The Back-to-School Checklist

Phys­i­cal exams and things to con­sid­er as you pre­pare for the back-to-school transition

From com­plet­ing school and sports phys­i­cals to sup­ply shop­ping and estab­lish­ing an ear­li­er sleep sched­ule, the back-to-school tran­si­tion can feel over­whelm­ing. Stress can have a neg­a­tive impact on your health, so it’s impor­tant to take steps to min­i­mize any anx­i­ety you and your fam­i­ly may be expe­ri­enc­ing as you pre­pare for your new rou­tine. Our team of experts share back-to-school exams your child may need and ways you can pre­pare to keep your child men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly healthy.

To address any phys­i­cal con­cerns, or depend­ing on their age, your child may need a vari­ety of exams before head­ing back to school, including:

A phys­i­cal exam

Dur­ing a phys­i­cal exam, your pedi­a­tri­cian will assess your child’s cur­rent health, any chron­ic med­ical con­di­tions includ­ing aller­gies, asth­ma, weight and nutri­tion, their activ­i­ty lev­el and address any atten­tion or behav­ioral issues that you share.

Your pedi­a­tri­cian will also review all rec­om­mend­ed vac­cines with you dur­ing the appointment.

Cer­tain extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties may also require a sport phys­i­cal, an addi­tion­al exam that ensures your child is healthy enough to engage in more stren­u­ous phys­i­cal activity.

An aller­gy or asth­ma assessment

If your child suf­fers from aller­gies or asth­ma, you should meet with an aller­gist year­ly to devel­op an action plan and to make nec­es­sary adjust­ments to med­ica­tion dosage as your child grows.

This detailed health plan pro­vides valu­able infor­ma­tion about your child’s asth­ma and/​or aller­gens and out­lines what actions and emer­gency med­ica­tions need to be tak­en in the event of an aller­gic reac­tion or asth­ma attack. 

Aller­gist, Melis­sa Robin­son, DO, encour­ages par­ents to talk with their child and to meet with their teach­ers to ensure every­one under­stands their child’s spe­cif­ic action plan. This con­ver­sa­tion should include ways to min­i­mize risk of an aller­gy expo­sure or asth­ma attack, includ­ing fre­quent hand wash­ing and avoid­ing shar­ing snacks.

Be sure to check the expi­ra­tion dates on epi­neph­rine auto injec­tors and albuterol inhalers before pro­vid­ing them to your child’s school.

An eye exam

Eye exams are not just about vision. Com­plet­ing a dilat­ed eye exam can pro­vide valu­able infor­ma­tion about the health of your child’s eyes and how their eyes work togeth­er. A child may have 20/20 vision, but if their eyes are not work­ing togeth­er, it can cause a vari­ety of symp­toms, includ­ing dou­ble vision, eye strain or headaches. This can make near­sight­ed activ­i­ties like read­ing, com­pre­hen­sion and writ­ing more difficult.

Optometrist, Matthew Hsia, OD, rec­om­mends that chil­dren with­out eye or vision prob­lems receive an eye exam at least every two years to mon­i­tor for changes, while those with glass­es or cor­rec­tive lens­es should be seen every year.

A skin exam

Acne and oth­er skin-relat­ed con­cerns may make your teen feel self-con­scious or anx­ious about head­ing back to school. Estab­lish­ing a dai­ly skin care rou­tine before the school year starts can help keep acne-prone skin look­ing its best.

Der­ma­tol­o­gist, Ash­ley Fen­er­an, DO, rec­om­mends wash­ing your face twice dai­ly (in the morn­ing and evening) with a gen­tle cleanser, avoid­ing rough or abra­sive prod­ucts and apply­ing sun­screen dai­ly, as exces­sive sun expo­sure can cause acne to flare-up.

Over-the-counter prod­ucts, includ­ing oil-free or non-come­do­genic facial mois­tur­iz­ers and prod­ucts con­tain­ing sal­i­cylic acid and ben­zoyl per­ox­ide, can help reduce breakouts.

For more per­sis­tent acne, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a der­ma­tol­o­gist to dis­cuss addi­tion­al treat­ment options, such as pre­scribed top­i­cal medications.

It can take about a month for acne prod­ucts to pro­duce results, so you should estab­lish a skin care rou­tine sev­er­al weeks before head­ing back to class.

In addi­tion to com­plet­ing phys­i­cal exam­i­na­tions, it is impor­tant to address oth­er fac­tors that may impact your child’s health, including: 

Estab­lish­ing healthy sleep habits

Ensur­ing your child gets enough sleep is essen­tial to their over­all health. Most kids need between nine and ten hours of sleep each night. Start prepar­ing your child for their new sched­ule two weeks ahead of time by grad­u­al­ly shift­ing their evening and morn­ing rou­tines. In addi­tion to going to bed ear­li­er, our pedi­a­tri­cians rec­om­mend turn­ing off all elec­tron­ic devices one hour before bed­time to help your child pre­pare for a rest­ful night of sleep.

Check their bag

An over­filled, heavy back­pack can cause poor pos­ture in addi­tion to back and/​or neck pain. Phys­i­cal Ther­a­pist, Eliz­a­beth Rodgers, PT, DPT, OCS, shares how you can avoid back­pack-relat­ed pain by:

Check­ing the fit: Your child should always wear their bag on both shoul­ders to pre­vent imbal­ance. Choose bags with shoul­der straps that are padded and adjustable. Back­packs should run from shoul­der height to about two inch­es past the waistline.

Check­ing the weight: The Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Ther­a­py Asso­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends that back­packs remain less than 10 – 15 per­cent of your child’s body weight. You can per­form a quick weight check by attempt­ing to lift the bag your­self and remov­ing any unnec­es­sary items.

Prac­tic­ing prop­er pack­ing tech­niques: When pack­ing a back­pack, always place heavy items at the bot­tom of the bag. Bags that have mul­ti­ple com­part­ments can help dis­trib­ute the weight more evenly.

Watch for signs of stress

Chil­dren and teens can be sen­si­tive to stress and anx­i­ety, espe­cial­ly when start­ing at a new school. Gas­troen­terol­o­gist, Richard Song, MD, rec­om­mends mon­i­tor­ing your child for signs of anx­i­ety or stress. For many chil­dren, any­thing that is out of their dai­ly rou­tine, even if it is excit­ing and pos­i­tive, can trig­ger stom­ach upset, due to the com­plex inter­ac­tion between the neu­rons in your brain and gut. In addi­tion to stom­ach upset, watch for changes in mood or behav­ior, includ­ing tantrums or social withdrawal.

To help your child feel more pre­pared for the tran­si­tion, arrange play­dates with class­mates through­out the sum­mer to help devel­op friend­ships that will make start­ing school less scary and more fun. Pedi­a­tri­cian Debra Schwartzers, MD, also rec­om­mends keep­ing your child active, as reg­u­lar exer­cise and a healthy diet can pro­vide stress relief and keep your child feel­ing their best.

Plan­ning ahead, whether it’s sched­ul­ing your child’s phys­i­cal exams or intro­duc­ing a new sleep sched­ule, can make a big dif­fer­ence in your fam­i­ly’s back-to-school tran­si­tion. Sched­ule a school or sports phys­i­cal today! 

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