“Best of” Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips 2011: Part I

Last updated on October 5th, 2015 at 11:37 pm

It’s that time of year again… back to school. A time filled with carpools, backpacks and homework…and on many parent’s minds, a question… How can I keep my kids healthy and safe without following them around 24/7? We know they need to experience independence, learn how to develop friendships and how to make good decisions, yet we’re torn with a desire to protect them in every way possible. Unfortunately the hazards they face – bullying, gangs, drug sales, reckless drivers and predators, just to name a few – can happen before, during or after school. The best we can hope for is to make sure they are healthy before they walk out the door, ensure their trip to and from school is “uneventful”, and equip them with the tools, knowledge and resources to help them keep themselves safe and healthy until they are once again in our care.

To assist our efforts, experts provide us with articles and blog posts of “back-to-school” health guidelines and safety tips do and don’t lists. In fact there is a wealth of knowledge on the web on how to best prepare your child and send them off to school. Hello information overload! So, in an effort to save you a little time – which at this time of the year we all know is in incredibly precious – I’d like to share with you our compiled list of the best back-to-school tips we’ve been able to find. In “Back-To-School” Part I, we’ll cover everything you need before they head out the door. Part II will keep them safe until they come home. (*Please note – I am sourcing other author’s tips and will cite all references below – all copyrights, credit and thanks belong to them)

Before School Begins:

Prep for back-to-school physicals:

  • Bring five questions with you to be discussed during the visit. This helps parents to start thinking about their child’s health concerns earlier which may prevent parents from forgetting topics they want to discuss.
  • Be sure to know the name and dosage of all medications your child is on.
  • Bring shot records with you – especially if you’re changing pediatricians as vaccine schedule recommendations can change.
  • Bring sports physical forms. Pediatricians can fill these out and conduct the sports physical exam in tandem with the yearly checkup.
  • Bring report cards and conduct grades. If your child has special needs or classes, bring that information in as well. This information can help pediatricians look into, and potentially address, any underlying medical reason behind low marks.

Review your back-to-school health check list:

  • Immunization: Ensure your child’s preschool immunization is completed prior to entering Kindergarten to protect her against vaccine-preventable diseases. Check here for the CDC 2011 Child & Adolescent Immunization Schedules.
  • Vision screening: Have your child’s vision tested before he starts Kindergarten (ideally by age three) and annually until age 18. As much as 80% of learning is visual, so ensuring children can see properly will help them reach their full potential in the classroom.
  • Hearing/speech screening: If you suspect your child may have a hearing or speech problem, check with your doctor for a referral to an audiologist and/or speech specialist. An undetected problem could interfere with your child’s learning.
  • Dental checkup: Regular dental checkups should begin by age three. If your child hasn’t had her teeth examined prior to starting school, now is a good time for it. Regular checkups and cleanings help detect and prevent dental problems early.
  • Mental Health Check: Pediatricians are now requesting that patients and their parents fill out questioners to monitor behavior and psychological healthiness. For children ages 18 months to two years this can help doctors rule out pervasive developmental disorders such as autism. For teens and pre-teens this can help doctors determine whether the child should be treated for depression.
  • Emergency contacts: Make sure the school has up-to-date emergency numbers, including contact information for parents, physicians, etc.
  • Health conditions: Ensure the school has up-to-date information about any physical impairments or medical conditions your child may have, including allergies. Also inform the school about any medications your child takes. Check here for more detailed information on preparing children with asthma to return to school
  • Nutrition plan: Ensure your child has a healthy breakfast before heading to school in the mornings, and help her pack a nutritious lunch. Planning meals ahead of time and involving children in planning and preparation can make this task more manageable and fun.

Conduct a Back-to-school backpack check:

  • A child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 15% of his or her body weight. This means a student weighing 100 pounds shouldn’t wear a loaded school backpack heavier than about 15 pounds.
  • Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.
  • Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
  • Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back (the back of the pack). Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.
  • Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.
  • If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack. If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school allows it.

Deciding when they’re too sick for school:

  • Fever: Fever is a common symptom of viral infections, like influenza. If your child’s temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, keep your kid at home. While at home, encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids. If you have concerns about your child’s health, get in touch with her pediatrician. A child should be fever-free for 24 hours (without medicine) before returning to school.
  • Mild Cough/Runny Nose: If there’s no fever and the child feels fairly good, school is fine.
  • Bad Cough/Cold Symptoms: Children with bad coughs need to stay home and possibly see a doctor. It could be a severe cold or possibly bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia. But when the cough improves and the child is feeling better, then it’s back to school. Don’t wait for the cough to disappear entirely — that could take a week or longer!
  • Diarrhea or Vomiting: Keep your child home until the illness is over, and for 24 hours after the last episode (without medicine).
  • Sore Throat: A minor sore throat is usually not a problem, but a severe sore throat could be strep throat even if there is no fever. Other symptoms of strep throat in children are headache and stomach upset. Keep your child home from school and contact a doctor. Your child needs a special test to determine if it is strep throat. He or she can return to school 24 hours after antibiotic treatment begins.
  • Earache: The child typically needs to see a doctor.
  • Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): Keep the child home until a doctor has given the OK to return to school. Pink eye is highly contagious and most cases are caused by a virus, which will not respond to an antibiotic. Bacterial conjunctivitis will require an antibiotic; your doctor will be able to determine if this is the case.
  • Rash: Children with a skin rash should see a doctor, as this could be one of several infectious diseases. One possibility is impetigo, a bacterial skin infection that is very contagious and requires antibiotic treatment.

Check back again soon for Part II where we’ll pick up our “Best” Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips 2011 with suggestions for what to do once they head out the door. Until next time keep them healthy…keep them safe…


Sending out thanks and recognition to some very smart folks for some really great advice:

  1. Prep for back-to-school physicals: (Texas Children’s Pediatric Associates prepare patients to go back to school by Texas Children’s Hospital, Aug 2, 2011)
  2. Review your back-to-school health check list: (Back to school health checklist by Alberta Health Services)
  3. Conduct a back-to-school backpack check: (Backpack strategies for parents and students by the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.)
  4. Deciding when they’re too sick for school: (Your Child: Too Sick for School? by Jeanie Lerche Davis for WebMD September 2010)

About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


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