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Get your kids ready for a new school year

It may seem like summer just got started, but check out the calendar — it’s already time for school!

While you’re rounding up notebook paper and No. 2 pencils, remember to keep these important health tips in mind from the experts at RUSH University Medical Center.

Rested and ready
One of the best ways to get ready for the new school year is to start with a good night’s sleep.

“There’s just no doubt about it — a rested brain learns better,” says Edward Stepanski, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at RUSH.

How much sleep is enough? According to Stepanski, a typical five-year-old needs about 11 hours of sleep, a 14-year-old about nine hours and an 18-year-old just over eight hours a night.

Hyperactivity, trouble concentrating or a short attention span may be signs that your child needs more sleep.

In young children, perhaps the most common sleep-related problem is bedtime resistance, Stepanski says. That is when kids try to delay going to bed, perhaps by asking for one more story or another drink of water.

But letting kids stay up late means they aren’t getting the sleep they need, and sleep deprivation can lead to other sleep disorders such as night terrors, sleepwalking and bedwetting.

Typically, these complaints go away without medical treatment as children age, but if your child has sleep problems that concern you, speak to your pediatrician, Stepanski advises.

You can help your child sleep better by calmly and firmly ignoring your child’s protests to stay up later, setting limits and enforcing a regular sleep schedule, recommends Stepanski. Avoid big meals and caffeine close to bedtime, keep the bedroom dark and quiet and include time to relax before bed.

Morning fuel
It is also important that kids get the right food to fuel their school day.

“Probably the most important thing is not to leave the house without eating breakfast,” says Kristin Gustashaw, a registered dietitian at RUSH.

Good breakfast options, she says, might include a bowl of cereal, milk and a serving of fruit, or a smoothie made with yogurt, fruit and some nuts. When there isn’t time for a sit-down breakfast, give your child a granola bar and juice box for the ride to school.

Give lunch a punch
When it’s time to load that lunchbox, aim for more fruits and vegetables and fewer fats and sweets.

“You want to represent multiple food groups and to make sure it’s something that kids will eat,” Gustashaw says. Try to include a fruit, a vegetable, a good protein source such as peanut butter, whole-grain bread and milk from school.

Get your kids involved in lunch preparation. That way they can learn about healthy foods and make their preferences known.

If your child eats from the school cafeteria, look over the lunch menu each week to see if there are days when brown-bagging it would be better, Gustashaw recommends. For example, if the cafeteria lunch comes with heavy gravies, sauces or creams, or is deep fried, it would be better to avoid it.

For information on nutrition services at Rush, visit our Nutrition and Wellness Center.

Get active!
“Twenty-five percent of children in Chicago are considered obese and another 15 to 20 percent are at risk of obesity,” says Jeff Mjaanes, MD, a pediatrician at RUSH Children’s Hospital and a sports medicine specialist.

Parents who want their children to maintain a healthy weight should encourage physical activity.

Activities can range from gardening to bike riding to going for a run. Taking part in school sports or joining a playground game can also be great ways for kids to stay in shape.

Exercise some caution
Increasing activity brings with it a risk of sports-related injuries, but most of those injuries can be avoided. Preventing injury starts with proper rest and nutrition, Mjaanes says, but it also includes at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular training three or more times a week, and strength training with weights or elastic exercise bands.

“Multiple studies show that supervised strength training with a focus on technique can increase strength in kids and that may help prevent injuries in a lot of sports,” Mjaanes says. “I usually recommend people go to a place like a fitness club or the YMCA to learn the right way to train with weights.”

And no matter what the sport, kids need the right equipment. Make sure that football helmet is properly fitted and adjusted, and the correct shin guards are used for soccer. And don’t forget those bike helmets!

Finally, if your child takes part in organized sports, sign him or her up for a sports physical first.

“All kids, teens and college athletes should have an annual pre-participation sports physical exam by a physician who can listen for heart murmurs and assess musculoskeletal injuries,” says Mjaanes.

Allergies and asthma
If your child has a particular health concern — such as allergies or asthma — make sure the school is aware of it.

Find out if school personnel know how to spot worsening symptoms and know who to call in an emergency, says Anita Gewurz, MD, director of the allergy and immunology fellowship program at RUSH.

If your child uses an asthma inhaler, be sure you understand the school’s rules for its use. Some schools allow kids to carry theirs with them; others require children to come to a teacher when they need the medicine.

For information on allergy and immunology services at Rush, visit the home page for the department of allergy and immunology.

Watch for classroom allergens
Several classroom irritants might aggravate allergies or asthma. If your child’s allergies are normally under control but start acting up once school begins, your child may be reacting to the classroom pet’s animal dander, to pollen on the playground or to dust mites in the carpet, among other things.

Gewurz recommends checking in with your child’s doctor before school starts so that he or she can assess the level of allergy and asthma control, do a physical exam and update prescriptions if needed.

Also, children with asthma and allergies should definitely get an annual flu shot, she says: “What really triggers asthma in children are viral infections such as the flu.”

Talk to your doctor about getting your child medically ready for school. And take heart — summer 2006 will be here before you know it.

To schedule your child’s back-to-school physical with a pediatrician at RUSH, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).

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