teacher as soon as possible. A professional diagnosis usually requires two days’ worth of testing.
*Are your up-to-date emergency phone numbers on file? Make sure that the school and your child know how to reach you or another caregiver at all times. The school administration and teachers should always know how to reach you if there is an issue that needs to be discussed.

“Your child will have a great year in school if you make sure that the teacher understands all your child’s special needs,” says Dr. Gallin. “But remember, just as a child may be overwhelmed by school the first day, often so are the teachers.”

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