Becky Carter: Start the School Year with Healthy Habits and Safety in Mind

By Becky Carter
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital

We’ve focused on summer safety as well as being smart as we enjoy the outdoors in past columns, but this month I’d like to look at how students, from kindergarten through high school, can start their school year off in the best way. If families focus on health and safety at the beginning of the school year, strong wellness habits created now can last into adulthood for their children.

With our elementary school-age kids, good health habits begin in the home with the foundational pillars of a healthy diet, ample rest, and lots of physical activity. A nutritious diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is a must for good health, while outdoor time every day – whether that’s organized sports or just free play – allows kids to let off steam and counter the hours they spend sitting at school. Sodas and other sugary drinks should also be an occasional treat rather than an everyday habit.

If they bring lunch from home, a balanced meal that can take them from noon to the end of the school day helps them stay focused and ready to learn. If your kids eat school lunch, urge them to skip the fried options and head to the salad bar. At dinner time, it’s often impossible to avoid takeout entirely with how busy families are, but try to make it the exception rather than the rule. Evidence has shown lower rates of childhood obesity for kids whose families sit down and eat dinner together on a regular basis.

Before the first day of school, review safety protocols if your child is a school bus rider. Even though buses are equipped with stop signs and flashing lights when students get on and off, car drivers sometimes get distracted and may pass a bus anyway. Teach kids to wait and check for vehicles before crossing the street.

No matter what grade your student’s in, school can be a source of stress, whether that’s jitters about end-of-year tests or an instance of bullying. Kids feel safer if they know they can talk to their parents and teachers, but teaching them self-calming techniques to handle anxiety will make them feel empowered. Taking several mindful, deep breaths, squeezing a hunk of clay, closing their eyes for 30 seconds or sucking on a mint can help manage stress.

As kids become tweens and teens, they need healthy limits when it comes to electronic device use. Tech devices have also sadly become new tools for bullying and peer pressure. A child used to get a break when they left school; now they need to self-regulate by powering down. Finally, it’s critical to impress upon teens earlier that the things they do and say online don’t go away – ever.

Increasingly, our teens are picking up smoking, but not standard cigarettes. E-cigarettes are a relatively new, worrisome product. Their use by teens has increased by nearly 900 percent since their introduction into the market in 2011, according to Jeff Spargo, Coordinator for the Mitchell Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force. “They’ve been marketed heavily to teens. They come in candy and fruit flavors, and they’re easy to conceal because they’re designed to look like a computer thumb drive. The problem is that they’re loaded with nicotine, as well as other harmful substances, like heavy metals and other known carcinogens,” says Spargo. It’s important to talk to our kids and teens about smoking’s devastating effects on health.

Rest is essential to children’s school success and lowers their risk for obesity, diabetes and attention issues. The CDC recommends 9-12 hours of sleep per night for children ages 6-12, and 8-10 hours a night for children ages 13-18. Help kids establish rituals surrounding bedtime that are comforting, like taking a bath or reading.

Blue Ridge Regional Hospital cares for patients at every stage of life. We want to support our families and encourage parents to talk to their kids and teens about all they can do to maintain their physical and mental health. The good news is that their influence over their own health habits impacts their success in school and overall quality of life.

Becky Carter

Rebecca W. Carter, MSN, RN, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Carter has served in senior hospital management for over 20 years and previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, also a part of the Mission Health system.

Ms. Carter is board certified in healthcare management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). A native of North Carolina, she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Carter is currently a resident of Burnsville.