“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)

Who Will Look After the Kids If/When Mom Can’t?

Last updated on October 5th, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Ten years ago, Kristine Breese found herself in a situation that turned out to be a wake-up call in more ways than one. At the age of 35, the mother of two went into cardiac arrest at her home in Carlsbad, California. And in that moment, Breese’s first thought was not what you would expect. “I thought ‘Who’s going to give the kids dinner?’” she says. She was even thinking about the mac ’n’ cheese dinners in the freezer as the paramedics wheeled her to the ambulance.

Thankfully, Breese survived her ordeal, regained her health and today she is a successful writer and public speaker. But one thing she’ll never forget is the fact that every mom needs a reliable backup plan to cover those unexpected moments when mom is not available.

Whether it’s a result of a surgery, as it was for Breese, or something more common such as a cold or flu, if you need time to rest and recover, make sure your backup plan is in place ahead of time. Check out these strategies and be prepared.

1. Learn to ask for help.

Some moms understandably have trouble asking for help. “Moms push it to the limit,” says Breese, author of Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts, and Sanity for Moms Battling Illness. “When women start feeling bad, they don’t cut down on their activities or turn to others. Things can quickly spiral out of control.”

Develop the skill of asking for help before you’re in a crisis. For example, when someone offers to carry your groceries to the car, let them. “You may feel silly at first. We’re in that post-feminist generation where we’re not supposed to let someone open the door for us, but asking for help doesn’t have to be a statement about who you are as a woman,” says Breese.

2. Set up a network of helpers.

You need to have a list of people to call when you need assistance. Set up a way to contact everyone quickly and easily. For instance, create an email list or Facebook group specifically for this purpose. Or set up a telephone tree where you call the first person on the list, they call the next person and so on. Think of it as your own personal “Emergency Response System.” Then all you have to do is send one message or make one call to say, “Can you help me out and pick up my kids from school this afternoon? I have been flat on my back all day.”

3. Ask for specific kinds of help.

Designate people to do specific tasks. For instance, ask a neighbor in advance if she’d be OK to cover carpool duties if you’re in a pinch. Ask a girlfriend if she’d be willing to buy some groceries if you just can’t manage a trip to the market.

You can even get the kids involved, in an age-appropriate way. “Kids really respond when they can help,” says Breese, who suggests making a game of it when you need help from younger kids. For instance, give them a “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on your bedroom door or have them set a timer so they know how long mommy needs to rest.

4. Have a replacement on call.

You need several reliable baby sitters to call on. If you don’t have any, try finding someone through a baby-sitting agency such as the Web site Sittercity, or a local church or college. Interview candidates and check references before you need them. Ideally, your baby sitters are familiar with your family and your home, and they have flexible schedules so they’re likely to be available in an emergency. If your budget allows, set aside some cash and contacts for extra conveniences like a cleaning service or takeout meals when you really are down for the count.

5. Leave a paper trail.

Before you get sick, pretend you’re going on vacation and write down everything a caregiver would need to know while you’re away. Include essential phone numbers, information about kids’ activities and schedules, medications, allergies, and other relevant details. Ideally, your regular baby sitters already know the drill, but it’s good to have written instructions for reference. Keep this information in one place (try the fridge or the kitchen table), and be sure to update it often.

6. Stock your freezer.

While you’re healthy, find some freezer-friendly recipes. Double them each time you cook, and freeze half. Or keep some commercially prepared meals on hand that a caregiver could easily pop in the oven or microwave.

7. Have confidence in your family.

Realize that things won’t fall apart just because you’re not directing the scenes. Sure, dad may not cut the crust off the bread when he packs lunches, and he may send Susie to school without brushing her hair. What’s important is that he’s getting the kids to school. If you make home-cooked meals but grandma takes the kids out for chicken nuggets, no permanent damage done. It’s OK if your kids watch a bit (or even a lot) more TV while you’re ill. Just remember the overarching goal: Giving mom a break so you can rest and rejuvenate.

Is Endodontics Right for Your Child…Do Root Canals & Kids Mix?

Last updated on August 20th, 2015 at 12:13 am

When a child feels pain in a tooth at random for no reason, has hot or cold sensitivity or breaks their tooth and exposes what we call the pulp, he or she may need endodontic treatment. Endontic treatment consists of several types of procedures. They are classified in two groups: vital pulp therapy (where the tooth can be saved) and non vital pulp therapy ie. a root canal (where the tooth is essentially considered “dead”).

Endodontics are necessary when the pulp and nerve of the tooth are affected by decay or some sort of damage. The pulp of your tooth not only houses the nerve, it also contains blood vessels that supply your tooth with nutrients and oxygen it needs to stay healthy.  Endodontic treatment is performed essentially to save the tooth.

Endodontic treatment can be done on both baby and permanent teeth. It can be performed by any trained dentist general or specialist but be discriminating. Parents often think that because baby teeth fall out eventually that it’s not important to perform these types of procedures on them. Contrary to that belief, baby teeth have several crucial functions. They hold spaces for permanent teeth and are also very important for chewing and speaking.

Because there are several types of pulp therapies (described above), you should consult your dentist to ensure this type of treatment is right for your child. The other option you have is to get your child’s tooth extracted. There are several things to consider when you are weighing these two options: which tooth is affect, approximately how long until it falls out on its own, how damaged it is and whether or not gum or bone have been affected.

Another factor to consider is whether or not your child has any serious medical conditions. In these cases, infection can be more serious. If the tooth is infected there is the possibility that the surrounding bone and gum tissue could also develop an infection after endodontic therapy.

Finally, we want to assure you that some soreness is normal after endodontic therapy and should be manageable with over the counter pain relievers that are safe for children.

New FBI Child ID App Helps Parents Locate Missing Kids

Last updated on September 2nd, 2015 at 11:37 pm

According to the FBI “A child goes missing every 40 seconds in America… many do not return home.”

Not long ago one of our editors shared a story about her experience with Code Adam – the phrase used to initiate a “lockdown” if your child goes missing in a store. But what if they’re not immediately found? The new app – “FBI Child ID” can help.

The FBI Child ID App provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s literally right at hand if you need it. You can show the pictures and provide physical identifiers such as height and weight to security or police officers on the spot. And, using a special tab on the app, you can also quickly and easily e-mail your child’s information to authorities with a few clicks.”

The App also offers advice for parents on how to keep kids safe, as well as specific guidance on what to do in the “first few crucial hours” after a child goes missing. And for parents concerned with privacy the FBI offered the following:

Note: the FBI (and iTunes for that matter) is not collecting or storing any photos or information that you enter in the app. All data resides solely on your mobile device unless you need to send it to authorities. Please read your mobile provider’s terms of service for information about the security of applications stored on your device.

Right now the FBI Child app is only available for the iPhone, and can be downloaded for free here at iTunes, however the FBI plans to expand this tool to other types of smartphones (such as Google Android devices) in the near future.


Editor’s Notes:

Although the FBI has been very proactive in addressing internet privacy concerns, one area that seems to have been overlooked is local data security. Since the FBI Child ID app is not password protected, if someone steals your phone they would have easy access to all of your child’s data. Additionally, the big red “Call 911” and “Call NCMEC” buttons might seem very tempting to a child playing with the phone. Again, password protection will help with this.

Overall our thoughts are that this is a terrific app that is still very early in its development and we will likely see additional security features (like password protection) in upcoming releases.

When Having an Only Child Is The Only Choice

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 07:54 pm

In reading Dr Borba’s post from last week (July 25, 2011) on raising only children, it brought back my own experience. I have an only child, but not by choice. I was caught by the trend in delaying childbearing – due to an earlier focus on education and career, and marrying later.

Why Have Another?

When my husband and I first got married we weren’t entirely sure we wanted any children, let alone more than one. But we did finally decide to start a family and were really happy with our little guy. When it came time to consider whether to have more, what Dr Borba highlighted as the benefits of an only child did figure in our thinking. We both had hectic full-time careers, so dividing our attention amongst multiple children seemed like a disservice to our son – and we enjoyed the close parenting relationship we had with him. Plus, having more kids might have meant not working so much, so finances were a concern.

However, there were powerful arguments in favor of having more children. We fell so much in love with our first baby that we really liked the idea of having a second. Plus I am an only child and I always wanted siblings when growing up. In fact, even now I would like to have a brother or sister – for my own benefit – but also for my son’s.

At the end though, one of the most powerful drivers was that he was always asking for a sibling – just like I did.

Our Sibling Odyssey

Getting pregnant the first time was fairly straightforward, even though I had already reached “advanced maternal age”. We decided to try for a second when Elliott was three and I was nearing 40. Since it was so easy the first time, we thought it would be fairly easy the second time – and it more or less was – until we discovered it was an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in emergency surgery and the loss of one tube. So, with my chances of getting pregnant halved – and now informed of the significantly reduced fertility at my age – we embarked on a series of IVF procedures. Clearly we had no idea of the journey yet to come.

Mistake #1: Despite my age and the statistics, we were over-optimistic about our chances of conceiving through IVF. Since I’d gotten pregnant twice, and carried a baby to term, it seemed like just a matter of time. Which might explain our second mistake.

Mistake #2: We were much too open and optimistic with our son about trying to have another baby, especially at the beginning of the process. Eventually, we had to start managing expectations since several months of IVF procedures went by without success. Finally one succeeded…but this resulted in ANOTHER ectopic pregnancy (very rare with IVF). And it was a huge saga as it was discovered on an overseas trip and involved emergency surgery in a foreign city, 3 days in hospital, a week in a hotel waiting for the all-clear to fly home, wheelchair transport through airports on the way back, and 2 months recovery off work. We managed one more unsuccessful attempt a few months later, and finally gave up – leading to our final mistake….

Mistake #3: We avoided telling our son we had stopped trying to have another baby. It was just too painful. I couldn’t talk about it – or even see a little baby on the street – without crying, and I think the idea of telling him made the decision feel so irrevocable. Unfortunately one evening on the way home from friends with a house full of kids, we accidentally let it slip out in conversation. But he picked up on it right away – and what an UPSET!! There was so much crying going on in the car that we had to pull over for a while. That night is still very clear to me.

Helping Our Son (and Us) Adjust

After making the decision not to keep trying for another child, and despite our mistakes, we did take some steps that helped everyone adjust to this new and initially painful reality:

Talked about the benefits – Once everyone had a chance to calm down, we sat with our son and talked about why we wouldn’t be having another baby, and about the benefits of being an only child, in a way he might understand: having his own room, getting to spend more time with Mom and Dad, and no one to steal or break his toys.

Got a surrogate sibling – Yes, we got a puppy. And for the next few years, Nelson (the dog) was his brother – four legs and fur notwithstanding. This worked very well, until Elliott’s school class learned about family roles and he insisted his dog was a brother…while his teacher insisted this wasn’t possible.

Found social opportunities – Due to our dual-career life Elliott had always been involved in external social settings with other kids. But now we had even more reason to sign him up for sports, clubs, summer camp and Cub Scouts.

Created a “flexible” family concept – Soon after our painful odyssey we had the opportunity to become god-parents to the daughter of a dear friend. We embraced this new responsibility and more or less “adopted” my friend and her family. This gave me some consolation – both for my loss and my son’s. Elliott became a “god-brother” and Nelson, a “god-dog!” While it’s not exactly the same – and he really only started enjoying her once she turned three – he is experiencing many aspects of being a brother:  her adoration, looking out for her safety, playing with and performing for her, and protecting his possessions from her. And on a recent shopping trip he picked out a pair of pajamas for himself that proclaimed “big brother” on the front.  There’s definitely more than one way to “make” a family.

7 Steps to a Toxin Free Home

Last updated on March 12th, 2018 at 10:10 am

Your home should be a safe place, free of toxins and environmental hazards — but is yours really safe for your family? Because children’s bodies are still developing, they’re especially susceptible to toxins, which could be lurking in your house. Fortunately, you can take these seven easy steps to reduce the risks that lie under your own roof. Here’s how:

1. Clean smarter and more often.

“The greatest exposure to toxins children face may be from household dust,” says Timonie Hood, the Green Building Coordinator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Kids get dust on their hands from crawling on the floor or touching the top of the coffee table, exposing themselves to dust mites, mold and pet dander, all of which can trigger allergies and asthma attacks. How can you avoid the risk? “Get a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter and use it twice a week,” says Hood. “You should also dust every few days with a slightly damp cloth so you’re not just returning dust to the air.” To further reduce the risks of dust, get rid of some of the items in your home that trap it, such as unnecessary drapes, carpeting, throw pillows and stuffed animals.

2. Get rid of cigarettes.

“Stop smoking, even if you only smoke outside,” says Dr. Dennis Woo, a physician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Kids in households with any level of smoking have been shown to suffer higher rates of respiratory disease.” When you smoke, toxins like particulates and nicotine get on your clothes and hands, and when you come inside the house, so do the toxins. Likewise, don’t let others smoke in or around your home or car.

3. Take off your shoes when you come inside.

Since your shoes have daily contact with all kinds of toxins (pesticides, lead, mold and more), leave them at the door when you step inside the house. Otherwise, those chemicals will transfer to your floors, where kids are likely to come into contact with them.

4. Switch to natural cleaners.

Commercial cleaners may make cleaning easier, but they could also contain toxic chemicals like carcinogens, respiratory irritants and even pesticides. Instead, try nontoxic, natural cleaners: For example, a mixture of baking soda and vinegar can clean tubs and toilets. Salt is good for scrubbing kitchen sinks, and borax (available at supermarkets) works wonders for laundry.

5. Stop using pesticides.

According to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, kids who live in households that use pesticides are over six times more likely to have childhood leukemia. But you don’t need to spray to keep household pests away. Banish bugs naturally by repairing window screens, keeping trash in closed containers and sprinkling environmentally friendly boric acid (available at hardware stores) in gaps between walls and floors before you seal them. And don’t use pesticides on your lawn, either: They not only present risks to kids playing outside but will also inevitably be tracked inside.

6. Get rid of toxic houseplants.

The leading cause of poisoning in children is houseplants, according to the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, so make sure all of yours are nontoxic, and get rid of any that aren’t — including oleander, hyacinth and daffodils, to name a few. Find a list of poisonous plants by searching online.

7. Stay safe around lead paint.

If your home was built before 1978, chances are it contains lead paint. By this time, it’s probably been covered with layers of lead-free paint and isn’t much of a health risk as long as it’s not peeling or chipping. But sanding or scraping any walls that were once covered with lead paint can release toxic lead dust throughout your home, which could damage kids’ brain and nervous system. So before you start your project, call a professional and get your paint tested. If it does contain lead, contact a lead abatement specialist or EPA-certified lead professional to help you deal with it.