This post was brought to you by Scarsdale Medical Group.
It’s officially back-to-school season, which means spending more time with school friends, back to routines & schedules and inevitably, sharing germs in closer indoor spaces. We worked with Scarsdale Medical Group’s Pediatrician, Dr. Amy Lief, to answer your questions about children’s health and how to have the healthiest back-to-school season yet.
1) How many hours of sleep do kids really need when it comes to enforcing healthy sleep habits after summer vacation?
All parents want to know if they are sending their kids to bed early enough. While it is tempting to believe that your child who resists bedtime “just doesn’t need a lot of sleep,” there are helpful guidelines about how much sleep children really do need at different ages.
- Infants aged 4 to 12 months old need 12-16 hours (including naps.)
- Toddlers aged 1-2 years need 11-14 hours (including naps.)
- Preschoolers aged 3-5 years need 10-13 hours (including naps.)
- Children aged 6-12 years need 9-12 hours.
- Teens 13-18 years need 8-10 hours.
2) What are your favorite energizing snacks to pack in kids’ backpacks?
School-aged kids need snacks both during the school day and after school. There is no lack of pre-packaged snack food marketed to children on supermarket shelves, but many of it is loaded with refined sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. Some better alternatives are things such as whole grain crackers, dried fruits, whole grain pretzels, nuts (if allowed in school), low fat granola bars, high fiber breakfast cereals, or fresh fruit.
If you have a small container with a cold pack or freezer lid, other good choices can be low-fat yogurt or cheese, hummus/dip with cut veggies or whole grain pita or baked chips.
Some of my own kids’ favorite snacks are homemade oat bran muffins with blueberries (or even better, a few chocolate chips!) or a bag with mixed nuts and a few dark chocolate chips sprinkled in. These feel like dessert but can be made relatively low in sugar and are packed with protein and fiber as well!
3) Are all backpacks the same? Anything to look out for when choosing a size or straps?
It is important to select a backpack that is the correct size for your child. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back and should never fall more than 4 inches below the child’s waist. The best are those with well-padded shoulder straps. A waist belt will help distribute a pack’s weight more evenly.
Adjust the pack so that it fits snugly on the back. If too loose, the backpack can pull the child backward and strain muscles. Teach your child to load the heaviest items closest to the back, as this reduces strain.
A child’s pack should weigh no more than about 10% of his or her body weight. Keep in mind that water bottles can add a lot of weight when full! If the backpack is frequently too heavy for your child, consider one on wheels if your school allows it.
4) Aside from recess, how much physical activity should you try to schedule into your child’s day?
Children kindergarten age and older need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. (Vigorous activity is movement that makes you sweat and breathe fast.) The 60 minutes don’t have to happen all together, or be part of a formal sport. Integrate exercise into your child’s day by walking briskly or skipping to or from school, going for a bicycle ride, or by pumping up the music at home and having a living room dance party.
5) What are ways to boost immunity in kids – vitamins? Echinacea? I feel like my kids start getting sick the moment they return to school … and it doesn’t let up till March!
There is no vitamin or supplement on a pharmacy shelf that actually has been shown to boost your child’s immune system. In fact, overdoing many of the drug-store supplements can be harmful. Things like vitamin C, widely thought to be helpful in fighting colds, can actually cause nausea and diarrhea in large quantities.
It is normal for healthy children to get upper respiratory infections 1-2 times per month while in school. As a parent, this can seem like a constant runny nose from fall to spring! To minimize your child’s risk of illness, the most important thing to do is stay up-to-date with routine immunizations AND be sure to get an influenza vaccine each year. Teach your child not to share drinks or food with classmates and to wash hands frequently. All kids should be taught to cover their coughs with an inner arm and to throw out tissues promptly after using them.
6) What’s the latest stance on hand sanitizers? Should our kids be carrying a small bottle around at school to use before snack and lunch?
The best way for children to clean hands is with good old-fashioned soap and water. If there is either a sink in your child’s classroom or a nearby bathroom, encourage your child to wash hands frequently and especially before eating.
Hand sanitizers can certainly be a good option for ridding hands of germs when a sink is not available. However, some young children are swallowing hand sanitizer, which often contains alcohol. If taken in large quantities, it can cause alcohol poisoning. If you are planning to send hand sanitizer to school with your child, be sure to teach him or her the correct way to use it. Teach how much to use (dime-sized amount) and emphasize that your child not put hands wet with sanitizer in his or her mouth. Consider using non-alcohol based products.
On a personal note, I do not give my two school-aged sons immune-boosting supplements, nor do they go to school with hand sanitizer. While each day in my house is far from perfect, the goals of getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy meals and snacks, getting an hour or more of exercise a day, and vaccinations are the keys to good health in our family!
Amy E. Lief, MD, MS, FAAP is board certified in pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She has served on the faculties of New York University School of Medicine and the Columbia University Medical Center as an instructor and as assistant clinical professor, respectively. Dr. Lief is committed to providing excellent and comprehensive pediatric care. She enjoys forming strong relationships with her patients and their families.
The provision of high-quality, personalized health care to Westchester County and New York’s Hudson Valley region has been the mission of the Scarsdale Medical Group for more than 50 years. Their working philosophy of compassion, confidence, and commitment has enabled them to become known and respected by patients and peers throughout the tri-state area.
Scarsdale Medical Group, 600 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 301, Harrison; (914)723-8100