Doctor's Orders

Preparing Your Child for a Healthy New Year

Lou Romig, MD, FAAP, FACEP


What better New Year’s resolution than to help prepare your child to be healthy in the New Year! Here are some important factors:



Children need sleep to prepare their bodies to expend the energy they need for their activities in and out of school. Children who are sleep deprived may fall asleep in class, have trouble paying attention, make poor decisions about risky behaviors and be very moody.


How much sleep do kids need?

  • Toddlers and preschoolers: 10-12 hours
  • School-aged: 10-11 hours
  • Teens: 8-9 hours

Studies show that many children don’t get adequate sleep, especially during the school year. This issue has played a role in some school systems’ decisions to move school start times to later in the morning to allow kids to be better rested. If your child needs to increase his or her nighttime sleep, gradually move bed and wake-up times to match their school hours. Restrict your child from TV, computer and phone use for at least an hour, preferably two, before bedtime, as the light spectrum projected by these screens can make the brain more active and interfere with falling asleep. Try to reinforce to children that all cell phone use must stop during rest hours.



Children need adequate nutrition and hydration to power their bodies and brains. Whether it’s a sit-down meal or on-the-go, try to make sure your children have a nutritious breakfast that includes protein for extra energy that will keep them going until lunch. Teach children about the building blocks of a nutritious diet and give them guidance about choosing the proper foods for lunch at school if they don’t take a healthy lunch with them. Encourage your children to drink as much water as they can at school.


Sports preparedness

If sports are on your child’s school agenda, check with your pediatrician to make sure your child is healthy enough to participate. Talk to coaches about what precautions they take against the hottest months of the year and assure that children will have free access to water and/or electrolyte solutions to drink during practice and games. Let your child know that if they get dizzy, have a headache, get very thirsty, are nauseated or have muscle cramps while exercising (in sports or PE), they should stop, tell the teacher or coach they’re not feeling well, get to a shaded area or into air conditioning, and drink fluids.

If your child will be engaging in contact sports, assure that coaches and athletic trainers are educated about traumatic brain injury and concussions, and that the team has a protocol for dealing with athletes with possible head injuries.



Make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations, not only to protect him or her, but also to protect other kids at school. If you don’t vaccinate, be aware that your child may be more vulnerable to catching serious infections from other sick kids. Talk to your doctor about when it’s safe to keep your child home and observe them when they’re sick and when it’s wise to have your child evaluated urgently. Urge your children to wash their hands frequently and give older children small bottles of hand sanitizer to use at school.


Here’s wishing you and your family a healthy and happy New Year!