Dr. Zach’s Back to School Health Tips 2018

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Dr. Zach’s Back to School Health Tips 2018

by Dr. Zach


Back to school is a busy and stressful time for both kids and parents.  It takes some time to get back into the school rhythm. Start preparing yourself and your kids for school early, so you are ready for day one.


Top 5 Back to School Health Tips:


  1. Get your kids’ sleep back in order
  2. Get your kids’ diet in order
  3. Backpack wisdom
  4. Phones and digital devices/screens
  5. Anxiety


Extra – checkups/vaccines, transportation safety


Get sleep schedules back on track.  Good sleep is essential for growth and optimal school performance, as well as mood and energy level.  In summer sleep schedules may shift and be less regular. Get ready for school by getting back in the habit of going to sleep at a decent hour and waking up early enough to get to school (if they’re sleeping until 11am they won’t fall asleep at 9pm).  Kids between the ages of 3 and 5 should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep a night; ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep; and teens 14 and older should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Avoid caffeine and stimulation at bedtime.


Pay attention to diet.  Start the day right with a healthy breakfast.  Model healthy eating. Don’t use food as a reward.  Limit added sugars. Have fruit, not juice. Healthy snack.  Balanced diet. Brown>white (for pasta, bread, rice). This will help maintain energy level and avoid post-sugary-binge crash.

Encourage breakfast, fruit, fibre, vegetables, protein.

Healthy eating in childhood sets good habits that kids will carry with them for life, hopefully protecting them from illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.


Get backpacks that fit well and make sure they aren’t carrying too much weight.  Kids carry more and more books as they get older, often more than they should.  International guidelines says children should carry no more than 10-15% of their bodyweight. Girls are often smaller than boys, but carry the same weight of books and homework. Recent research showed that 31% of boys carried overly heavy bags, compared to nearly 42% of girls.  The further one walks, and the less well-fitting the bag, the more pain it can cause. So get a well-fitting bag, wide, with padded shoulder straps and a padded back, use both shoulder straps, and limit the weight of the bag, but keep on walking because it’s healthy. Consider a rolling bag if there is no option but to carry a heavy load, if allowed by your school.  Back, neck, shoulder pain. Those who experience it in childhood are more likely to experience it as an adult. See more backpack recommendations below.


Phones and digital devices — if your kids have them there need to be limits on how much and what they use them for.  There are rising rates of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in youth.  Cell phones and screens aren’t clearly causing this, but they aren’t helping either (see article below).

Need to talk to your kids about using their phones responsibly.


Some use is ok, and there is peer pressure to play games with their friends, but remember it is not really being with other people.  And if they’re on their phones they are not outside running around, or really interacting, or reading, or creating.

Talk to them about safety from online content and from other people online.  Consider a program to limit their use and limit which sites they can access.


See cell phone rules, below.


Talk to your kids about what you worry about and what they are worried about.  For example, bullying, strangers, what to do in case of emergency.  Open the door for them to talk to you.

Kids can sense parental anxiety and it can make them more anxious.


Back to school Anxiety and Worries:  having friends, fitting in, clothes, teacher, schoolwork, bullying.

This may manifest as physical symptoms (abdominal pain, headache)

It’s crucial that they attend so as not to enforce avoidance and not to make things worse.  Most feel better once things begin. At school they learn not only schoolwork but also social skills, a chance to learn and master new skills, for success and mastery, to make friends.

Strategies to help – tired and hungry kids deal with stress less well.  Good sleep and eating routines, healthy snacks.

Encourage them to talk.  It is normal to be anxious — everyone is.

Work together on problem solving strategies

Talk about what they’re looking forward to

Involve the teacher if necessary

Kids should have some extracurricular activities including physical activity, which helps combat anxiety and depression.  This will also teach them life lessons about balance.


Take advantage of the time to get regular check-ups with the doctor, dentist, and optometrist.  And get vaccines updated.  Most of us are lucky enough to never have witnessed the devastating effects of the illnesses that we now prevent with vaccines.  Examples include polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. Vaccines are covered at your local CLSC.

Also, teach them good hygiene — wash hands and/or use hand sanitizer after using the restroom, after touching shared surfaces, avoid bringing dirty hands to eyes, nose, or mouth.


Other things to think about:


Review transportation safety — street crossing, car/bus/bike/walking safety

Homework – regular routine

Physical activity is important


Other than a reasonable weight, other things to consider when choosing and using a backpack:


  • Lightweight material, such as nylon instead of leather;
  • Padded double straps, to distribute the weight evenly across the shoulders (avoid one-strap, cross-body packs);
  • A belt that connects the two straps, or a waist belt, to transfer the load more evenly throughout the back and pelvic region.

If your child has a growth spurt, reassess the bag to make sure it still fits and is not too short or small. For some kids, especially older ones who have to lug heavy books, a rolling backpack may be more appropriate.

Using a Backpack Properly

Choosing the best backpack will go only so far in preventing injury and pain; kids also need to use it correctly:

  • Keep the load as light as you can. When possible, using two sets of books—one to keep at home and the other at school—may help allay some weight issues.
  • Always use both shoulder straps. They should be tightened symmetrically; not one loose and the other taut.
  • Position the pack properly. Make sure the straps fit the shoulders and chest snugly so that the bag can hug the back and not sag too low.

Some straps may loosen over time. When you first fit them, indicate with a permanent marker where the straps should be and then check them every couple of weeks to see if they need to be readjusted.


Cell phone rules from ahaparenting.com

  1. Remember that everything you send can become public. Never write a message or forward a photo or text, that you wouldn’t want forwarded to everyone in your school, plus your principal and your parents.
  2. Always ask before you forward a text or photo.  Be respectful. How would you feel if someone forwarded an unflattering photo of you?
  3. Always ask before you take a photo or video.  And even once someone has given you permission to take a photo, ask before you post it.
  4. If someone asks you to send a sexy photo… …remember that even with Snapchat (which “evaporates” the photo), the picture can be copied and forwarded to others. Anyone could see it — every kid in the school, your teachers, your parents. It happens all the time to great kids. Just don’t send it. And talk to your parents about it.
  5. If you receive a sexy photo…. immediately delete it from your phone, tell your parents, and block the number so you can’t receive more. Possession or distribution of sexual pictures of people who are under-age is illegal. If the person who sent it to you asks why, just say “It’s illegal. Let’s talk instead.”
  6. Never post your cell phone number…on Facebook, or broadcast it beyond your friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.)
  7. Never broadcast your location…except in a direct text to specific friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.) Don’t use location apps that post your location.
  8. Never respond to numbers you don’t recognize.
  9. If you receive an unsolicited text, that’s spam. Don’t click on it. Instead, tell your parents so they can report the problem and have the caller blocked.
  10. Don’t download apps without your parents’ permission.
  11. Don’t spend your baby-sitting money all in one place.  You don’t need more ringtones. Get unlimited texts so you don’t have to worry about budgeting.
  12. Don’t wear your cell phone on your body…and don’t use it if you can use a landline. Cell phones are always looking for a signal, and that means they’re sending out waves that you don’t want going through your body. Cancer? Maybe. We don’t know enough yet. So why not just be cautious?
  13. Leave your phone at a charging station in the living room overnight…so your phone is not in your room at night. It’s too tempting to respond to, and sleeping near it is bad for your brain.
  14. No cell phones at the dining room table.
  15. No cell phones out of your backpack while you’re in class.   And of course turn the sound off.
  16. Have a life.  Don’t feel obligated to respond to texts right away and don’t text until homework is done, during dinner, or after 9pm.
  17. L8R – Later! If you’re driving, turn off your cell phone…and put it in a bag where you can’t reach it in the back seat. (Make sure you have directions before you start out.) Cars kill people.

18. Nothing replaces face to face talk.  If a “friend” sends you a mean message, take a deep breath and turn off your phone.Talk to them the next day, Face to Face, about it. Never say anything via text that you wouldn’t say Face to Face.

19. Monitor your phone usage to prevent addiction.

Our brains get a little rush of dopamine every time we interact with our phones, so every text you send or receive, every post or update, feels good. Why is that a problem? Because it can distract us from other things that are important but maybe not so immediately rewarding, like connecting with our families, doing our homework, and just thinking about life. Research shows that people who use social media more often become more unhappy, because it causes them to constantly compare their lives to others, and to worry about whether they are being left out of things their friend group is experiencing.  To prevent addiction, make sure you block out time every day — like while you have dinner and do homework — when your phone is off. Also limit the number of times you check social media accounts. If you feel like that’s too hard, talk to your parents about it and ask for their help. There are programs that prevent your phone from being used at times you designate.


Depression does seem to be increasing in youth but no clear evidence that smart phones are fuelling this trend.  They probably aren’t helping though.  http://fortune.com/2018/04/06/teens-youths-mental-health-smartphones-addicted/

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay