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ABCs of health care

Going back to school healthfully is easy – and necessary

You’ve bought your kid a brand new back-to-school wardrobe; set him up with a box of newly sharpened pencils, a stack of writing tablets and a swell backpack. He’s got his class schedule, met his new teacher, and signed up for the kickball team. He’s all ready for another semester. Or is he?

You may have overlooked a couple of things, like updated immunizations, notes for the school nurse (and the homeroom teacher) about your child’s daily medication schedule (if he has one),  a new vision test, and, maybe, a quick parent-child meeting to discuss proper eating and hygiene while he’s away from home.

These are the often-ignored details that can make or break a school year. As summer winds to a close, we’re all weary from the heat and overwhelmed with getting our kids’ noses back to the educational grindstone. But don’t let your son or daughter get sent home from his first day back at school because he doesn’t have a current immunization record, says Dr. Sara Peña, M.D., a family practice physician at St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

“State law requires that children file their immunization records with the school,” Peña reports, “as well as updates on immunizations. Some parents request an exception to this rule, for religious or cultural purposes, but that requires a note from a practicing family physician.” 

A quick trip to the American Academy of Pediatrics website (at aap.org) will provide you with a quick checklist of which vaccinations your child needs, and at what age, before he can attend public or private school. Your child’s school should offer similar guidelines, as well; if they don’t, phone your general practitioner for advice on which shots are needed for kids heading back to school.

Peña also likes to remind parents that an annual vision test is a recommended for students of all ages. “A child who cannot see well, cannot see the assignments that he (or she) is responsible for completing,” she says. Quite a number of students with chronic headaches are, according to Peña, simply kids with headache-inducing impaired vision. “They need a pair of eyeglasses to help them see.”

A basic eye test by your pediatrician is a good place to start, she says, especially if your child’s school doesn’t offer an annual visit from an optometrist. “If there are problems, a trip to an eye specialist is in order, and,” she adds, “keep in mind that children, especially younger ones, don’t necessarily know that their vision is impaired, because they think they’re seeing what everyone is seeing.”

Is your child allergic to tomatoes, chalk dust, pollen? Make sure that both his homeroom teacher and the school nurse know about this. Likewise, notify the school if the child is taking any medications, even if they are meds he only takes at home. Ditto for any allergies to medicines; if your child can’t tolerate ibuprofen, you don’t want the school nurse handing him a Tylenol® for that sprained ankle. And, if your youngster does take a medication during the day, make sure it’s administered by an adult at school, and that you deliver it in its original prescription bottle, and not in an envelope or other unmarked container.

While you are making lists, be sure to include any ongoing ailments or physical challenges that your son or daughter might be dealing with. It is appropriate, and certainly useful, to send a note to the proper school authorities about any recent, at-home trauma that your child might be dealing with, such as the death of a relative or a divorce. Children sometimes take these things harder than we realize, and can “act out” while in class.

Finally, make sure that the school has your most up-to-date contact information: home telephone and cell phone numbers; email addresses; and physical addresses. Also include back-up telephone numbers of family members or friends who can come to your child’s aid if you are not available in a medical crisis.

“You’ll sleep a lot better if you’ve taken all these simple precautions,” Peña says. “What’s more, your child will enjoy a more productive school year once these simple, once-a-year tasks are complete.” 

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This Article appears on the August 2012 issue of LPM under Health

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