Have a healthy, successful school year

Aug. 14, 2018

In this photo, elementary-age children are excited about the begging of school.

The first day of school is a good time to think about how to help your child have a healthy, successful year.

Dr. Dana Fitzgerald, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, shares her tips for fostering physical, emotional and social health in your child.

Physical Health

Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date, encourage a healthy diet and schedule a yearly well-child visit to review overall health and flag any potential issues. A well-child visit typically also includes a vision screen and a sports physical.

“Being able to knock out a well-check, which is really comprehensive, and getting the sports physical done at the same time is helpful,” Fitzgerald said.

It’s also a good time to remind kids of a simple but powerful practice: hand washing.

“Typically when school starts, it’s pretty quiet in the office for a week or two, then everyone’s coming in with infections they pick up at school,” Fitzgerald said. “Remind kids to wash their hands before they eat, to sneeze into elbows and not hands – those sorts of habits are helpful.”

And although backpacks may not be as heavy as they used to be, they can still cause issues.

“If a child complains about back pain, backpacks are one of the first things we talk about,” Fitzgerald said. “Kids should use a good-fitting backpack and wear both straps to help prevent aches and pain.”

Emotional Health

Foster open communication with your child by taking time to connect and ask questions.

“Talk with your kid before the school year starts and ask if they have any big concerns,” Fitzgerald said. “Trying to get those fears out in the open beforehand is a good thing.”

Also of top importance: a good sleep schedule.

“When it comes to the emotional aspect of school, I try to impress on parents the importance of sleep,” Fitzgerald said. “Sleep schedules get so messed up in summer and that’s fine, but I recommend parents move towards a school sleep schedule two or three weeks before school starts.”

Remember that kids can struggle with stress, anxiety and depression, and don’t hesitate to let a teacher know if your child deals with emotional stresses.

“Teachers are really great about helping kids through any issue, but having a heads up makes the transition smoother,” Fitzgerald said.

Social Health

For children of all ages, don’t hesitate to bring up topics such as friendships, accepting others, and dealing with bullies, especially when it comes to social media.

“Ask questions like, ‘Have you ever seen that happen on the playground,’ or ‘What does bullying look like to you,’” Fitzgerald said.

For older kids, it’s important to discuss bigger topics such as substance abuse – especially vaping and e-cigarettes.

“Vaping and e-cigarettes are horrible for your health and they’re terribly addicting,” Fitzgerald said. “The more you can open up those conversations, the better.”

Don’t worry if you’re not sure exactly what to say: just keep talking.

“There’s no right way to talk with your child. It’s more a matter of bringing things up now and then when you find the opportunity,” Fitzgerald said. “It could be that a teenager has nothing to say the first 20 times, then starts to open up because they know it’s a safe place.”


This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Aug. 13, 2018.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.