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Ask the School Nurse: Parents' Top 9 Questions for Back to School

Worried about flu? Stress? Colds? Our school health expert answers your questions about keeping children healthy.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The back-to-school season can arouse dread in parents and kids alike, especially when it comes to sickness and health. Aside from marking the end of summer's lazy days, "back to school" signals the start of a crazy time for many families, a time during which we scramble to update immunizations, re-establish more structured eating, television, and bedtime routines, and keep our kids healthy.

To help you plan a healthy and anxiety-free school year, we spoke with Jean Grabeel, a registered and certified school nurse who coordinates health services for 24,000 students at the Springfield public school district in southwest Missouri. She answers nine questions on the minds of parents readying themselves for a new school year -- and a new cold and flu season.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, to children and teens. Learn more.

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1. How do I decrease my child's anxiety about starting school?

For a happier, healthier transition, don't wait until the night before school starts to set up sleep and nutrition routines that might not have been strictly enforced over the summer. Try setting bed and wake-up times a few weeks before school starts and gradually adjusting them to be earlier as the first day approaches.

Also, take a trip to the school in advance so children know where their classroom is. Give them a chance to meet their teacher, the school nurse, and other staff, if possible. If your child has a chronic health condition requiring medication, such as asthma or diabetes, a food allergy, or any type of health care concern requiring special attention, contact the school nurse early to put a plan in place well in advance of the first day of school.

Immunizations, which are a very necessary part of the back-to-school routine, can be a little scary for kids, but you don't need to drag them kicking and screaming to the doctor's office. Ease kids' worries by talking with them about the health benefits of vaccines so they understand why the shots are important and are less anxious about getting them. Make sure immunizations are current and ask your health care provider about other immunizations that might be recommended but not required, such as the flu vaccine.  

2. How do illnesses spread among school children?

Colds and flu are typically spread from person to person from respiratory droplets. Viruses enter the body through the eyes, mouth, or nose. A sneeze can spray thousands of infectious particles into the air at 200 miles per hour, and they can travel 3 feet. If children don't cover their mouths and spray other children or an object, such as a doorknob, and other children touch it and wipe their noses or mouths, they're more likely to get sick. 

3. What's the best way to help my child prevent picking up an illness at school?

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