As a parent, you want to set your kids up for a healthy school year.
Pediatrician Michael McCabe shared advice and offered detailed plans to help you do just that. He addressed everything from proper nutrition and sports safety to anxiety, common infections and even how to deal with lice.
“We need to help kids grow, help them understand how their body’s work and communicate with them,” said Dr. McCabe, a physician for Akron Children’s inpatient unit at Aultman Hospital. “Listen to their struggles, know what they need and let them know they are valued, important and loved.”
Dr. McCabe recommends the following strategies to help your kids have a healthy school year.
WHBC: How important is a good breakfast for school age kids?
MCCABE: Refueling is the most important part of the morning. Before we rise, our bodies go through metabolic changes. You go on vacation, you don’t want to run your car on vapors and hope you make it to the next gas station. Kids peter out on sugary breakfasts. They need protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. For picky eaters there are plenty of websites to creatively incorporate these foods into the child’s diet. Parents need to sit down with their kids and plan together – shop together and pick healthy foods that their child will actually eat. Some kids need to plan to get up earlier; others do fine eating right before the bus comes. You just need to know your kids and plan with them.
WHBC: How much breakfast is enough?
MCCABE: Every kid is different but those who eat foods that digest slower such as eggs, yogurt or a protein bar do better during the school day than those who skip breakfast. Try different foods that you know your child will try, and again, make a plan.
WHBC: What’s the story regarding food allergies. It seems like we’re bombarded with more and more cases?
MCCABE: There have been interesting studies showing that in certain populations where peanut allergies are on the rise, babies were exposed to things like peanut butter at an early age. The message here is – wait until they’re a little older to expose them, especially if you have risk factors for allergies. It’s important to add that vaporized peanut dust does not cause an allergic reaction. It’s passed from direct exposure such as kids sharing their lunches. The solution is to have everyone wash their hands, keep a clean eating space, and above all, educate everyone about the risks.
WHBC: Why does it seem like the incidence of allergies is on the rise?
MCCABE: Allergies have been around forever. One theory is they were under documented in the past. One important preventive measure is to have epinephrine available at all times.
WHBC: How should parents of kids with special needs prepare for school?
MCCABE: Parents should meet with the child’s teacher very early in the school year and again midyear. It generally takes 1-2 months for a child to settle into the school year so a second meeting is key. Everybody wants to be the same and we need to help kids understand that no one is the same.
WHBC: What are some strategies for parents to deal with their child’s separation anxiety?
MCCABE: The biggest area of anxiety for kids is the unexpected. Kids need to know what to expect. A parent’s attitude about this issue is very important. You can convince some anxious kids that it’s going to be OK, others need pre-planning. For these kids, you need to provide other opportunities such as play dates and set activities where the child is separated from the parent.
WHBC: How do you understand what your kids are thinking when they aren’t talking to you?
MCCABE: Listening is important. Listening to your kid’s stories may tell you what’s going on or finding out whom they are talking to. Kids who don’t communicate with a parent are usually talking to someone. With my son, it was his sister. It’s important to see how your child sees things and communicate that to the classroom if there are issues.
WHBC: What do you do when a child’s nerves and anxieties cause accidents such as wetting?
MCCABE: Toilet accidents are a big thing. Sometimes it’s caused by not knowing a child’s routine. During the summer, many kids don’t have structure so they need to practice prior to the school routine. After school is in full swing they usually do OK.
It’s important to teach your kids that they can gain control.
WHBC: What about medical issues and concerns with the school-age child?
MCCABE: The biggest issue with allergies is the risk for anaphylactic shock so parents and teachers need to have a preventive plan. The same goes for asthma and diabetes. Regarding seizure disorders, most kids are not symptomatic but again communication is key. With attention deficit disorder, goals need to be set and parents need to be an integral part of educational planning. With kids on the autism spectrum, it’s important for parents to let teachers know about their triggers. The more teachers know about the child’s special needs, the more the child is set up for success.
WHBC: What are preventative sport injury strategies?
MCCABE: Pre-participation check-ups are very important and should include a review of past injuries. Parents should also make sure their student athletes are balancing sleep and study as well as nutritional needs. Female athletes often worry more about body image and sometimes aren’t getting enough calories and hydration. As to performance-enhancing supplements, most of them are junk. Some vitamin supplements are OK but parents need to be fully involved with their kids to find out what they’re all about.
WHBC: What are your tips on head injuries and concussions?
MCCABE: 90% of kids who have concussions don’t get knocked out. Any head injury where you have cognitive effects needs to be checked out by a physician. The brain is like a snow globe. When it gets shook up, it needs time to settle down. After any head injury, parents should pay attention to a child’s sleeping patterns, moods, memory and school performance. As to second concussion syndrome, some brains can handle shots to the head better than others. When in doubt, get it checked out. Neck injuries are also something to be mindful about because for some kids, the neck isn’t fully calcified and is more susceptible to injury.
WHBC: As to the issue of girls and puberty and what to do about helping them to handle their period at school?
MCCABE: Parents need a plan and to assure their daughters not to be afraid of this natural body function. One strategy is to advise them not to wear tight white clothes to school. The family’s physician can also be very helpful in this area.
WHBC: How about safety tips for getting to and from school?
MCCABE: As to the bus, review the safety guidelines with your children for entering and exiting and especially crossing the street. Be wary of how much your kids are carrying back and forth. Backpacks should be no more than 10-15% of a child’s body weight. Regarding biking, helmets are a necessity. Head injuries from bike accidents can be life changing. Check to see if kids know hand signals if they are biking to school and parents should go on a pre-run with the kids in order to review hazards on the route.
WHBC: What do you think about cell phones and kids?
MCCABE: Greater than 50% of kids 0 to 12 years and 80% of teens have cell phones. These can be useful for kids with health issues or those who are alone when they get home, but there are hazards too. Parents need to use filtering software and set reasonable limits. Some parents even write contracts with their kids. As to broken phones, my kids broke theirs numerous times, but of course it was never their fault.
WHBC: How do we protect our kids from lice?
MCCABE: Tell kids to avoid sharing hats, scarves and lying down next to each other. But if they get lice, we can deal with it. We do more harm by scaring kids about lice prevention. Mistakes parents make in treating lice include using cream rinse after the recommended shampoo treatment, not combing out the lice nits and not changing the bed linens. Education in schools is the biggest preventive measure. Once again, having a plan with your kids and their teachers can lead to successful prevention.