Medically Approved

Your back-to-school health checklist

5 minute read
Kid with backpack getting ready for school

These pediatrician-approved steps can help keep your kids healthy when they go back to school.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

You’ve had an amazing summer with your kids, but now is the time to get them ready for school again. There are books and supplies to buy, paperwork to fill out and — most important — health checkups galore.

To lighten your load, we’ve outlined a quick checklist of health to-dos. Follow these pediatrician-approved steps to keep your kids healthy this school year.

Schedule a health checkup

Your first step in getting your kids ready for school is to schedule an appointment with their pediatrician. “This is a perfect occasion to get your kids caught up on vaccines and to make sure your child’s growth and development are still going well,” says David L. Hill, MD. He’s a hospitalist pediatrician for Goldsboro Pediatrics in Wayne County, North Carolina.

Pediatricians do a number of key screenings, including:

  • Height, weight and blood pressure
  • Vision and hearing
  • Sports physicals, often required for sports and extracurricular activities

These regular health checkups let pediatricians identify potential issues and help ensure that your child is on track with growth and development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Your pediatrician will also ask questions to get a sense of your child’s mental and emotional health. Pediatricians can identify signs of depression, anxiety and other conditions so that your child can get help as soon as possible, if necessary.

If you have concerns about your child’s health, now is your chance to ask. Jot down questions using a notes app or in a notebook so that you don’t forget.

Call your pediatrician as early as possible (at least a month in advance), in case it takes a few weeks to get an appointment.

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See specialists, if needed

Pediatricians can address many health concerns. But there are other doctors your child may need to see, too.

For example, if your child wears glasses or hearing aids, you should visit an eye doctor or hearing specialist to ensure that their prescription is correct. And if your child has asthma or allergies, you may need to touch base with a pediatric allergist.

Back-to-school season is also an ideal time to get your child to the dentist, Dr. Hill says. They can make sure your child starts the school year cavity-free. If your child might need braces, the dentist may also recommend that you take your child to an orthodontist.

Create a health action plan

Schools require a health action plan for any child with a chronic condition that requires medication. That may include kids with allergies, asthma, diabetes or seizures.

Your child’s doctor should create the health action plan and outline when and how much medication to give your child in the event of an emergency. The health action plan must be provided to the school, along with your child’s medication(s). The instructions and medication(s) will be kept in the school nurse’s office in case your child needs care.

You want to be sure your child’s health action plan is on file by the time school starts, so try to give yourself a month’s lead time. “It might take some time to get in to see the doctor in the first place,” Dr. Hill says.

Also, keep in mind that you need to create a new health action plan every year. “Schools won’t honor last year’s instructions,” Dr. Hill says.

Adjust their bedtime

It’s not uncommon for sleep schedules to relax over the summer. Kids often sleep in a bit and get to bed later. This change in sleep habits can make it tough to return to school.

“It takes a while to clock back to a regular sleep schedule effectively,” Dr. Hill says. “So if you’ve got kids going to bed at midnight and waking up at 10 in the morning, don’t expect them to go to bed at 9 the night before school starts and wake up at 6.”

Instead, move up your kids’ sleep times 1 or 2 weeks before school starts. Adjust their bedtime and wake-up time gradually so that the new schedule is less of a shock.

Update your first-aid kit

Back-to-school is a great time to give your first-aid kit the once-over. Check for missing items and be sure the supplies you have aren’t expired.

Dr. Hill advises stocking your kit with a few COVID rapid tests. “Symptoms can come in the middle of the night, and that’s not a time when you want to be running to the drugstore,” he notes.

Some other items you may need include:

You can shop for all your first-aid essentials at the Optum Store and have them delivered right to your door. Start here.

Set good backpack habits

Lugging around a heavy backpack can do a number on your kid’s posture. A child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10% to 15% of their body weight, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. So if your child weighs 80 pounds, their backpack should be between 8 and 12 pounds. (Have them get on the scale and weigh it.)

Heavy packs are even more of an issue when kids insist on using only 1 strap. “Nobody thinks they look cool wearing both backpack straps, but that’s how backpacks are designed to be worn,” Dr. Hill says.

Wearing both straps helps distribute the weight more evenly and prevents items from moving around while walking. This eases the pressure on the child’s back and shoulders, helping them avoid discomfort and pain.

“It may be an uphill battle convincing your child to use both straps, but especially on the heavy book days, remind them that if soldiers on deployment can wear their backpacks right, they can, too,” Dr. Hill says.

Checked everything off of our list? Great job. Now your child is set for a happy and healthy school year.

Additional sources
Annual wellness exam: American Academy of Pediatrics (2019). “Back to School, Back to the Doctor”
Backpack weight: Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.). “Backpack Safety”