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Back to school Children's Wisconsin

Are your kids ready for the new school year?

It’s about that time on the calendar when children’s groans change from “I’m bored!” to “Summer’s over already?” Another school year is almost upon us, and in addition to making sure your young scholars have all the pens, pencils and paper they need, it’s also part of your homework to help them get straight A’s in health.

Helping kids get the proper amount of sleep

One of the biggest adjustments to getting back into the school mindset is sleep schedule. Regular bedtimes often get pushed back, or let’s face it, completely eliminated when there’s no morning bell to consider. Getting enough sleep isn’t just a matter of making those morning wakeup routines less rushed and grumpy — although it totally will do that, trust me. It also has a profound effect on your child’s overall health and academic performance.

Everyone needs to get the proper amount of sleep, but for kids it’s even more important, as a lack of sleep can hamper their development, lead to more irritability and increase the risk for weight gain. In the classroom, they will be less alert and perhaps more fidgety in an effort to stay awake. For children ages 6 to 11, it’s recommended that they get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, while teens should get at least nine. 

Here’s a tip I like to use for getting younger kiddos back into a better sleep routine as the summer bedtimes have likely gotten a little bit later. In the weeks leading up to first day of school, every 3 days or so, move their bedtime 15 minutes earlier. This will make the transition to an early bedtime less jarring and more likely to stick. 

I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but here are some steps you can take to help get your child’s sleep schedule back on track:

  • Be consistent: Resist the temptation to fudge bedtimes and wakeups.

  • Relax: Avoid exercise or stimulating activities in the evening.

  • Set the mood: Create a sleep environment that is cool, dark, quiet and comfortable.

  • Minimize screen time: Avoid having a TV or handheld tablet/gaming device in the bedroom. For kids with phones, have them charge them overnight in another room (i.e. parent’s room or kitchen) to avoid all-night Snapchat or TikTok sessions with their buddies. 

  • Set a good example: Make sleep a priority for yourself as well.

In a concerning statistic, the National Sleep Foundation reports that only 20 percent of teens get enough sleep. And a lack of sleep has other consequences than grumpiness in the morning and sleepiness in the classroom for teens. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates drowsy driving causes at least 100,000 crashes each year.

Knowing which immunizations your child needs

Another area to focus on for back-to-school health is vaccines. This is more than just a good idea as most schools require certain vaccinations before kids can attend. All that paperwork you get from the school around registration time should have the right information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helpful guidelines to determine which immunizations your child might need. In addition to the flu shot, standard vaccines for kids of all ages include the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), HepB (Hepatitis B), IPV (inactivated polio virus), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and the varicella vaccine series.

Beyond that, while August might seem a bit early to check whether your pediatrician has the flu shot or flu mist in stock, go ahead and ask. Maybe you’ll beat the rush and be sitting comfortably immunized while everyone else is scrambling after the weather turns cold. Look on the Children’s Wisconsin website and social media channels for when flu shots will be available this year. It’s typically sometime in September. 

There is also the COVID-19 vaccine to consider. The COVID-19 vaccine has been recommended for kids 6 months and older and we at Children's Wisconsin strongly encourage all eligible kids to receive it, especially those who will be going to school in the fall. The vaccine is safe, effective and an important tool to stop the spread of COVID-19 — and scheduling an appointment is easy. If your child is a Children’s Wisconsin primary care patient, you can schedule their COVID-19 vaccine first dose or booster shot through MyChart or by calling (414) 266-3959. If your child is not a Children’s Wisconsin primary care patient, you may still schedule a vaccine appointment at Children's Wisconsin by calling (414) 266-3959.

Playing sports: Physicals and heat 

If your child participates in school sports, they’ll likely need a sports physical form signed by their primary care doctor. If your teen plays high school sports, they will need a sports physical every two years to participate, according to WIAA rules. Call your child’s provider to schedule right away so there are no delays in participation.

Be careful about the heat. We know summer tends to linger into September and even October, and it’s not uncommon to see 80-90 degree temperatures. It’s also unfortunately around this time of year when we usually see those news stories of athletes suffering from heat exhaustion and stroke or, in extreme cases, death. Make sure your kids are well-hydrated, resting when needed and aware of the signs and symptoms of heat illness. No short-term athletic glory is worth sacrificing long-term health.

Getting back into the swing of things after a summer full of fun can be difficult for kids and parents alike. But preparing with a proper sleep schedule, vaccines and physicals in place can help smooth a somewhat bumpy road. Always check with your pediatrician if you have any questions about your child’s health and wellness.