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""Whether it’s your children’s first day of kindergarten or their senior year of high school, one of your biggest responsibilities as a parent is to keep them healthy. That means more than just three square meals a day — exercise, oral hygiene, sleep, and illness prevention all play a part in kids’ health.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) offers tips to parents to help children stay in shape and in school this year.

Nutrition and Exercise

Getting enough exercise and eating nutritious food make up the foundation of good health for school-age children.

  • Eat Better — When packing your children’s meals, follow Mass in Motion’s nutrition tips to ensure they’re getting the vitamins and nutrients they need.
  • Move More — Kids should be active for at least one hour each day. Whether or not they’ve outgrown recess, be sure to encourage physical activity. You can do this by choosing an activity to do together, taking them to parks or playgrounds regularly, or encouraging children to practice a favorite sport or hobby.

Oral Hygiene

Tooth decay in children is an often overlooked but entirely preventable health issue. According to a 2009 DPH Office of Oral Health report, about one-third of Massachusetts middle- and high-school students reported that they’d had a cavity in the last year. There are several ways to prevent tooth decay in children and keep their teeth pearly white and strong:

  • Brush Twice a Day — Starting at age one, everyone should brush their teeth twice each day with fluoride toothpaste. Parents should help children under eight with oral hygiene by following DPH’s brushing guidelines.
  • Drink Fluoridated Water — Many Massachusetts communities are supplied with fluoridated tap water, which helps strengthen kids’ teeth and prevent cavities.
  • Consume Less Sugary, Carbohydrate-heavy Food — In addition to improving their overall diet, reducing how frequently kids eat foods high in sugar and carbohydrates can help lessen the risk of tooth decay.

Sleep

Make sure your kids get enough rest to be focused and ready to learn at school each day. School-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Follow Mass in Motion’s tips to help your kids get high-quality sleep:

  • Set a regular bedtime routine.
  • Ban TVs from children’s bedrooms.
  • Remove other devices and screens from their room before bedtime.

Illness Prevention

With kids back in school, colds, the flu, and other infectious diseases can spread easily. Prevent kids from missing crucial learning time by ensuring that they have received the appropriate vaccinations, according to the Massachusetts School Immunization Requirements, and following tips from DPH:

  • Wash Your Hands — The simplest way to prevent illness is to teach children good hygiene, especially how to wash their hands and when they should do so. Always use soap and wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails.
  • Get the Flu Vaccine — Influenza is an infection that can have serious and even life-threatening complications. Have each member of your household — young and old — get the flu vaccine each year to reduce your family’s risk of contracting and spreading this illness.

With these simple tips, your kids will be set up for success in the coming school year. The only challenge left is getting them to finish their homework!

Share your tips for keeping your children healthy by commenting below or tweeting @MassGov.

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