Family physician Dr. Jennifer Pettigrew advises parents to keep the following tips in mind to help children stay healthy throughout the school year.

Sending the kids back to school — the moment a parent waits for all summer. But doesn’t it seem that once the school year begins, kids actually spend more time at home…sick? The fact remains, back to school also means back to runny noses, coughs, fevers and even worse. “Any time you have large groups of people congregating in small rooms, germs are shared,” says Dr. Jennifer Pettigrew, a family physician. Since children are especially tactile, germs are spread more easily among this group than any other.

For those parents who seem to spend the majority of the year doling out cold medication and taking temperatures, following these simple steps will help keep their kids healthy and ready to learn this school year.


Attack germs! Encourage hand washing — a lot of it.

According to Health Canada, washing your hands often with plenty of soap and warm water 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 or counters.

“A child sneezes and covers her nose and mouth, then touches a book or toy and now the germs have spread,” explains Dr. Pettigrew.

The solution? Help your child get into the habit of washing their hands after a cough or sneeze, before eating lunch and of course after going to the bathroom.

“Parents and care-givers are taking a proactive role in helping their children stay healthy,” says Dr. Pettigrew. “Sending them to school with an instant hand sanitizer, such as Purell, is an excellent solution to keep hands germ — free, especially when soap and water aren’t readily available.”

Be aware of symptoms

While sometimes it’s just easier for parents to send sick children to school, this action 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


“If your child shows any signs of a communicable illness — for instance, an obvious fever or red eyes — the school will almost always send him home,” says Dr. Pettigrew. “So you may as well be on early alert for signs.”

Looking for these symptoms will help make a parent’s decision easier: fever, disruptive cough, diarrhea or vomiting and contagious infections (e.g. pinkeye).

Cover the basics

There are two basic rules that parents should follow to help their kids stay healthy. Make sure children eat a good breakfast before school and encourage them to get enough sleep. Inadequate nutrition or sleep can lead to a compromised immune system and a


One physical a year.

Most kids need one thorough checkup a year to make sure all is healthy and well. According to Dr. Pettigrew, a quality physical should include examination of the head and neck, chest, abdomen and limbs. Weight and height should be checked, plus blood pressure when appropriate. As well, doctors should make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date, and discuss health promoting behaviours like physical activity and healthy eating.

Two backpack straps

Encourage your kids to wear both straps when carrying their backpack. While it may be fashionable to carry the back-pack on one shoulder, it makes their load harder to bear and focused in one area — increasing their risk of injury. Also, don’t let your child carry an overloaded backpack. Strain and stress on the body’s ligaments can result from lugging a book bag that’s crammed with books, notes and personal items. Parents should make sure their child’s bag is lightweight. And while the exact weight limitation varies by child, a good rule of thumb is to limit the weight of your child’s backpack to no more than 15 per cent of his or her body weight.

Three feet away

It may sound like common sense, but it’s important for kids to remember to avoid bodily fluids from other students.

This means if a student has a bloody nose, cut or scrape, or vomits anywhere in the class-room, encourage your child to tell a teacher and not try to help. On the same note, children should be taught not to share hats, combs or other personal items, as one of the biggest problems in classrooms is lice outbreaks. Sharing a hat or hair elastic can easily spread the bugs.

With a little forethought and preparation, your kids have a better chance of having a sickness-free school year. Now if only you could get them to do their homework!

Stay healthy all year long by:

• Make sure your children have their annual physical before the school year begins.

• Encourage hand washing before eating and numerous times throughout the day. Send them out with an instant hand sanitizer (such as Purell) in case soap and water aren’t available.

• Discourage your child from sharing cups, combs or toothbrushes with others. Viruses, bugs, lice and other germs are spread easily this way.

• Remind your kids to keep their hands away from their face and out of their mouth and eyes.

• Help your children develop good eating habits, which include a variety of healthy foods.

• Put your children to bed at a relatively consistent time each night. Plenty of sleep (8-10 hours) is necessary for growing children.


Here are some tips to help keep kids reading:

1. Show them reading is fun. Spend time each day reading together as a family and have fun reading out loud with your children. Create a scrapbook of your summer activities and write the captions together.

2. Keep them interested. Let the children pick out materials they are interested in reading. Comics, magazines, even baseball or hockey cards will help children with their reading skills.

3. Make reading an everyday activity. Encourage children to read anything they can get their hands on — street signs, menus, recipes and books are all great tools to strengthen children’s reading skills.

4. Set an example. Let your kids see you read so they know that reading is important. Encourage them to talk about and describe their daily activities. And most of all — turn off the TV!

Remember — Reading opens doors for everyone. Fostering strong reading skills is one of the best gifts you can give your child.