A new school year is a fresh start for children and teens to engage in learning, play organized sports and foster friendships. For parents, it’s also an opportunity to evaluate children’s overall health and well-being to ensure they have the tools they need for a successful year ahead. Dr. Victoria Regan, vice president of the Women’s and Children’s Service Line for Memorial Hermann Health System and a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics, shares top tips for starting school safely.
Children and teens who play sports or are involved in other organized physical activities are typically required to complete a form showing proof of a recent physical exam to ensure that they are healthy enough to participate. When a child comes in for an exam for sports clearance, pediatricians measure weight, height, blood pressure and heart rate in addition to performing vision and hearing screenings. From a medical standpoint, this physical exam ensures that your child is healthy enough to participate in physical activity. If your child has had COVID-19 in the past year or has a strong family history of heart disease, your health care provider may recommend additional heart screening, including an EKG. This is not necessary for every child, but share any concerns you have with your physician, especially if your child has experienced extreme shortness of breath or chest pain after exercise. Health care providers will also want to know about any history of seizures, asthma or allergies. These physical exams ensure that your child has the tools he or she needs to remain healthy while participating in sports.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that every child have at least one well child visit annually. This comprehensive exam includes all components of a “sports physical,” but also evaluates overall health and well-being and compares notes from the previous year to monitor growth and development, review health history and go over any concerns you may have. During a well child visit, be sure to provide as much information as possible to your pediatrician. This includes any trips to an urgent care facility or the emergency room, as well as major life changes such as a divorce, death of a loved one, a new sibling or a new home. If your child complains of any chronic issues or has seen a specialist for any reason, please share that information with your pediatrician.
During a well child exam, health care providers also:
This information is important to your child’s overall well-being and can help your provider evaluate concerns and identify any underlying issues or conditions that may need to be addressed.
Vaccines are safe and effective and have saved countless lives. Being vaccinated also protects others, including people with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing cancer treatment and babies who are too young to be vaccinated. In recent years, a growing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, which is causing a reemergence of some diseases that used to be extremely rare, including measles and, more recently, polio. This is why it is so important that as many people as possible get vaccinated so that we can protect each other.
In addition, the vaccine schedule recommended by the AAP that we follow in the U.S. has been studied extensively and has been shown to reduce your child’s risk of acquiring certain diseases. Pediatricians strongly recommend following the recommended vaccine schedule to reduce your child’s risk of catching and transmitting contagious diseases. The schedule includes the flu vaccine each year, the HPV vaccine beginning at ages 11 to 12, as well as the meningococcal vaccine before kids go off to college.
Epidemiologists predict that COVID-19 will become endemic like the flu. Based on current information, the virus and its variants will remain in circulation, with annual outbreaks that ebb and flow. Just like the flu vaccine, it is recommended that children ages 6 months and older get the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here for more information about dosing, safety, and how effective the vaccine can be in protecting children.
Although the best way to protect children from COVID-19 is vaccination, if numbers climb and there is a surge in cases in your community, we also recommend that kids wear masks at school as an added layer of protection. In addition, children should always practice good hand hygiene (wash hands thoroughly while singing the Happy Birthday song twice), and proper nutrition and exercise will also help keep their immune systems strong.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the mental health of many children. Early in the pandemic, pediatricians saw issues related to isolation and fear, as well as loss of routines and structure. Many kids now have gaps in their education as a result of challenges related to virtual learning. Significant life events were disrupted, and children may feel a loss of security and safety, and pediatricians are continuing to see the long-term effects of the pandemic.
Parents should focus on helping their kids feel loved while providing a sense of structure, safety and security. As a parent, you should never feel scared to ask for extra help, as there are plenty of resources available and pediatricians can help point you in the right direction. Talk with your health care provider about any questions or concerns you may have.
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