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From 3 to 18, healthy back-to-school advice

By Janet Lee

For University of Utah Health Care BrandView

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20 2014 8:30 p.m. MDT

Back-to-school time often means back-to-doctor time for families. Learn how to protect yourself.


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Every stage of your child's life brings challenges and milestones, often measured at the start of a new school year. Annual exams are a great way to stay ahead of potential problems; with older kids, open and honest communication can help you tackle hot-button issues. Here, what to expect as your child grows, and how you both can move forward with minimal (fingers crossed!) angst.

PRESCHOOL (ages 3-5)

1. Potty training: This can be a stressful time for parents and kids, but forcing the issue can make the situation worse, says Kerry Whittemore, M.D., a pediatrician at University of Utah Health Care's South Jordan Health Center. "Let them lead the way and go at their own pace; otherwise, it can lead to a power struggle," she says. If your child isn't interested or is having problems with training, your doctor can help identify potential causes.

2. Immunizations: This is a fraught topic among parents these days, due to speculation and misinformation. "If your child isn't immunized, her lifeand other livesare at risk," says Alexis Somers, D.O., a family medicine physician at the South Jordan Health Center. If you opted not to vaccinate your child as an infant, it's not too late. Your doctor can create a "catch-up" plan and explain the latest evidence-based research about vaccinations.

3. Mealtime: Doctors are starting to see the complications of obesity at ever younger ages, so it's never too early to develop good eating habits, which tend to stick for life. Both Whittemore and Somers recommend having meals together as a family at the table, where you all eat the same foods.

4. Separation: Their first days at preschool can be as hard on the parents as they are on the child. "You can help build confidence and independenceand reduce stress levelsby setting and sticking to routines before you even start school," says Somers.

GRADE SCHOOL (ages 6-11)

1. Safety: "Injuries are the leading cause of death for school-age kids because they can't really sense danger or recognize hazards," says Somers. "But most can be prevented with basic safety education." Teach your kids about fire, gun, car, bike, and street safety.

2. Screen time: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get no more than two hours of screen time per day, including television, video games, computers, tablets, and phones. The more time kids spend in front of a monitor or screen, the less they spend being active and interacting with other kids.

3. ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders, affecting approximately 11 percent of school-age kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If your child fidgets and has difficulty focusing, poor performance on schoolwork, poor memory, an inability to sit quietly, and talkativeness, having him evaluated now can head off behavioral and academic problems.

4. Organization: In grade school, kids have to manage six hours a day of school, homework, friendships, and after-school activities. "A lot of kids have trouble staying organized," says Whittemore. "Make sure your child has a planner to write his assignments in, and go over it daily." Stay in touch with your child's teacher so you can quickly resolve any problems before they develop into bad habits.

JUNIOR HIGH (ages 12-14)

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