You’ve picked out a new lunchbox, sharpened a big box of pencils, and filled out the school emergency forms. While these tasks may be necessary to send children back to school, below are important health-related tasks to add to your list. We discuss the importance of well-child visits, immunizations, mental wellness and vision screenings, all of which play a vital role in your child’s academic success.
Visit Your Child’s Pediatrician
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should take your school-age children in for well-child visits every year. As a result of the pandemic, many families have skipped recent visits or turned to virtual consultations instead. While understandable, it is imperative that your child receives regular, in-person care for essential health screenings.
Dr. Julie Block, a pediatrician with Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas, shares that children are screened for both physical and mental health issues during well-child visits. Your child’s pediatrician will perform a physical exam, track growth trends over time, look for signs of premature (or late) puberty, examine skin changes (i.e. dry skin, eczema, moles and acne), and conduct hearing and vision screening tests. Pediatricians also screen for depression in kids ages 12 and older.
That’s not all. “We remind people about the importance of lifestyle –– putting away screens, exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep. We also talk about sun protection, dental hygiene and safety,” says Dr. Block, adding that people tend to prioritize these factors when a doctor notes the need for change.
Dr. Block wants parents to understand that well-child visits are important not just for back-to-school season or sports clearance, but also to establish an ongoing relationship with a physician. This allows them to better care for your children if (or when) they are in crisis. “We might not have all the answers,” she says, “but we have resources to tap into and just want to be able to help people.”
Make Sure Vaccinations Are Up to Date
If your child has missed doctor visits and veered from a traditional vaccination schedule, this is another important reason to visit the pediatrician. It’s never too late to get back on track.
Dr. Block explains that while many immunizations are mandated by California schools, there are also some non-mandated, protective vaccines that children could benefit from. These include meningitis and HPV (11-year old vaccines), both of which are often required to attend college.
The CDC also recommends vaccines for COVID-19 and influenza. To review a full childhood immunization schedule, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html.
Perform a Mental Wellness Check
You may already know that mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression, have skyrocketed among children (as young as 5) and teens in the last couple years. According to the AAP, there has also been a distressing rise in mental health emergencies, including suicide attempts.
Parents should be on the lookout for warning signs of distress. These can include changes in mood, social behavior, energy, appetite and sleep patterns. Also watch for self-harming behaviors, excessive dieting or exercise, and substance abuse. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult your pediatrician as soon as possible. More information is available at www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Signs-your-Teen-May-Need-More-Support.aspx.
Have Your Child’s Eyes Checked
Did you know that your child’s eyes may be key to their academic success? Researchers at UCLA found that 80 percent of classroom learning is visual, according to the nonprofit Vision to Learn. Fortunately, many vision problems can be corrected with glasses or contacts.
Before rushing off to the eye doctor with your children, touch base with their pediatrician. Although some optometrists claim that regular comprehensive eye exams are necessary for kids, Dr. Gregory Ostrow, Director of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Scripps Clinic, explains that this isn’t normally the case.
“It is not recommended that kids see an eyecare provider regularly (or at all unless they fail a screening). It's not like dentist visits.” Dr. Ostrow explains that pediatricians and family practice doctors provide vision screenings that are more than adequate. If a screening reveals anything of concern, the child will be referred to a specialist for further evaluation. In this case, it is important to follow up as recommended.
Since vision screening is a routine part of a well-child visit, this is yet another good reason to schedule that doctor appointment. Anyone who spends a lot of time on screens––including school-age children––may wish to follow the 20-20-20 rule to help prevent or reduce eyestrain. Medical News Today explains, “When following the rule, a person takes a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. During the break, the person focuses on an object 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles.”
Going back to school involves a lot more than new school supplies. We encourage parents to schedule overdue doctor appointments and immunizations, and to be aware of warning signs in kids that could indicate a need for mental health support. When necessary, your pediatrician can recommend appropriate resources so that children enjoy a successful school year.
Lisa Pawlak is a contributing writer and mom to two sons. She lives in Encinitas with her husband.
For more articles about health and wellness, visit the Family Health section of our site.