Some aspects of health and nutrition are best tackled during a long vacation. This prepares children for the responsibilities and pressures that a new school year brings with it, says Hema Vijay

Braces? Glasses? A nutrition plan…? Of course, there is no ‘one’ right time to check out if our kids are in the best of health and spirits, and to attend to all their health needs. But it is important now, to ensure that our kids are ready to get back to school, and take on the challenges of the year ahead.

Parents take their kids to the doctor, only when they fall sick or need vaccinations. But an annual paediatric check-up could help them keep a tab on their child’s weight and growth, and put them wise to undetected health problems.

For instance, the state of the nails, hair, and skin could reveal protein deficiency. An abnormal increase in weight might indicate obesity and parents will have to work out a nutrition and fitness plan. Getting children started on a fitness routine or to follow medical or dietary advice is advisable during the holiday months, because once school starts, there will little be time to initiate them into a new routine.

Don’t forget the dentist

A dental check-up is essential for various reasons. Permanent teeth start erupting around age 6. Check if teeth that are erupting are properly aligned; your dentist will advise you if intervention is required. Check the child’s facial and jaw profile too. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can alter facial development and cause teeth to protrude or the jaws to develop abnormally. “The face growing abnormally, the upper jaw becoming narrow, protruding teeth… these could indicate enlarged adenoids or tonsils,” says Dr. S. Venkateswaran, dental surgeon and orthodontist.

Some children may inherit a small jaw but have large teeth, leading to crowding or locking of the teeth inside the jaw. In this case, serial extraction of the teeth and/or other treatment may be required to allow space for permanent teeth to emerge properly aligned. And don’t make the mistake of ignoring cavities in milk teeth, thinking they are going to fall out, anyway.

“Cavities in milk teeth can affect the health and alignment of the permanent teeth that erupt later. Milk teeth with cavities have to be appropriately treated,” says Dr. Venkateswaran.

Vision check

Vacations inevitably mean more time spent on console games, watching television or at the computer — all activities that cause eye strain. “If they have not had an eye test in the last 4-6 months, children under age 12 who have been wearing glasses need a dilated cycloplegic refraction test to determine any change in vision. Those children who don’t wear glasses need a check-up too, if they show signs of decreased vision,” says Dr. Anand Parthasarathy, chief surgeon, Vasan Eye Care Hospitals.

Older children, who show symptoms of eyestrain such as headache, brow ache and irritation, or watering and redness of the eye after prolonged reading, also need to undergo an eye test, as do toddlers who are just about to be enrolled in school, in order to detect vision defects early.

Food and nutrition

Getting kids to choose and pack their lunch-boxes might be a good idea to try out before the start of the new school year. “Picking the food and packing their lunch builds an association and a responsibility. So kids would be less inclined to pass over their lunch,” observes consultant dietician Dharini Krishnan.

“Check for anaemia too. Globally, 30 per cent of kids are anaemic,” she informs. De-worming with tablets or syrup is recommended too.

Coping with change

Kids approaching puberty should be prepared to handle the changes accompanying it. And if you are planning to send your grown child to school on his own in the following academic year, practise the routine with him at least a week before the term begins, teaching him the route, the safety rules, the landmarks, and the phone numbers to contact in times of need. Caught up with academic targets, parents tend to forget that education is for life, not just for a livelihood. “It pays to reinforce moral values in children (and repeat these from time to time) when kids are on the threshold of a new school year. This would help ensure that their doubts are dispelled and this is important when they have to make decisions amid the whirl of activities in school,” says Dr. R. Revathy, specialist in paediatrics, social paediatrics, child health and nutrition.