Health tips for back to school

The back-to-school season seems to polarize students: those who can?t wait to get back to class, and those who prefer the lazy days of summer. Regardless of how students feel, most parents seem to share a collective sigh of relief. The fact remains, however, that back-to-school season is synonymous with cold season. ?Any time large groups of people congregate together in tight spaces, germs are shared,? says family physician, Dr. Iris Greenwald. Students of all ages have unique susceptibilities to getting and spreading colds.

This fall, whether your child is off to their first day of kindergarten, grade nine or unpacking their first dorm room, parents can follow these simple steps to help keep their kids healthy and ready to learn this school year.

Elementary, my dear

Children in elementary school work and play closely together, prime interaction for germ sharing. Encourage hand washing and a lot of it. According to Health Canada, good hand hygiene is the single most important factor in stopping the spread of illness. That?s because most viruses are transmitted through germs that linger on hands after coughing or sneezing, on school desks, doorknobs and books. Dr. Greenwald recommends helping children get into the habit of washing their hands after a cough or sneeze, before eating lunch and of course after going to the bathroom. ?With young children it is better to show, not tell,? says Dr. Greenwald. ?Demonstrating proper hand washing and sending them to school with an instant hand sanitizer is vital in helping to keep hands germ-free, especially when soap and water aren?t available. Some hand sanitizers also offer convenient sizes that clip to backpacks ? easy and accessible.? Dr. Greenwald also recommends looking for an instant hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60 per cent alcohol, like Purell. ?Less than that just isn?t enough,? she adds. Another helpful tip to keep hands germ-free is to encourage children to sneeze or cough into their sleeve or elbow crease.

High school confidential

Teenagers might fake the odd sick day, but pay close attention to their symptoms. Forcing a sick child to school actually has consequences ? it?s what keeps the vicious cycle of passing germs alive and kicking. Many teachers complain that colds are prevalent in their schools because students come to school when they are sick. ?If your child shows any signs of illness ? cough, runny nose or obvious fever, keep them at home to allow them to rest and avoid infecting other students,? says Dr. Greenwald. Teenagers are also in a stage where they are forming lifelong social and health habits. Capitalize on this by encouraging healthy routines: plenty of sleep, good diet, hand hygiene and exercise habits.

Freshman student aid

While many parents find it daunting to send their child off to university or college, most post-secondary students are well prepared and up to the challenge.

College or university is often the first time students make individual life choices, and might also be the first time a student is faced with a flu or bad cold on their own. If they do get sick away from home, educate them on how to get better and when to seek medical attention.

?University or college aged students still need to be parented, but in a different way,? advises Dr. Greenwald. She encourages parents to continue to educate their children on proper eating and sleeping habits, despite the temptations of dorm life. Pack them supplies of healthy snacks when possible and encourage them to take care of themselves. A weakened immune system can be a student?s worst enemy, and germs can spread easily in the cramped lecture halls and social activities on campus.