Parents rejoice, it’s back to school time! In the 1970’s and ’80’s, my mom and her friends would throw a mimosa party on the first day of school as soon as the kids left on the bus. I found out about it only as an adult, and felt a little insulted until I had kids of my own. Back to school time is a happy time in my household, albeit without champagne. We stay on a happy note until someone gets sick. Within the first week or two of school, a round of colds, strep throat, or even head lice will be underway. Notes will come home alerting us to a classroom outbreak of some kind and I will frantically check everyone’s hair or lecture my kids about good handwashing for the umpteenth time. When the first runny nose appears, I chastise myself for falling short. I take it as a personal insult when one of my kids falls ill. The nurse in me can’t help it.
Keeping kids healthy at school time requires a little foresight. We all know the saying about an ounce of prevention. Good nutrition and good sleep hygiene should be prioities all year long, but we tend to slack off over the summer. Bedtimes migrate later and later, or disappear altogether. Ice cream whenever we want it, ‘smores any night of the week, and parade candy become dietary staples. The immune system is better prepared to take on the challenge of 25 kids on a play mat if the body isn’t reeling from these wild inconsistencies. Here are a few of my favorite tips for defending my household at back to school time.
1. Lights out! And I really mean lights out. If a sensible bedtime means putting your child to bed before it’s fully dark outside, invest in blackout shades or a DIY alternative. The brain needs to believe that it’s time for sleep. Get rid of all electronic devices in the bedroom. No TV screens, laptops, tablets, etc. These devices interrupt circadian rhythms, with potential effects on everything from mood to learning. If your child is used to falling asleep with the TV on, switch to a white noise maker. Spray a little lavender on your child’s pillow if they have trouble settling down. Establish a calm, predictable routine at bedtime and stick to it! If your child struggles with waking up in the dark mornings, purchase an inexpensive programmable light control that brings a bedroom light on gradually over 15 minutes or so.
2. Make a better breakfast. Do feed your child breakfast, but stop loading them with sugar. Most breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins, pastries, waffles, etc. are piles of sugar in disguise. They spike blood glucose levels quickly, providing a quick burst of energy followed by fatigue, inattention, or overwhelming hunger long before school lunch time. The solution? Make protein and fiber a prominent part of every breakfast. Include things like nuts, nut butters, seeds, hummus, eggs, or cottage cheese. If it seems strange at first, isn’t it stranger that we’ve been feeding our kids dessert for breakfast all these years?
3. Prepare the immune system. I bring out the elderberry syrup at this time of year. It tastes great and it’s loaded with vitamins A, C, and B6 and minerals like iron and potassium. Look for a commercially prepared elderberry syrup or elderberry-Echinacea combination that your child enjoys. Try it for a few weeks at a time with the blessing of your child’s pediatrician. Vitamin C and zinc products are popular when illness threatens, but avoid megadoses or adult preparations. An adult size packet of vitamin powder can cause cramps and diarrhea in little ones. Don’t forget that the best weapon we have is good handwashing, and by that I mean frequent handwashing. Go ahead, be the pushy parent who asks your child’s teacher to implement a daily handwashing schedule. Classrooms that have one stay healthier.
4. Curtail critters. When it comes to head lice, prevention is gold and treatment is scrap metal. Head lice do not carry disease and are not physically harmful, but they do cause plenty of emotional distress. Over the counter treatments for head lice are less effective than they once were. It may take a few rounds of OTC treatment or even a prescription to really get rid of them. And there is still no way to avoid the painstaking removal of lice and eggs from the hair. It’s much better to prevent lice by teaching your kids not to share brushes and headware, keeping long hair pulled back or braided, and pretreating the hair with a shampoo that repels lice. Look for a kid friendly, sulfate-free shampoo with rosemary and other essential oils that repel lice. These shampoos work best when they are used all the time. I like the Fairy Tales brand, but there are many to choose from.
I hope these tips make your family’s transition back to school more bearable. Maybe you can’t throw a party, but have a mimosa on me. Here’s to a wonderful school year.