Your health
By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly 

As children lament the end of summer, now is the time for parents to prepare to keep children safe as they return to school. 

The beginning of a new school year is a great time to get annual physicals. Texas mandates that all children entering public schools have current immunizations and vaccinations. 

This year, there are new requirements for immunizations affecting mostly kindergartners and seventh-graders. Visit with your children’s heath care provider for these important shots. 

Also, keep in mind that classrooms can be rife with germs, so make room for hand sanitizer in your children’s backpacks. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, buses are the safest form of transportation on the road, but remind children of a few safety tips to ensure they remain safe riding to and from school. 

Make every attempt to arrive at the bus stop early to avoid rushing and put reflective tape on backpacks to increase visibility in the early morning hours. Have children stand at least 10 feet from the curb while waiting for the bus. Wait until the bus stops completely before approaching the bus, and cross in front of the bus, never behind it. Children should know how to buckle their seat belts if available and follow the driver’s directions. If possible, parents should take turns monitoring the bus stop.

 If walking to school, make sure children know how use crosswalks and the importance of listening to crossing guards. Teach children to use only main sidewalks, avoiding empty lots and alleys. 

If you have young teenagers who may be home alone after school for a few hours, safety should be your prime concern. 

Check your home thoroughly for safety risks, including the obvious dangers, such as firearms and alcohol. Post a list of emergency numbers on the refrigerator, including contact information for neighbors or relatives. Assemble a first aid kit and practice fire escape plans. Discourage children from using the oven or stove alone unless you are positive they are safe in the kitchen. 

Prepare your children for as many what-if scenarios as you can imagine. Have children practice what they should do if they lose their key, if they get hurt or feel sick, or if a stranger knocks on the door. 

Practice emergency procedures, including what to say on the phone if calling 911. Children need to know key identification information, such as their home address and parents’ work numbers. Caution children to never go inside the house if the door is unlocked, ajar or appears to have been broken into. Tell them to go to a neighbor’s home for help. 

Finally, require children to take the same route to and from school each day, and to come straight home after school. Establish a check-in routine so you know they made it safely home. 

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.