What the School Nurse Wants you to Know (BEFORE School Starts)

answer-nurse-2The new school year is coming fast, and chances are you’ve already been shopping for backpacks, binders, and the latest designer jeans. Kiddos everywhere are buzzing about this year’s teacher and which friends will be in their class. Who’s the most forgotten, under appreciated professional in the mix? The school nurse, that’s who. But mark my words, you may need her/him one day, and all parents depend on the expertise they bring to the party. Listen up, this info is key.

Schedule a well-child visit with Kiddo’s doctor well before the first day of school to make sure immunizations are current and any health needs are covered. We know kids who were forced to stay home for the first few days because they were missing critical vaccines that could put others at risk.. Don’t let this happen to yours!

Start moving bedtimes and wake-up times back at least two weeks ahead. This might be tough to enforce, but if you do it gradually (15 minutes at a time is optimal) you’ll be glad you stuck to it. Otherwise, those first few mornings can be stressful, taking all the joy out of the new school year and leaving Kiddo yawning through much of the day.

Teach Kiddo to sneeze or cough into the elbow. Common germs spread like wildfire in the close quarters of the classroom, and can travel up to 3 feet. Covering mouths with little hands doesn’t help much when those little hands go on to touch everything in sight. The crook of the elbow, on the other hand, will catch those droplets without contaminating desktops and other objects.

Yes, we’re going to beat this drum one more time: Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness. If you make it a regular thing at home (before meals, after outdoor play, whenever they use the restroom, any other time there’s a break in the action) they’re much more likely to continue it at school. It’s habit-forming in a good way.

If Kiddo has a temperature higher than 100 degrees, body aches with sleepiness, or is coughing or vomiting, you need to keep him home until he is free of symptoms for 24 hours. Sending kids to school sick gives other parents permission to do the same — NOT okay, right? As hard as it is, KEEP ‘EM HOME!

Send Kiddo to school with a healthy lunch, and plenty of water to help active children stay hydrated. Load up the lunchbox with a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables to keep energy high and focus tip top. Apples, pears, berries, dried fruit, nuts, baby carrots, cauliflower, and edamame are easy to pack — and fun to eat. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks. No — fruit juice is not the same as fruit. It’s just sugar and water.

Don’t assume Kiddo is getting enough physical activity at school. Giving kids a chance to move and get their heart rates up before studying makes it easier for them to learn. Don’t have big chunks of time for exercise? Try short 15-minute bursts of running, jumping, or games to keep them interested and active.

Encourage Kiddo to talk about the anxiety he may feel about starting school. Remind him he’s not the only one feeling nervous and that teachers are there to help. Start talking about what to expect during the coming year, and make it fun. Make lists, like, The 10 best things about third grade, or whatever. Take advantage of resources like friends who have older kids.

Take Kiddo to visit the school nurse so she knows where the office is and can meet her/him  before school starts. That way, if something comes up she won’t be a stranger. This is doubly important if you have a preteen and are expecting her period to start in the coming year, or if there’s a health condition like asthma that’s likely to pop up. Familiarity breeds comfort, not contempt.

Finally, if Kiddo takes any medication regularly, visit the nurse together and go over the routine. Don’t depend on the medication form you filled out to communicate for you. A face-to-face visit is worth a thousand (written) words, and will reassure Kiddo that all is under control.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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