It’s crunch time for parents of school-aged children, as Clovis Unified students head back to school Monday, Aug. 22
Pediatricians’ offices are packed with intermediate and high school student-athletes needing sports physicals and younger kids needing vaccinations.
Dr. Brian Guthrie, who works in Kaiser Permanente’s Clovis Medical Offices, has been a pediatrician for more than three decades. He offers the following tips to families who want to give their children the best start to the new school year:
1. Catch up on vaccinations
With SB 277 now in effect, every student in California must be immunized to attend school — personal and religious exemptions are no longer allowed. Some medical exemptions are still allowed, Guthrie said.
“Most people are just going to have to homeschool or get caught up,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids in the last six months who are all of a sudden getting immunized, which is good for the public sector, but they were lucky enough to not get some of those diseases.”
Students are required to be on track to becoming fully vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox.
“This is such an important thing because we’ve seen so much pertussis in the last 10 years,” Guthrie said of the highly contagious respiratory disease more commonly known as whooping cough. The bacterial disease can be fatal in infants.
Visit www.shotsforschool.org for information on vaccination requirements.
Clovis Unified does not require a TB skin test for students entering kindergarten, although students entering state-funded preschool programs must be tested.
2. Start a sleep schedule
Summertime is the season for staying up late and sleeping in long after the sun comes up, but poor sleeping patterns can wreck havoc on kids.
Elementary school children and teenagers need about nine hours of sleep a night, Guthrie said, while preschool and kindergarteners need 10 to 12 hours.
“Like food and water, sleep is right up there with those essentials and we ignore it too often,” he said.
Now is the time to prepare kids for the upcoming school routine. The easiest way to do this, Guthrie said, is by starting a mandatory wake-up time, rather than a mandatory bedtime.
“If they’re tired, they can go to bed early to catch up on their sleep, but by eliminating sleeping in you eliminate that jet lag kind of feeling. Don’t let them sleep more than an hour beyond their normal wakeup time during school.”
3. Rethink your drink
“We find kids gain a lot of weight over the summer because kids are bored and have access to food at home all the time and mom and dad may not be home as much,” Guthrie said. “As you start a new school year, the family has a chance to reset and ditch these convenience foods and eat healthy this year.”
One of the biggest culprits of childhood weight gain is fruit juice, Guthrie said.
“Juice has more calories than every soda on the market, and yet the advertising industry would have you believe that it’s as good as the fruit it came from,” he said. “I tell my patients that fruit is best consumed in its original packaging, because as soon as you make juice out of it, you’ve taken all the sugar and water and eliminated the fiber and you have this high-calorie beverage -- 15 percent more calories than any soda on the market today.”
Replacing a serving of juice with a large glass of water can make a huge impact.
4. Minimize screen time
From TVs to computers to cell phones to tablets, this generation of kids have been raised in front of screens, Guthrie said, and that has resulted in a loss of interpersonal interactions.
“Families should create safe zones, like no phones at the table, or turn off all electronics by 8 p.m.,” he suggested. “Minimizing screen time forces kids to use their brains in different ways and their bodies in healthier ways. It encourages more family activities.”
Parents should limit screen time for kids to two hours or less, Guthrie said.
“Once your two hours are up, you’re done for the day. Find another way to entertain yourself,” he said. “Getting TVs out of bedrooms is very, very important, and gaining control over where (kids and teens) have their laptops and their phones.”
5. Talk about transition
Entering intermediate school and high school can be particularly stressing times for students, Guthrie said.
“Those are transition years where a lot of teens struggle with the social aspects of school and peer pressure,” he said.
Before the school year starts, parents should open the door of communication with their child to help them cope with stress, Guthrie said.
“It’s more common now to see depression and anxiety in teens, and I think a lot of that has to do with the ability to compete both academically and socially in school,” he said. “Parents need to be on the alert for teens who are withdrawing from the family or not doing things they used to like to do. You’re going to see it in your child’s behavior.”
Stress in children and teens often manifests in physical ailments, like chronic headaches or stomachaches,” Guthrie said.
“Our brain has the unending capacity to make us feel miserable. We can create all these sensations of pain, stomachaches, headaches, from stress hormones,” he said. “When kids are complaining about a lot of things that don’t makes sense, I think about what’s going on with them psychologically.”