How to keep your kids healthy

Q&A with Dr. Shannon Udovic-Constant, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente San Francisco.

Q. School can be a stressful time for kids given homework, after school events and parental expectations, what stress management tips do you recommend?

A. Stress can be a problem even as early as the primary grades. Make sure you have adjusted your child's bedtime to a time that works for school days. A key to a healthy and happy child is to ensure there's time in your child's day for healthy relaxation, exercise and just plain fun -- especially family fun.

Most important -- be careful not to overload your child's schedule. Get to know your child's teacher and what his or her expectations are regarding homework. Have time set aside early after school to get routine homework finished.

Be aware and acknowledge any worries and/or disappointments your child may communicate about school. If you see problems developing that affect their sleep, eating habits or overall well-being, contact your child's physician. In the end, make sure to help your child take a balanced look at school and at his or her own expectations while at the same time pay attention to your expectations. Don't be a perfectionist.

Q. What are some of the key things for parents to remember to help their kids off to a healthy start this school year?

A. Your child should see a pediatrician for a physical exam every one to two years starting the summer before kindergarten. This is especially important if your child has a chronic health condition… such as asthma or diabetes… the school requires proper paperwork in order to administer medications.

Make sure all their immunizations required by the state for childhood diseases like measles, German measles, chicken pox and mumps are up to date.

Q. What about Flu Vaccine? Should parents have their children vaccinated?

A. There are 2 vaccines this season, regular seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends it for all children ages 6 months to 18 years. For Children over two years who are healthy they can take the nasal flu spray and avoid a needle.

Q. What about for pre teens in middle school… anything parents should be aware of about for that age group?

A. In addition to the shots for familiar childhood diseases that are required by the state, here are some more to be aware of:

HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine for pre-teen girls starting at age 9. The vaccine is a widely recognized tool for preventing cervical cancer later in life.

Meningococcal vaccine (meningitis) for children starting at age 11.

Also keep Tetanus shots current.

Q. What are some things parents should promote to keep their children from getting sick?

A. Children need to eat healthy nutritious meals... so parents should start their day with breakfast and pack a healthy lunch and snack. I also advise my patients to drink plenty of water and avoid soda and other sugared drinks.

In addition, get enough sleep, teach good hand washing, cover coughs and sneezes into their elbows and most important... keep your children home when they are running a fever or don't feel well.

Q. What about some physical safety tips?

A. Buy the correct backpack for your child's age. Look for wide, padded straps -- or better yet, wheels. Don't allow children to carry more than 5 to 10 percent of their body weight on their backs.

If they aren't riding a bus or being driven, evaluate your children's route to and from school, paying attention to safety issues. If they are riding bikes, skateboards or scooters, make sure they wear a helmet.

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