Back Back-to-School Is Prime Time for Pediatricians

Back-to-School Is Prime Time for Pediatricians

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Back-to-school season isn’t just busy for retailers; pediatricians and other healthcare providers who work closely with children and teens know it is one of their busiest times of the year. 

“Pediatricians definitely rev up for the back-to-school time,” said pediatrician Candice Jones, MD, FAAP, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). 

Many families wait until just before school starts to bring their children into the doctor’s office. Some visits are regular well-child visits, while others are sports physicals. Some parents have realized that they need updated paperwork on medical conditions and medications for their children. The end result is that back to school season is a very hectic time for everyone who provides healthcare to children. 

“That’s when we are super busy,” said Jones, who also hosts her own blog and podcast that promotes pediatric health and wellness.

As the rest of the year unfolds, providers might consider asking parents to schedule their children’s regular well-child check-ups around their birthdays, or at times other than right before school starts. You can reassure them that you can do all the necessary tasks to give them a sports clearance at the well-child visit, even if the appointment occurs earlier in the year. 

“It saves time for parents to not have to come back in again,” said Jones.

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The health and learning connection

As any school administrator or teacher can tell you, it’s important for kids to be healthy so they’ll be well-prepared to learn.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that healthy behaviors are associated with academic achievement. Kids who eat a healthy diet and have opportunities for physical activity are likely to do better. They tend to have better attendance rates, lower drop-out rates, fewer behavioral problems, and better grades and test scores. But providers may need to dig a little deeper to address all the physical, emotional and mental factors affecting a child’s health and his or her readiness to learn.

The back-to-school list for children’s health and wellness

Each provider may have his or her own list of pediatric health concerns to address with parents and kids as the new school year starts, but some common topics you may want to cover include:

Nutrition and exercise. Talking to patients and their families about the importance of eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is a year-round concern, and back to school is a good time to review this advice. A 2018 study published in Pediatricsfound that 1 in 5 children in the United States are considered obese, and this childhood epidemic can lead to lifelong health issues. The National Institute for Child Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) has an online toolkit for pediatricians and other primary care providers working with children who are already overweight or at risk of being overweight.

Vaccinations. Many schools, both public and private, require proof of certain vaccinations at various points, often for kindergarten students and 7th graders. This requirement drives many parents to the pediatrician’s office to make sure their kids are up to date. Pediatricians and their staff can remind parents of the importance of getting the recommended vaccinations in a timely manner. ( Learn more about having conversations with parents about vaccinations.)

Backpack safety. If you’ve ever winced at the sight of a preteen with a giant, heavy backpack dangling off one shoulder, you’re not alone. Talk to your patients about the importance of using an appropriately-sized backpack that’s not too heavy--and wearing it correctly.  “What we are trying to do is limit musculoskeletal injury,” said Jones. 

Sleep. A good night’s sleep is crucial for children to be well-rested enough to perform at school. Families may have let bedtimes slide during the summertime, and the start of new school year is an impetus to get everyone back on schedule.“You should start moving back the bedtime at least one week before school starts,” said Nikola Djordjevic, MD, medical advisor for DisturbMeNot!, a website that highlights sleep issues. “This will make it easier for kids to get used to a regular sleeping routine.” 

Sports safety. The school sports physical is often the impetus for kids to visit the pediatrician’s office in the weeks before school starts, which is required before they can play. While you’re signing off on the sports clearance paperwork, it’s also a good opportunity to remind parents about safety precautions and to educate them or provide information about concussions and other issues. 

Asthma and allergies.
You may be fielding lots of requests for updated asthma and allergy plans as kids return to school. Many schools require new paperwork at the start of each year.  If the parents haven’t already spoken to the school nurse and other staff about their child’s issues, encourage them to do so.

Medications. Pediatrician offices may also be receiving harried requests for new prescriptions or refills of prescriptions for asthma inhalers, epinephrine auto-injectors, and allergy medications, as well as medications for other conditions like ADHD and seizure disorders. 

Bullying. According to the Stop Bullying Now Foundation, 60 percent of middle school students and 20 percent of all children report that they’ve been bullied. It’s always a good time to talk to kids about recognizing behavior that could be harmful and speaking up. Pediatricians may find the AAP’s online resources for bullying and cyberbullying useful. 

Smooth transitions.
The start of a new school year can make some kids anxious and fretful, or exacerbate any existing anxiety issues. Remind parents to pay attention to their children’s moods and to convey that they’re always available to listen to their children’s concerns. Parents can also help them develop some coping skills to make things easier in the future, said Jones.

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