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Keeping kids healthy

September 1, 2011
By GARRETT NEESE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - For all the benefits school provides, the transition back can do a number on health.

Lack of physical activity. Less sleep. More stress.

But there are several steps parents and children can take to make sure the school year is a healthy one, said Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital pediatrician Rebecca Collaer.

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Layne Flynn, 7, and Gavin Flynn, 8, of Baraga, play at the Ray Kestner Waterfront Park in Houghton Wednesday. Exercise time can be harded to come by once school starts, so Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital pediatrician Rebecca Collaer recommends limiting screen leisure time to two hours a day. Other recommendations include moving bedtimes earlier in manageable chunks during the last days of summer and taking time to recuperate if sick.

Some children will need immunizations before returning to school. What children need will vary by age, and the recommendations are always in flux. New this year, Collaer said, is a meningococcal booster shot for 16-year-olds who got it when they were 11 or 12.

Collaer suggests parents should check with their children's provider.

"Generally, it's a good idea for them to just go in for their yearly physical, and when we do that, we look on the computer and see what kind of immunization they're due for," she said.

One annual piece of culture shock is adjusting from the late mornings and nights of summer to getting up in time for the school bus. Instead of maintaining the summer schedule until it runs headlong into the school year, try moving bedtime up by 15 minutes a day starting a week before school resumes, Collaer said.

"It is normal for adolescents to want to stay up later, but I tell them 'Unfortunately, school still starts at 8:15, and they don't adjust the school day for that,'" she said.

Teenagers should be getting at least eight hours of sleep per night; for younger children, it's even higher. In the first month of class, that might be difficult when the sky is still light when it's time to go to bed; for that, Collaer said, they can get dark shades for their room. Keeping to a regular routine also helps, she said.

Also, Collaer said, it's important to remember that "energy drinks are not a substitute for sleep."

While it's not hard for children to get their recommended hour of physical activity during the summer, it can be harder to maintain once school starts. To aid that, Collaer recommends kids keep their leisure time in front of screens to a maximum of two hours per night.

"Otherwise, they don't get their exercise in, because there's only so many hours in the day," Collaer said.

Another part of staying healthy is managing the stress that comes with a newly cramped schedule. One way parents can help is by letting their kids know it's OK to take a 15-minute break if they're feeling stressed. It's also good to have a plan for situations such as being stuck on homework at 9 p.m. when it's due the next day.

Warding off germs is another important piece. Collaer said kids should bring pocket hand sanitizer with them.

"That's a really good idea, because most kids don't take the time to wash their hands and dry them the way they should when they go to school," Collaer said.

If they do get sick, they shouldn't come back too early, Collaer said.

A good rule of thumb is to stay home until they go more than 24 hours without a fever without using aspirin.

"If they go back too soon they get wiped out, and end up missing more days than they would have if they stayed home," she said.



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