|Back-To-School – Keeping Kids Healthy
Children are starting a new school year, so ensuring your child’s optimum health needs to be a joint effort of the home and the school. Parents and schools can partner to keep kids healthy by the elimination of germs, the avoidance of allergens, and the management of asthma.
Eliminating germs is obviously a key factor in keeping kids healthy. Urging children to wash their hands frequently is vital. I knew I couldn’t depend on my children to wash their hands at school, but I always had them wash off the school germs as soon as they got home. Encourage your school to put an emphasis on frequent hand-washing. When soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer is a good alternative. I put a small bottle in my sons’ lunch boxes.
Wiping surfaces with a broad spectrum disinfectant like Vital Oxide also makes a big difference. It will even eliminate E. coli and MRSA (the super germ). Vital Oxide is great at home wherever germs lurk. And ask your school to try it, too. It is odor-free, totally safe, and it’s also a great mold fighter.
Allergies In Kids - Allergen Avoidance and Asthma Management
The home and school can also partner to provide allergen avoidance and asthma management for children. You may find that your child’s school recognizes the importance of allergen avoidance and asthma management and has already taken steps toward that goal. You may find that your child’s school is willing to create an allergy/asthma safe zone, but they do not know how to go about it. Or you may find resistance due to lack of understanding or lack of funds.
It may be up to you to advocate for an allergy/asthma safe environment. Although schools want to provide an atmosphere that will promote health, they may not be aware of what is needed to create an allergy and asthma safe zone. Tell them that there are 14 million missed days of school in the US every year due to allergies and 10 million missed days due to asthma. Now that you have their attention, explain the steps that schools need to take:
For schools that are serious about allergen avoidance and asthma management, the American Lung Association provides an excellent resource called the Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative Toolkit.
- Schools need to maintain relative humidity under 50% to minimize the growth of mold and the presence of dust mites. This can be determined with a humidity gauge. One of this month’s specials is a free humidity gauge with every order of $100 or more. You can use it at home or donate it to your child’s classroom. The gauge may indicate that a dehumidifier is needed to lower humidity, especially in warm months.
- Schools need to control dust with frequent dusting and vacuuming to reduce exposure to the elements of dust such as dust mite excrement, pet dander, mold spores, etc. Encourage the school to use HEPA vacuum cleaners so dust is not returned to the air in the vacuum’s exhaust. Recommend HEPA air purifiers for the classroom to remove 99.97% of airborne particles that are .3 microns in size or larger. An air purifier needs to be chosen to accommodate the size of the classroom. If it is a very large room, it might be necessary to have more than one air purifier. The air purifier must be run all night as well as when the classroom is in use during the daytime. The cost of operation is very small, but the benefit is huge.
- Schools need to examine classroom pet policies with regards to children who have allergies and asthma.
- Schools need to control exposure to pollen by keeping windows and doors closed in the spring and fall during prime pollen times.
- Schools need to exterminate cockroaches and alert parents of children with allergies or asthma when spraying will take place.
- Schools need to have a plan in place in the event a child goes into anaphylactic shock due to a food allergy or an insect sting or bite.
- Schools need to be sensitive to the individual needs of children with allergies and/or asthma.
Provide The School With Essential Information
If your child has asthma or an allergy, it is critical to supply the school with essential information needed to maintain daily health or in the event of an emergency. Use an action plan such as the Asthma Action Plan from the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. You may want to ask your child’s doctor to help you. Make sure copies are kept by all key personnel such as main office, nurse’s office, lunchroom, classroom teacher, physical education teacher, and other teachers who may be responsible for your child during the day.
Involve Your Child
Allow your child some responsibility for his or her own health depending on his/her age. Explain to the child how to avoid allergens or asthma triggers and what to do in the case of an emergency. Encourage him/her to speak up if help is needed. One of a child’s chief goals in life is to not appear different. Therefore, children are going to eat foods they know they shouldn’t eat, pet animals they know they shouldn’t pet, not take medication they know they should take, and do many other things they know aren’t good for them. You can help your child find things to say and do that won’t make them seem different in a bad way. For example, a child with an allergy to peanuts can say he doesn’t like peanut butter instead of saying he can’t have it because he’s allergic. Coaching your child can help them save face and enable them to do what they know they should do.
Kids going off to college can be challenging in more ways than one. They may think they know everything, but we know they don’t. Help them contact health officials on campus and locate the closest hospital. Remind them to get medication refilled. Go over allergen avoidance with them – one more time.
Enlist The Classroom Teacher’s Help
Your child’s teacher is like a parent away from home. Bring him/her in on the problem and the solution. Discuss possible triggers of an allergy or asthma flare-up with the teacher. The teacher can help your child avoid allergens and asthma triggers and can be aware and watchful if your child is in a problematic situation. Tell the teacher what bothers your child or provide a general list such as this:
A clued-in teacher could give the classroom pet to the class next door and the other children could visit it, could seat your child away from the chalkboard to avoid chalk dust, and could make sure edible treats and rewards are appropriate for your child. Even with all these precautions, your child with allergies or asthma is likely to miss a few days of school. Let the teacher know this may happen and find out how to get your child’s assignments. Make sure the classroom teacher and other teachers are aware of the child’s Action Plan. Ask the teacher to help the other children understand your child’s situation in a sensitive way.
- exposure to allergens such as animal dander, pollen, dust
- respiratory irritants such as chalk dust and smoke
- infections such as colds that make the child vulnerable
- odors from things like art supplies or new carpet
- weather elements such as cold or damp air
- physical over-exertion
- extreme emotional states such as stress, excitement, anger or laughing
- and others you may want to add.
Be Your Child’s Health Advocate
You may not have control over the school environment, but you can effect change and make a difference. Here are some ways you can take an active part as your child’s health advocate:
Pulling It All Together
- Parents need to understand school policy on medications – do they have a zero tolerance on drugs policy? This could make a difference in when and where your child is allowed to take medication.
- Parents need to make sure the school has updated health information any time there is a change.
- Parents need to make sure medications are not expired – especially emergency ones that are used infrequently.
- Parents need to take a tour of the school and look for problem areas.
- Parents need to ask for leaks to be fixed quickly, for windows to be kept closed during pollen season, for air conditioners and dehumidifiers to be used to control humidity, and for the school to be dusted and vacuumed often.
- Parents can build awareness on the school and classroom levels.
- Parents can find out if other children in the classroom or grade level have allergies or asthma, and get a parent’s advocacy group going. Also, if your child knows other children have allergies and asthma, he/she won’t feel different from everyone because someone else would be doing different things like going to the nurse for medication.
- Parents can keep the home and the child’s bedroom allergen free.
Keeping kids healthy is of utmost importance to parents and schools. One reason is that school attendance has long been directly linked to success in school. Working with your child’s school to provide information and direction concerning allergies and asthma can help keep your child well and in school.
Margie Bullock, Newsletter Editor
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