10 tips to keep kids healthy this school year

picture of a young girl with a bandaid on her arm


Even with the best intentions, our kids are exposed to germs every day. This is especially true when they get together with other kids at school, on the playground or in sports. Parents can help reduce sick days and keep their children's immune systems strong by following our 10 tips for staying healthy at school (and everywhere else).

1. Get adequate sleep. A consistent bedtime routine is important to your child's health. Children in kindergarten through grade six should get between nine and 11 hours of sleep. Sleep quality is directly associated with behavior, eating habits and the ability to fight off infections. Lack of sleep increases cravings for junk food and often results in mood swings, temper tantrums and an increased risk of infection.

2. Exercise daily. Help your child get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. This will help them:

  • Sleep better 
  • Fight off infection 
  • Be healthier overall
  • Improve their behavior
  • Manage stress better
  • Improve performance at school

3. Reduce screen time. Any screen time not associated with homework should be limited to two hours a day or less and includes phones, televisions, tablets, video games and computers. The light emitted from screens can reduce melatonin levels, making it more difficult to fall asleep and can disrupt the body's circadian rhythm.

4. Practice healthy eating habits. Promote your child's health with a nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with adequate hydration throughout the day. 

  • A healthy breakfast that includes protein, dairy and whole grains is directly correlated to positive behaviors throughout the day and improves your child's ability to focus and concentrate
  • A nutritious lunch includes lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Top off the day with a family dinner. Mealtimes spent with family promote better health and well-being. It can help prevent fatigue, improve mood, aid digestion and weight maintenance and improve brain function
  • Promote healthy drink choices like water and milk. Limit or eliminate sugar-sweetened and caffeinated beverages. Caffeine can increase your child's heart rate and blood pressure, interrupt sleep and cause nervousness and irritability

5. Stay up-to-date on immunizations. Getting the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine are particularly important. COVID-19 vaccines are now available for everyone over 6 months old, including children under 5 years old. With new variants and subvariants continuing to emerge, protecting against infection and severe disease is especially important. 

6. Wash hands frequently to reduce spread of germs. Teach your child to sing the happy birthday song twice (about 20 seconds) while washing. Make sure your child has hand sanitizer when hand washing isn't possible. Teach them to keep hands away from their face and to cough or sneeze into their arm or shoulder.

7. Consider masking in school. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers recommends that everyone over the age of 2 – regardless of vaccination status – wear masks in school. There are good reasons to mask up, including preventing seasonal respiratory infections. Additional guidance is provided in the COVID-19 Back to School Playbook from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

8.  Help your child deal with stress and anxiety. School, sports and social media can all be sources of stress and anxiety for your child. Monitor their social media use and keep the communication lines open so you can identify bullying or other sources of stress or anxiety at school.

9. Promote proper backpack safety. Heavy backpacks can cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Provide a good backpack that has two straps and cushioned padding. A full backpack should not weigh more than 10% of your child's weight.

10.  Schedule a school or sports physical. Nebraska law requires that children complete a school physical before kindergarten and seventh grade, but we recommend scheduling them annually. School and sports physicals are a way to monitor your child's development, growth and health each year. As children age, an annual physical also addresses issues like mental health, allergies, sexual health and asthma. Ensure vision and hearing checks are also part of your child's annual visits. Vision and hearing impairments can lead to behavioral issues and impact learning and development.

Should parents be worried about monkeypox?

It's understandable for parents to be concerned with the rise of monkeypox virus cases in the U.S.

There have been a few isolated cases in children, but the vast majority have been in close-contact households with infected people.

Monkeypox is commonly spread through close, face-to-face or direct skin-to-skin contact. So at this time, there's no need to worry about getting monkeypox from surfaces or otherwise, unless a child lives with an infected person. 

Learn more about how monkeypox spreads and how to protect your family