The first day of school always requires preparations -- notebooks, pens and a new set of clothes. But don't forget to prepare for your child's health, says Dr. Joan Bregstein, a physician in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. Dr. Bregstein provides parents and caregivers with 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 often don't recognize that they may have inadequate vision. If your child wears glasses, be sure that the prescription is current.
• Have your child's hearing tested. Most states now mandate hearing tests for babies, but many school-age children still have not been tested. If your child is listening to the television or music at a very high volume, or tends to favor one ear over the other when listening to you speak, this may be a sign of hearing loss.
• Be equipped for sports. All children who wear glasses should wear sports frames when participating in sports activities. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends one-piece wraparound polycarbonate sports frames for all contact sports, including soccer, field hockey and basketball, and gym class.
• Are your child's immunizations up to date? Check with your child's pediatrician. 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.
• Have you noticed your child scratching his or her scalp since camp ended? It may be a sign that a case of 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 by itself, but it can be treated with over-the-counter remedies.
• 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 health care issues and medication needs. Be sure to speak with them before school begins, and work out an emergency course of action in case of a problem. Make sure emergency medications are close at hand and that your child, his or her teacher, and the nurse know where to find them.
• Is your child anxious and apprehensive? Most children are naturally 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 the teacher so that you can identify the source of the anxiety and work out a solution.
• Do you suspect a learning disability or dyslexia? If you suspect that your child is having difficulty processing information, speak to the teacher or learning center in your child's school as soon as possible. A professional diagnosis usually requires two days of testing.
• Does your child eat breakfast? Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert in class. Also, be sure that your child has a balanced, nutritious lunch, whether it is one you pack 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.
• 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. Many schools require that a series of forms and permission slips be signed by parents and submitted to the school before the first day. Make sure you have those forms and have properly completed them.
• Does your child have required summer reading? Make sure he or she has completed all summer assignments.
"Your child will have a great year in school if you make sure that the teacher understands all of your child's special needs," says Dr. Bregstein. "But remember, just as a child may be overwhelmed by school the first day, often so are the teachers."
NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital