Your Back to School Health Questions Answered

After summer months of chilling out, staying up later than usual and perhaps a lot of screen time in front of the TV and mobile devices, it is no wonder that kids have a big adjustment before them as they head back to school.

In an effort to make it easier for parents, we asked CHRISTUS Family Medicine- Port Arthur physician,  Dr. Gabriela Vazquez, to help us answer a series of questions to make sure your student’s health can make the grade.

Gabriela Saenz

  •  As parents, we often allow for later bedtimes during the summer months.  Why is a good night’s sleep important for children?  Any advice on how to get back on track and get the appropriate amount of sleep?

School-aged children need between 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. Getting adequate sleep can help improve a child’s mood, behavior and brain function (attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity). It is very important for parents to develop a regular sleeping schedule and maintain a bedtime routine.  In more recent years screen use has become a major issue in childhood sleep. A very important recommendation is to limit TV and get the screens out of the bedroom.

If late bedtimes are an issue, try adjusting bedtimes in 15 minute increments every night or other night until you get to a bedtime where your child wakes up easily and refreshed.

  • How does good nutrition play a part in a child’s health?

Energy and nutrient requirements for children vary depending upon age, sex and activity level. Healthful eating has many benefits for children. It can stabilize their energy, improve their minds, even out their moods, help them maintain a healthy weight, help prevent mental health conditions. (These include depression, anxiety, and ADHD.) Plus, having a healthy diet and focusing on nutrition are some of the simplest and most important ways to prevent the onset of disease. Most young children should be fed four to six times per day. Snacks are an essential component of the young child’s diet.

  • What’s your advice on vaccinations?  What about the flu shot?

Vaccinations are an important part of public health. They prevent the spread of contagious, dangerous and even deadly diseases. They are important not only for school-age children, but for babies and young children, pregnant women, teens and pre-teens, and adults. Vaccines are safe, effective and they save lives. Recommendations about when to have your child vaccinated changes from time to time. You can get a copy of the most current child and adolescent vaccination schedules from an organization such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or you can ask your family doctor. Your child usually receives their first vaccine soon after they are born.

The flu vaccine is given at the beginning of the flu season, usually in October or November. The flu shot is safe for children 6 months of age and older. Because flu viruses change from year to year, it is very important for your child to get the vaccine each year so that he or she will be protected. Children are more likely to have complications from the flu.

  • A child might be nervous about the start of a new school year.  When does nervousness become anxiety and then a problem? What’s your advice to help?

Starting a new school year can be exciting as well as stressful. Worries and fears are a natural and adaptive part of childhood development. Anxiety and fear meet the criteria for a clinical anxiety when the concerns are persistent and excessive, causing notable distress or impairment in day-to-day life. Childhood anxiety disorders are associated with educational underachievement, increased risk for depression, substance abuse and/or dependence, and suicide, as well as other significant functional impairments that can extend into adulthood. There are common signs that a child is struggling with his or her emotions or mental health. If you see any of these symptoms in your child, call your family doctor:

  • Frequent episodes of depression, sadness, or irritability
  • Often feels worried
  • Trouble sleeping, either too much or not enough
  • Periods of intense activity
  • Declining performance in school
  • Avoids spending time with friends or family
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Stomachaches or headaches with no physical explanation
  • Self-harm, such as cutting or burning the skin
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide


  • What kind of safety and health tips do you recommend for parents when it comes to their child’s backpack?

  • Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.  Go through the pack with your child weekly and remove unneeded items to keep it light.
  • Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • Adjust the pack so that the bottom sits at your child’s waist.
  • If your school allows, consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, they may be difficult to roll in snow, and they may not fit in some lockers


Vazquez reading to children

Dr. Vazquez, pictured above, spent part of her summer reaching out to young children at the Port Arthur Public Library.  She’s passionate about helping others.  More information on Dr. Vazquez and her practice can be found online: About Gabriela Vazquez, MD