Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips for Parents


Heading back to school is an exciting time for families of elementary schoolers. Oftentimes, the excitement and anticipation take center stage, but going back to school can also mean stress for children and parents. Once the obligatory first day photos, school shopping, new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and orientations are handled, the anticipation dwindles, replaced with questions like, “What now?” or “What have we forgotten?” Below are the nuts and bolts of ensuring a healthy and safe start for heading back to elementary school.

1. Avoid skipping breakfast at all costs. Like many kids, your child may not experience hunger immediately upon waking. This can turn breakfast into an afterthought, which can quickly become a major pitfall if children begin skipping breakfast regularly. If your children are not keen on eating right away, see about waking them a little earlier to allow for more time in the morning before school. Even a measly 15 minutes could be enough time to spur a desire for breakfast. The longer he or she is awake before heading off to school, the more likely it is that he/she will want something to eat. If all else fails, consider stashing breakfast bars, fruit, or drinkable yogurts for the car ride so that your child has an option for last-minute nibbling before heading into school.

2. Those back-to-school shoes may be super cute; however, the blisters that accompany their first wear will not be. Encourage your child to put comfort first when picking out school outfits. We all know that even the tiniest blister can produce excruciating pain. This can make recess, walking around the cafeteria, P.E., etc. unbearable. Consider breaking those new shoes in over the weekend and packing a few bandaids in the lunchbox just in case. Similarly, depending on the school, or even from one classroom to another, temperature can vary drastically. With air conditioning, or the lack thereof, children can become uncomfortable and distracted if they are sweating or shivering all day. Encourage layers to ensure comfort throughout the day and from room to room. However, because of the likelihood that that sweater or long sleeve will come off at any given time in the school day, personalized clothing labels or even Sharpie initials can ensure that lost items become found and clothing makes it home.

3. If your child has a food allergy, no matter how severe, be sure that the school knows about the dietary restrictions. Beyond the school nurse, teachers, paraeducators, building staff and cafeteria aids should be aware of any severe food allergies. Anything from treats shared at school, arts and crafts materials, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc., can contain allergens or may be processed and packaged alongside allergens. To avoid the possibility of a reaction, consider sending a “just in case” email to school to ensure that health records are updated and all staff are aware of the food allergy. Some parents find it helpful to send their child to school with fun “about me” cards with their child’s photo and dietary restrictions listed. These “business cards” are especially helpful for young elementary schoolers. They can also contain any information about epipen use, emergency contacts, and the pediatrician or allergist’s phone number.

4. For children who are extremely sensitive to the sun and prone to sunburn, ask the school if it is okay for your child to pack and apply travel sunscreen for recess, physical education, soccer practice, or any other outdoor activities. Outdoor time can amount to an hour or more, depending on the child’s school; this leaves plenty of time for sun exposure and subsequent burn. School policy will likely prohibit teachers or other school staff from applying sunscreen, so consider purchasing an easy-to-apply option for your child to apply it himself. The roll-on, deodorant-looking sticks work great for quick-drying, easy application.

5. Remind your child to drink water throughout the day. This is an obvious tidbit; however, school nurses report dehydration as one of the major catalysts to most school illnesses and nurse visits. Obviously, water fountains are aplenty in schools, but also ask if water bottles are allowed in class. Having water at hand provides a constant reminder to sip throughout the day to stay hydrated, alert, and focused.

Chronic Health Conditions and Summer Safety

Summer safety is an important topic for all families. However, children with chronic health conditions (CHC) may be more prone to certain accidents or medical emergencies, making summer safety a crucial area of concern. From the most common CHC, asthma, to diabetes, epilepsy and anemia, health concerns can potentially add a layer of complication to summer fun.

See tips, strategies, and considerations below to ensure that concerns about CHCs are covered over the summer months:

  • Since humidity, heat, and poor air quality can awaken asthma symptoms or increase the severity of an attack, parents should keep informed of weather reports, heat index, and air quality reports when families are planning to spend consecutive hours or days outside.
  • Activities such as camping, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, etc. can pose a more significant threat to young asthma sufferers because of the combination of outdoor allergens, heat, and heavy breathing brought on by cardio activities. Some research suggests that only 4 minutes of breathing in hot, humid air can present an onset of asthma symptoms.
  • Parents should make sure that inhalers are full and on hand if needed. Consult your pediatrician if the prescription is expired or dosages need to be adjusted. When growth spurts hit, parents should be especially sure that dosages are accurate for full effectiveness.
  • The pool is a great activity for keeping children cool; however, a lesser-known asthma culprit is chlorine. For some asthma sufferers, chlorine can bring about coughing, tightness of the chest, and other asthma symptoms.
  • Since heat and humidity increase perspiration, monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels can become trickier in the summer months. Throw in exercise and outdoor activities—and blood sugar level instability increases even more. Parents should make sure that children are hydrating even more than they typically do, as dehydration can cause blood sugar to spike. Sugary, caffeinated drinks are additionally problematic and should be limited to maintain safe blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin storage is another consideration for parents of diabetics. If traveling, be sure to pack insulin in a cooler, but not directly on ice. Insulin should also be kept out of direct sunlight and excessive heat, as that can degrade it.
  • Light-headedness, fatigue, sweating, nausea, and vomiting are symptoms of heat stroke, but they could also be a sign of more. Parents should be sure to test their child’s blood sugar more frequently to ensure that mild signs of overheating are not actually symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • For children with seizure disorders like epilepsy, summer activities like swimming, attending sleep away camp, or traveling can bring about additional concerns. Parents should make sure that children are always supervised by an adult that is aware of the seizure condition when they are in or around a swimming pool or other body of water.
  • For children whose seizures are brought on by certain light sensitivities, parents should be especially aware of the threat that sunlight or glare can cause. Car rides when sunlight is flickering or light reflecting off surfaces of water can potentially trigger an episode. Pediatricians and ophthalmologists can direct patients to specially-tinted polarized lenses to help with light sensitivity issues.
  • In the summer months, eczema can become more than a nuisance for children—it can be downright unbearable. Parents can help children by providing cool towels, refrigerated gels and lotions, light cotton, loose-fitting clothing for outdoor activities, and plenty of water for hydrating throughout the day.
  • Removing sweaty clothing and rinsing sweat off of the body immediately can help keep rashes at bay.
  • Using hypoallergenic skin care products, including sunscreen, wet wipes, moisturizers, and insect repellant can help to skin flare-ups at bay as well.

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

What happens during a fire drill?

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Summer Safety Concerns

Schools are out, which brings children and teens outside. They are eager to enjoy the beautiful weather and all that summertime fun entails. For a fun-filled summer vacation free of avoidable injuries, expert tips can help prepare children and those of us working with children during the summer months.

Tips for pedestrians: Of course the obvious guidelines apply, like look both ways before crossing, hold hands with the little ones, listen for oncoming traffic, etc. However, now that the average American 5-year-old has his own phone, adults need to be especially cognizant of the distractibility that phones bring. For day camps or sleepaway camps, children and teens will likely have a smart device with them. While walking, especially in areas with heavy traffic, children should forego the phones. Babysitters, nannies, camp counselors, etc., must encourage walkers to be vigilant while walking. Not only is traffic an issue, but distracted walkers are more likely to incur injuries from stumbles or falls. Earbuds are an added distraction, as children are not able to hear what is happening in their surroundings.  

Tips for the heat/sun: Those of us working with children in the summer must be aware of the early signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Camps, pool days, sports—all of these activities can pose a threat when the temperatures spike. Adults cannot assume that children show up to these outdoor activities prepared for the sun. It is imperative to have sunscreen, water, snacks, and basic first aid items on hand.

Knowing the symptoms of heat-related emergencies is also essential. Children on the verge of heat exhaustion may exhibit an unusually flushed or pale face, profuse sweating with chills or goosebumps, clammy or cool skin to the touch, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Remove them from the sun or outdoors as soon as possible. Provide them with water and/or fluids with electrolytes and monitor them for faintness, vomiting, or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of cold water during the day is crucial, as well. While in the pool, children may neglect their thirst or need for water. Make sure that children are drinking plenty of water, not just swimming in it!

Tips for safe play: Summertime play can also pose issues if supervision is lacking. Even the most experienced bicyclists, roller bladers, and skateboarders must be cautious. Helmets and other protective gear are a must—no matter how confident the rider may be. Adults should always supervise these activities and ensure that children are wearing visible or reflective gear in the evenings.

Jungle gym and playground enthusiasts need to be monitored carefully, as well.

Experts say that, statistically, monkey bars are the most dangerous playground equipment due to falls. The CDC reports that emergency rooms see around 20,000 traumatic brain injury-related accidents each year caused solely by playground falls. Educators, camp counselors, and sitters must be vigilant while children enjoy the playground—and any indication of a head injury should be checked out by a doctor immediately.

Because of the possibility of bug bites and stings, adults working with children must be up to date on EpiPen training. In order to properly administer Epinephrine Auto-Injector to a child experiencing anaphylaxis, adults must be trained and familiar with each child’s individual allergy threats.

Finally, while no child should play with or anywhere near fireworks, each summer brings firework-related injuries. Even popular items such as firecrackers and sparklers can result in serious burns and other injuries—it’s just not a good idea.  

National Safety Month

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We have all heard the adage, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” Now that summer is officially in full-swing, our focus may be occupied by the exciting seasonal events and occasions popping up. With that, it is important to be mindful of potentially unforeseen dangers that surround us on a regular basis. June is National Safety Month, which makes this the perfect time to raise awareness of how to avoid or effectively manage accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, an average of 150,000 people die each year from “unintentional, injury-related” accidents. Even more eye-opening is the fact that these mishaps are totally preventable, which is why National Safety Month aims to bring awareness to the everyday things in our lives that we may not consider as dangerous. Below are facts about these common dangers and tips for avoiding or handling these accidents.

Poisons

Poisoning recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in all age groups. We often consider poisonous items to be clearly labeled as “toxic” chemicals—obvious to the eye and stamped with warning labels. While some potentially harmful substances come with clear warning labels and guidelines for use, other products and their dangers are more subtle. The leading cause of death by poison is by unintentional prescription drug overdose or the mixing of prescription drugs. It is vital that parents seek advice about dosage and prescription combinations from doctors and pharmacists. Also, with the rise of new detergent packs for cleaning clothes and dishes, it is more important than ever to keep cleaning products out of reach of children. The detergent packs and dryer beads appear small and candy-like—exactly what a child might reach for. Again, taking just small precautions can make these dangers 100% avoidable.

Traffic Accidents

Car crashes and traffic-related injuries are another cause for concern, especially in the summer when families are hitting the roads for vacation. Speeding, aggressive driving, texting and other distractions are obvious concerns. But other less frequently discussed accidents should be considered, as well. The warm weather brings pedestrians, skateboarders, and bicyclers out onto the roads in much higher numbers. It is important for drivers and others on or near the road to take extra precautions in high-volume areas. Pedestrians, runners, etc., should wear bright reflective clothing and LED lights at night to be visible to drivers. Another danger in the summer is the extreme heat that accumulates in parked cars. Children and pets should never be left in the car unattended, no matter how short you plan to leave them.

Falls

Falling is the leading cause of injury-related death among the elderly. But, it is also the third leading cause of accidental death for all age groups. Gates at steps are a must for little ones, as all parents know. However, slips and head injuries at the pool or waterpark are frequent in the summer months, as well. Remind your child, whether inside or outside, to always walk around the pool. Horseplay and shoving could also cause an unintentional accident.

Water Hazards

Speaking of the pool, the National Safety Council reports that an average of 10 people drown every single day. CNN reports that children can drown in less than two inches of water. This means that pools are not the only dangers lurking in the yard. Buckets, kiddie pools, even puddles or drainage ditches could be cause for concern. The bottom line is, leaving children unsupervised around any amount of standing water is a risk not worth taking.

Keep your eyes on the prize this summer, and all will remain fun and games. With a few precautions and some ground rules in place, you and your children can avoid these pitfalls and score some summer fun.