By Diane Ako
With back to school season just around the corner, it’s important to know that undiagnosed, untreated medical problems can profoundly affect a child’s ability to learn. Parents magazine teamed up with the Children’s Health Fund, a national organization dedicated to providing quality health care for kids, to put together a checklist to bring along to your child’s back-to-school checkup.
1. Is she overly stressed?
• Little kids worry about whether they’ll have someone to play with at recess. They worry whether that big argument their parents had the other night means they’re getting divorced. Even happy events—the birth of a new baby, a move to a bigger house—can loom large. Too much stress interferes with a child’s ability to concentrate, retain information, and perform.
2. How’s he sleeping?
• Kids who don’t get enough sleep are lethargic, have trouble paying attention, and their grades suffer. Easily distracted and often argumentative, tired kids can be overactive and may be misdiagnosed with ADHD. School-aged kids should be able to stay awake and alert all day. Most 5- to 11-year-olds should get 10- to 11 hours of sleep. But most don’t.
3. What does she eat?
• When a child is hungry, her head may hurt, and her memory may be fuzzy. Her hunger probably gets in the way of good sleep, so she’s too tired to follow what the teacher is saying and too irritable to care how her actions might affect the other kids.
• Children who are overweight—one-third of all kids in the U.S.—are equally at risk for poor school performance. High-calorie, low-nutrient foods don’t sufficiently feed brains. A growing body of research links obesity with poorer academic performance.
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