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Back-to-school basics

UPHS doc talks about how to keep kids healthy

School is back in session for some Upper Peninsula districts, with others starting soon. Dr. Chasity Caperton, a UP Health System-Marquette pediatrician who works at Doctors Park in Escanaba, offers some guidance to parents who want to make the start of the 2019-20 school year as healthy as possible for their children. (Courtesy photos)

Although some parents — and many kids — might not want to believe it, it’s back-to-school time in the Upper Peninsula.

Some school districts start this week while others will be welcoming students back next week after the Labor Day holiday.

Preparation can make the transition from a summer lifestyle to a school-year routine much easier and healthier.

Dr. Chasity Caperton, a pediatrician who’s part of the UP Health System-Marquette pediatric group and who works at Doctors Park in Escanaba, offers some guidance to parents who want to make the start of the 2019-20 school year as healthy as possible.

“Of course vaccinations are absolutely something every child should have by the recommended schedule,” Dr. Caperton said. “If you delay, you’re offering more opportunity for a child to contract a disease. For instance, right now, pertussis is spreading in the U.P. So it’s of great importance to have your kids vaccinated to protect them.”

To keep kids healthy as the school days resume, Dr. Caperton had several tips.

“The No. 1 most important tip is handwashing to protect the kids from germs. Every kid brings home germs from school, but proper handwashing — and keeping hands away from eyes and mouth — will help a lot. Kids should know to wash their hands with soap and water before eating lunch, too.”

And the older generation might not be informed, but the “old” way to stop the spread of germs by sneezing or coughing into one’s hands is passed.

“Kids should be taught to sneeze or cough into the inside of their elbows,” Dr. Caperton said.

Another key for kids to have a healthy start to the school year comes in that time before school each morning: Breakfast.

“A good breakfast helps a child all day,” Dr. Caperton said. “That would mean more for breakfast than just a Pop Tart. Kids need protein to help them be alert, to help them through the school day.”

Rest is vitally important to good health.

“Sleep. Kids don’t get enough sleep. For kids, 10-12 hours each night is needed. For adolescents, between 8-10 hours is what they need. It’s what their young bodies require for peak performance.”

That means developing a bedtime routine that’s relaxing for kids. To help youngsters settle in, turning off electronics at least one hour before bedtime is key.

“And if you can find a way to keep older kids’ phones out of their rooms at night so they can settle in, that’s great,” Dr. Caperton said. “Studies have shown not enough sleep can lead to lower academic achievement.”

Making the change from summertime bed times to school-year bedtimes isn’t always easy.

“An abrupt transition is hard for everyone, so it’s ideal to start at least a week before you go back to school,” Dr. Caperton said. “Start making the bedtime earlier each night and work on that sleep-wake routine.”

Another tip for a healthy school year is to be careful about what snacks to send with a kid to school.

“The first thing is the drink you send. Never send soda. Juice is OK, but really water is the best,” she said. “Sending a fruit with some protein, too, is great. The important thing is to stay away from processed foods, especially those loaded with sugar.”

Right from the beginning of the year, establishing a homework routine is crucial.

“It’s great to have a homework spot, a quiet place with no TV or music blasting,” Dr. Caperton said. “Parents don’t have to be overbearing about it, but providing structure helps kids a lot.”

One more topic is important as the school year starts: Bullying.

“You need to talk to your kids about bullying,” Dr. Caperton said. “You have to teach them how to talk to you about it should they encounter a bully. You need to talk to them about how to handle it.

“And of course, you want to make sure your child isn’t being a bully,” she said. “They should know the signs that someone is being bullied if they’re a bystander and how to help. Kids should look to be a friend to the kid who has no friends.”

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