Many adults still feel the draw of a ‘new year’ come September, even years after they last attended school. This is especially true for those with children who are now getting ready for back-to-school. There is the anticipation of reconnecting with friends, a new teacher, new clothes and supplies and maybe even a new school. Back to school also offers an excellent opportunity to establish, or re-establish positive routines and healthy habits.
Heading back to school is a good time to review your child’s immunization record. The first time your child enters school or preschool is also a time they will be exposed to new bugs and infections. Colds and flu, certainly, but potentially more serious illnesses as well. That is why immunizations are particularly important. Starting at age four (before starting kindergarten) all children usually receive two vaccines which will protect them against a number of serious diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox.
Looking over that list one might wonder why we still vaccinate. After all, aren’t these infections rare in BC and in Canada? Routine childhood vaccination programs have been successful in limiting these infections, but they are not eradicated — cases of preventable diseases pop up every year. Vaccines are safe and given the choice between a vaccination and the disease it guards against, protecting a child should be paramount. In a case where someone at school has a vaccine-preventable infectious disease, unprotected children may be asked to stay home until it is safe to return.
Vancouver Coastal Health has an excellent PDF booklet about the immunization choice you make for your child. The booklet includes links to many other resources that can help explain why your child deserves to be protected.
The September school return offers the opportunity to get back to healthier eating habits. Mealtimes may have become more random and food choices not as healthy over the summer so this is a perfect time to rethink eating habits.
One of the best routines to establish is eating breakfast. Skipping this meal decreases school performance and may contribute to overeating later, particularly if lunch is also missed. A candy bar and giant soda are no substitute for breakfast and lunch.
While a sit-down breakfast is ideal, we all know it is not always possible. The next best thing is to give your kids a grab-and-go breakfast that could include fresh or dried fruit, cheese, low-sugar grain cereal, yoghurt or a homemade smoothie. Whatever the choice, make sure to include a protein, especially for lunch.
Lunch can be a different challenge since you won’t be there. Do you want to make sure your child eats his or her lunch? Get them involved either by having them make it themselves, or have them help you decide and prepare the lunch. Having your child pack it themselves also helps build confidence.
Physical activity is another routine which has been shown to benefit children by making them not only healthier, but also happier and more ready to learn. Participating in sports, organized or not, helps them to make friends, develop new skills and improve self-confidence. And just getting to school can be a great link to more physical activity. Children who walk, ride or ‘skate’ to school benefit from the activity, which contributes to the development of many other healthy habits.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.