It's getting up early, rushing out the door, working hard on homework every evening, and coordinating a different crazy schedule for every member of the family. It's agonizing over packed lunches and how many different colds your child will catch in the coming months, as flu season inches nearer.
Donna Pence, a nurse practitioner from Kaiser Permanente who works full-time for the new HealthWorks Northern Virginia community clinic in Herndon, says there are simple routines families can put in place now, ahead of the first day of school, to help ensure your children stay healthy this year, all year.
First of all, Pence advises parents - try not to worry too much if your child seems to catch a lot of colds this school year, particularly for preschool and young school-age children.
After all, she says - your young child has 200 cold-causing viruses he or she needs to build up immunity to before the cold-catching wanes off.
"And, the ones who get sick often during the preschool years tend to be the healthiest school-age kids, because they’ve had the immunity all along – they’ve already been exposed to the germ pool," Pence said.
Regardless, getting sick is never fun, and Pence says there are some things families can do to try and stay healthier.
1. "The most important thing for a healthy school year, no matter what
age they are, is a healthy breakfast," Pence said.
She added, even for teenagers who like to sleep in as long as possible and head out the dinner with 10 minutes to spare, plan ahead and have grab-and-go items on hand.
"Even just grabbing a string cheese and an apple for the road can be a good breakfast and make a big difference," she explained.
Pence said, studies have shown that students who skip breakfast tend to get poorer grades in their earliest morning classes, because their brain doesn't have as much fuel as it does in classes right after lunch.
"If you don’t put gas in your tank, it's just like a car - your brain’s not going to work."
2. Get enough sleep. Pence said, the average school-age child should be getting nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and teens need eight-and-a-half to nine.
"That really is recognizably hard," she acknowledged. "And, unfortunately, it's true - you really can’t catch up on weekends. It doesn’t work."
Pence suggests families start right away, this week, getting into the new sleep routine for the school year so it's not such a shock and a struggle on the first day. Start going to bed earlier and waking up at the time you'll be getting up on school mornings now.
"Ideally, start a week before," she said.
3. Have active time after school.
"Kids are too sedentary at school - they sit all day long in the classroom, then on the bus, then while doing homework after school," she said.
Pence suggests families allow their kids time to run around and enjoy physical play, preferably outside, after school - don't wait until after homework is done.
"Especially in winter when it gets dark earlier," she said. "Sixty minutes of active exercise everyday [can make a big difference]. P.E. is not enough for most kids, and not all kids get it every day at school."
4. Do what you can to make homework time less stressful, for both the parents and the child, Pence said.
She said, that can be as simple as having a designated spot in the house for the child - and parent, if you're helping him or her - to devote to homework. It can be a desk in the child's bedroom if you have one, or even just a corner of the dining table. And, make it a non-distracting place.
"You may have to make the sacrifice and say, no TV on anywhere in the house during homework time, even for the parents," Pence said.
She also suggested having an extra set of school supplies at home, so that if your child leaves a necessary tool at school, it doesn't impede homework.
"Trying to lessen the stress of homework helps with the whole mental aspect of school overall - that school is a good place to be, and learning is a good thing," she said. "Homework should be a reinforcer, it shouldn’t be a punishment."
Anything families can do to minimize stress makes for a healthier child, Pence added.
5. Remember to get your flu shots and immunizations.
This can be a sensitive subject with some parents who have conflicting feelings about immunizations, but Pence said, "I truly believe every single child should be immunized, and, especially as we head into September and October – get your influenza vaccine."
Pence said, a child catching the flu can mean five to seven days of missed school, and missed work for parents.
"Especially for middle and high school students, missing a week of school can be devastating," she said.
Pence also addressed some parents' fears of the flu vaccine actually causing some to get the flu.
"Flu vaccines are either killed viruses, or have such a minute activity level that it cannot cause influenza," she explained. "It doesn’t cause you to get sick. A sore arm or even a slight fever perhaps, but that means it’s working. If you get sick the day after, it’s more coincidental and you probably already had been exposed."
Pence said, getting your flu shot early can also help.
"It can take two to four weeks to build up immunity. And, flu season is creeping earlier in the year," she said.
HealthWorks Northern Virginia is here for area families
HealthWorks Northern Virginia, which just opened in June, now provides medical, dental and behavioral health care to anyone in need, regardless of ability to pay or age.
The clinic will serve anyone willing to go the distance to get there, Pence said, and regularly serves patients in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Pricing is based on the patient's ability to pay, determined by income eligibility, HealthWorks representatives say.
Pence encourages anyone, regardless of their income or insurance status, to visit HealthWorks if they need a flu shot, immunizations, or a well-child exam or physical either to register for school or just to make sure you're staying healthy.
HealthWorks used to be Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic located off of Sunrise Valley. In October, it became part of the Loudoun Community Health Center.
HealthWorks is located at 1141 Elden St., Suite 300, at the corner of Alabama Avenue behind the 7-11, in Herndon.
For more information visit http://hwnova.org/.
What do you think of Nurse Pence's tips on staying healthy through the school year? What are your tips that your family lives by? Tell us in the comments below.
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