Health Break | Published September 23, 2010

Keeping Kids Healthy in School

It's no surprise that kids who are healthy and attend school regularly do better in school. Healthy kids are usually higher achievers and have less discipline problems. Here are some ways to help keep your child healthier this year.

1) Make sure immunizations are up to date. This protects both your child and the community at large. Vaccines of top priority are those for measles, mumps and rubella, the second dose for chicken pox, the vaccine for whooping cough and the meningococcal vaccine for ages 11 to 64. Ask your child's pediatrician if they recommend a flu shot as well.

2) Remind your child to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water; a quick splash of water does not really kill the germs. Proper hand washing can reduce the number of colds and stomach illnesses kids get in schools by 25-50%, according to some studies. Schools can be germy places and kids touch many surfaces throughout the day, from desk tops to handrails and bathroom doors. Remind your child to wash their hands before and after lunch. Hand sanitizers can replace hand washing when needed.

3) Teach your child how to cover their mouth properly when they cough. Show them how to use an arm, tissue or even a sleeve. Coughing into a hand is not effective because it spreads germs when contact is made to surfaces.

4) Make sure your child eats a good breakfast. Quick, nutritious breakfasts could include milk with ready-to-eat cereals that are low in sugar; a toasted bagel and cheese or peanut butter; yogurt; a fruit smoothie; or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread. The State of Minnesota Breakfast Study found that students who ate breakfast before school not only had higher math and reading scores, but they also had increased attention, reduced nurse visits and improved student behavior.

5) Don't send your child to school if they have a fever; this could be a sign of a cold or flu. Call the pediatrician’s (or physician’s) office if a fever of 101 persists for more than 3-5 days.

6) If your child has an infection -- such as strep throat, an ear or sinus infection or a skin infection -- and the doctor prescribes antibiotics, make sure they take the full dose as prescribed. Antibiotics are not effective at treating colds, bronchitis, the flu or runny noses. Children recover from these illnesses on their own.

7) Remember to thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables because germs can potentially grow on these surfaces.

8) Encourage your child to sign up for sports, or make sure they exercise regularly on their own. We all know that exercise is good for us, and kids particularly benefit from physical activity. Exercise helps build youngsters’ cardiovascular systems, lowers cholesterol levels and helps prevent childhood obesity. In addition, sports can help improve your child's self-esteem and overall energy levels.

Lela Brink, MD, board-certified in pediatrics and pediatric critical care, has been a member of the pediatric department of Geisinger-Gray’s Woods since 1998. Dr. Brink is a member of the medical staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center.