Clark County's back-to-school countdown begins

Now is time to review, update kids' shots, get checkups, prepare for class

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

What’s the toughest part about getting your kids ready to go back to school?

  • Getting them to bed earlier/up earlier in the morning. 47%
  • Scheduling visits for health checkups, sports physicals and immunizations. 3%
  • Calming fears or anxiety about a new school. 5%
  • Buying all the school supplies and clothes they need. 45%

60 total votes.

As parents and kids prepare for a new school year, local pediatricians have a few more things to add to the back-to-school checklist.

In addition to purchasing new school supplies and clothes, the list should include a visit with the child's physician, getting necessary vaccinations and acquiring the proper documentation for medications at school, according to pediatricians.

More information:

For a list of immunizations required for school-age children, visit the Washington State Department of Health website.

"We recommend a checkup before going back to school, especially if they're going to play sports," said Dr. Calvin Chen, a pediatrician at The Vancouver Clinic's Salmon Creek location.

Physicians recommend kids get an annual checkup, even if they're not experiencing any health, growth or learning issues. These visits are a good time to update medical histories, review immunization records and make sure chronic conditions are well managed, Chen said.

During the wellness visit, physicians can take a look at the child's height and weight and make sure they're growing at a normal rate. They'll also perform vision screenings to make sure kids' eyes are in good condition, said Dr. Valerie Weiss, a pediatrician at The Vancouver Clinic's 87th Avenue location.

Physicians can also offer guidance on a variety of health topics pertinent to kids, such as getting enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and getting enough sleep at night, Weiss said. Chen also likes to talk to kids about healthy eating habits and staying active after school.

Depending on the child's age, the physician may inquire about other potential problems.

With children entering school for the first time or starting at a new school, Chen may talk to them about anxiety. With adolescents, Chen may discuss bullying and safe driving habits. With athletes, Chen talks about safety and concussion prevention.

The annual checkup is also a good time to make sure the child's vaccines are up to date, Chen said.

The sooner the better

Most kids preparing to enter kindergarten will need new shots before starting school. The next batch of shots comes when kids reach about 11 years old, Chen said.

The pediatricians also have some suggestions for steps to take outside of the doctor's office.

Parents with children who need medication at school should begin getting the proper paperwork filled out, Weiss said. Schools require forms, signed by physicians, for certain medications, such as albuterol inhalers for asthma and EpiPens for allergic reactions, she said. Some schools also require signed forms for over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, she said.

"The sooner people think about it, the better," Weiss said. "Toward the end of summer we have more requests."

This is also a good time to make sure medications are current and unexpired, Weiss said.

In addition, parents should make sure schools are aware of their children's food allergies and chronic conditions, and provide an action plan for emergencies, Chen said.

As we enter the final few weeks of summer, Weiss recommends parents start introducing more structure to their child's day. Now is a good time to start slowly moving bedtime back and waking kids up earlier in the morning, she said.

Obesity, 'too much TV'

It's also a good time to make sure kids have a dedicated space for doing homework and get a refresher on bus safety (or bicycle and walking safety), the pediatricians said.

When kids do return to school, Chen urges parents to send homemade lunches with their kids.

"In general, what the parent prepares is going to be healthier options than what the school can prepare," he said.

Chen also recommends parents come up with an after-school check list for kids.

"One of the big things we're facing is obesity and watching too much TV," he said.

The check list can help limit TV time and encourage healthy study and snacking habits, Chen said.

And a few weeks after school resumes, pediatricians recommend parents bring their kids back to the doctor's office. This time, for their annual flu vaccine.

"People kinda forget when school starts, but we remind them of that a little later," Chen said.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com