The Other Back-to-School Guide

Preparing your child should include more than new outfits; experts share advice for healthy bodies and minds.

The days are getting shorter, and before you know it the “Drive Carefully” posters will be popping up on telephone poles around the Valley. It’s soon going to be time to send the kids to school. But are you ready?

Now is the time to make sure you’ve met your kids’ medical, dental, and even mental health needs. We asked three experts — a pediatrician, periodontist, and child psychologist — about what to do now to help ensure a happy and healthy school year.


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Medical Must-Haves

Has your child had a check-up this year? Kids must have a physical examination prior to entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, along with second, fourth, seventh, and 10th grades. But aim to do more than just obey the letter of the law. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual physical,” points out Jeanne Wilson, a pediatrician with Boston Children’s Health Physicians in Hawthorne, and the physician and medical director for the Mount Pleasant School District. If your child has a medical condition such as asthma, write out an action plan for care with his physician.

Starting around seventh grade, kids who participate in sports require a pre-participation physical. If your child has a condition (for example, diabetes) that may require special care during practices and games, find out what medical support will be available. And, of course, make sure all your child’s emergency cards are filled out.


Dental To-Do’s

The physical’s scheduled? Great job. Now head to the dentist, too. “You really want to get a dental checkup before school starts,” says Mario Vilardi,DM, a periodontist, owner of Hudson Valley Dental Implants and Periodontics in Fishkill, and publisher of the patient education magazine Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health. “You don’t want your child having difficulty in school due to unexpected mouth pain,” Dr. Vilardi stresses.

Consider diet, too: “Start modeling good examples regarding nutrition,” Dr. Vilardi says. This includes beverages: sports “ades” or vitamin water “are acidic and can start to dissolve the surface of teeth over time.”

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Last of all, familiarize yourself with protocol for a dental emergency. “The key is knowing the three main trauma categories — ‘immediate,’ requiring immediate dental care, ‘urgent,’ requiring a dental visit within six hours, or ‘less urgent,’ meaning that you can wait up to 12 hours to see the dentist,” Dr. Vilardi says.

The loss of an adult tooth is an immediate-level accident. “Get that tooth and try to put it back in its socket within five minutes,” Dr. Vilardi advises. “If you can’t, put the tooth in a bag filled with milk or cold water, and get to the dental office and let them do it.”

A dislodged adult tooth — knocked loose, but still in its socket — is urgent, but most broken teeth are not, if they aren’t bleeding.  


Encourage Communication

The start of a new school year is especially tricky for children who are starting a new school.  Dr. Karen Hebert, a child psychologist and cognitive behavioral psychologist at Hudson Valley Center for Cognitive Therapy in Nyack, regularly counsels kids and families facing this situation.

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“Arrange to take a tour of the new school,” she advises. Try to meet your child’s teachers in advance. Dr. Hebert is also a fan of buddying up: Ask the school to pair your child with a classmate who can introduce her to people and sit with her at lunch.  

“Encourage her to think about some good things that will happen, the new friendships she’ll make, and the activities she’ll try,” Dr. Hebert explains. And arrange to do something extra-fun after the first day.

It’s also important to talk about bullying, as it’s a big cause of unhappiness at school: “Discuss whom to talk to at school and also at home about what has happened.” And stay alert to signs of bullying — anxiety, mood changes, attempts to avoid school, or even headaches and stomachaches. Gently inquire if anything is wrong, and speak to school administrators if necessary.

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