Parents, be prepared.

The weeks before school starts can be a critical time to accustom children to earlier bedtimes, prepare instructions for school nurses on allergy medicines, and make sure children have proper vaccinations, experts said.

“All this preparation is done so that the change of gears for school gets as smooth of a transition possible,” said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a South Jersey family physician. “Even when I was growing up, my parents did a great job, but it’s still a shock to the system.”

Caudle, an assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, said parents and guardians should think about their children’s medical supplies while back-to-school shopping.

As summer ends, children may react to fall allergens such as ragweed and suffer from hay fever — or have reactions to dust, mold and allergens stirred up when things are taken out of storage.

“The school and school nurses are great resources. Give a nurse instructions on when a child should take over-the-counter or prescriptions medications and the dosage, if they need an EpiPen available for serious allergic reactions,” Caudle said.

As for other medications, Caudle said, parents should work with family physicians and school nurses to make sure children have anything they might need, such as over-the-counter drugs Tylenol, Advil and Benadryl.

To protect against some more serious illnesses, experts say, parents should talk with pediatricians to ensure children get required vaccinations.

Infectious diseases still break out in the United States, but people forget they exist because widespread vaccination is common, said Fran Magnan, who oversees school immunizations for Cumberland County’s heath department.

“In (Cumberland), we still have pertussis, measles, chicken pox — and parents forget this. If you’re not directly involved in the situation, you might not know,” she said.

No new vaccinations were added to requirements this year, said Magnan, but many children will be up for first-time vaccinations or boosters as they progress through primary school.

If a student moves to a New Jersey school from out of state or outside the country, the student has a 30-day grace period to show proof of immunization, according to the state Department of Health.

In New Jersey, religious and medical exemptions for vaccinations are accepted. Schools often have lists of those children in case there is an outbreak of an illness and they need to be sent home, Magnan said.

Flu vaccination is only mandatory for child care and preschool centers, but school officials and health experts encourage both children and adults of all ages to get the vaccine.

In addition to illnesses and allergies, Caudle said, changing sleep schedules is a big part of preparation. If a child goes to school after spending the summer staying up late and waking up late, he or she could feel tired and stressed those first couple weeks.

To make that transition easier, Caudle said, parents may want to enforce an earlier bedtime this week. Avoiding late night sugary snacks or caffeinated drinks for preteens can also help, she said.

For those under 18 years old who are not due for vaccinations this year, the family physician said it’s always good to get a yearly physical before school.

“Kids don’t necessarily need shots every year, but a back-to-school physical can see if a child’s height and weight is on track, any eating, exercise or lifestyle concerns,” Caudle said. “We take our cars for tune-ups to make sure everything is working properly. Physicals are just like tune-ups for people.”

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Staff writer

Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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