Back to School: Tips on How to Improve Kids Health

August 19, 2019

Denver Health School-based Health Center back-to-school visit

After a long summer of lazy days and not-so-strict bedtimes, no homework and not having to pack lunches, going back to school can be a stressful time for both families and their students! Staying healthy is a major factor in a student's success at school, so here is a short checklist of what every family should talk about now that school is back in session.

  • Sleep, sleep, sleep

Sleep is so important that it's worth mentioning three times. You and your student should decide on a bedtime for the entire school year. Try to keep that bedtime consistent even on the weekends. For younger kids, that can be at 8 or 8:30 p.m. For middle and high school kids, it’s a little tricky.

Most of them will want to go to bed later and may try to trick you into letting them watch TV or stay on their phones. Some middle school and many high school students are starting to go through puberty and might need as much as 10 hours of sleep! Watch what your older kids do on the weekends: if they go to sleep around the same time, do they sleep in until noon? Chances are they need more sleep. Are they doing homework until the wee hours of the morning? Talk to them about going to bed earlier a couple of days a week to get that very important “re-charge.” Don’t forget to tell them to turn that screen off 30 minutes before bed time!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health


  • Set up a schedule

Even older kids can use a schedule. It helps to have some time in the evening to make sure kids have everything they need for school the next day. In the morning, waking up with time to shower, brush teeth and eat breakfast will help them mentally prepare for the day ahead.

  • Managing stress

When it comes to stress, ask your child about it and help them through it! Going back to school can be stressful for your child in many ways. Your child may ask, "Will school be hard? Will the other kids like me? What if that kid starts bullying me again?"

As parents and guardians, it’s important to ask our kiddos how things are going and to look for clues that things aren’t going well. Some children, especially boys, become quiet and withdrawn when something is stressing them out. Any kid can become angry and yell when talking about the things that stress them out. Wait for a time when your child is calm and bring up your concern for them. Don’t try to fix the problem right there and then; they may need your help, but give them the space to talk and share their stress, concerns and worries.

Here are some helpful questions and resources from the American Psychological Association.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is love your child and accept them for who they are. Just giving them the space to be upset and sad, and helping them name their emotions can be a great first step to tackling the problem.

  • Make sure your student is up to date on vaccines
    • Kindergarten – Your student will need four vaccines to be ready for school:
      • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
      • Varicella (chicken pox)
      • DtaP (Diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough)
      • IPV (polio)
    • 6th grade – It is important for students to get the following vaccines:
      • TdaP (Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis))
      • HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) the first vaccine to prevent cancer
      • Menactra (against a nasty bug that can cause meningitis)
    • All grades:

    Getting a yearly flu shot is also very, very important. Although I hear all the time from my patients that the flu shot “makes you sick,” that’s not true! The flu shot is a killed virus, meaning that it cannot make you sick. You probably got sick because you didn’t wash your hands after visiting your doctor's office – which is usually full of sick people. If you have any questions about this, ask your primary care provider.

  • Make sure your student is up-to-date on their well child/adolescent checks

It’s important to check in yearly (once your student is over two years old) with your primary care provider. We ask all sorts of questions related to nutrition, exercise, sleep, school, home, discipline and safety. When kids become teenagers, we start asking questions around depression, anxiety and, more specifically, adolescent health. A great time to get a check up is NOT during August and September but around their birthday or in March, April or May. This is because pediatric clinics are usually less busy during the spring time. Pediatric providers can help with any behavioral or medical issues that you have noticed with your child.

  • Make sure you find a little one-on-one time with each of your children

Especially during the busy school year, it's so important to have special time set aside for each child. Back when they were younger, you were probably reading to your child – for elementary school kids, even if they are reading themselves, they may love it for you to read to them. For older kids, this can be playing hoops, playing four-square, walking the dog or playing a board game. This time is so special, and I bet you’ll remember your one-on-one time more than the dirty dishes in the sink or all the laundry left to fold!

Sonja O'Leary, M.D. is the medical director of Denver Health's 18 School-based Health Centers, which offer a wide range of primary care services at no cost to families of Denver Public Schools students. The Denver Health School-based Health Centers also offer vaccines and flu shots in convenient locations inside 18 Denver Public Schools, along with behavioral health, dental care, sports physicals, reproductive health and more.