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School nurse shares 5 common mistakes parents make starting a new school year

Longtime school nurse Kate King shares tips for parents heading into the new school year.
/ Source: TODAY

Many parents spend back-to-school season buying school supplies, meeting teachers and enrolling their children in sports and extra-curricular activities. While building relationships with teachers, administrators and coaches remains important, there’s one other staff member parents should consider collaborating with — the school nurse.

“We want to help,” Kate King, 63, a registered nurse at World Language Middle School in Columbus and president of the National Association of School Nurses, said in a segment on TODAY aired Aug. 16. “School nurses are experts in linking their families and kids to community resources.”

King, who has been a school nurse for 22 years, shared what parents should never do heading into a new school year to help parents and children be as prepared as possible.

Never send kids to school with loose pills

Often children arrive at school with a baggie of random drugs or their pockets full of loose pills. King implores parents to never do this with their children’s prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs.  

“We need to know what medicine children are taking in school for their safety and others',” King said. “Ask your school what you need to (do to) get your child’s medicine at school, and if you are having trouble, ask your school nurse. He or she can expedite that.”

King also noted that a child with loose pills could face some serious trouble if they’re in middle or high school.

“If your child has unlabeled pills, they might be falsely accused of having an illegal (substance),” she said. “We never want that to happen.”

Never send a sick child to school

Sometimes parents think that a dry cough or a headache seems harmless. But King said that parents should never push it and send their children to school if they feel unwell, even if the ailment seems minor.

Cold and flu season is right around the corner, and a dry cough — especially one that lasts for a long time and (is) accompanied by a fever — can be something that’s transmissible at school,” she said. “We want you to keep your children home when they’re sick.”

She recommends that if a child has a cough with a fever, then parents speak to their pediatrician to make sure it’s not something more serious, such as the flu, COVID-19 or a chronic condition, such as asthma, which can present with a cough.

Never hesitate to ask the nurse for help

Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn when their child brings home a letter informing them of a change in their health. Maybe they failed their vision screening and need glasses, and their parents aren’t sure where to turn. Maybe the family doesn’t have vision insurance. That’s where the school nurse can come in to assist.

“Never hesitate to ask the nurse for outside resources,” King said.

As for lack of vision insurance, the school nurse can help there, too.

“The National Association of School Nurses gets 25 free vision vouchers for eye exams and glasses,” she said. “Never be ashamed (to ask for help).”

Never send children to school without water bottles

Hydration is probably the simplest thing you can do to keep your kids not only healthy, but also feeling well at school,” King said. “Often headaches, stomachaches, even just general malaise, they just need water.”

King recommends that children bring a water bottle that they can refill at school. She stresses the importance of children drinking tap water.

“Water in the United States is safe. Also, we have found since kids are drinking bottled water that’s not fluoridated, they have more cavities,” she said. “We want your kids to drink tap water that’s fluoridated.”

Never assume kids can’t manage their own health

Often parents want to take care of everything related to their children’s health, but it's important for them to learn to manage their health on their own. Even starting small can eventually teach children how to be the best advocate for their own health.

“Even little ones can learn to cough in their sleeves and drink water when they’re not feeling well,” King said. “In middle and high school, it can get more complex (by teaching them to) make healthy choices about food and nutrition, safety and even their own chronic disease.”

She noted that older children with asthma, for example, can learn when they need their inhaler and to ask to use it.

“People underestimate (kids') capabilities and their smarts," King said.

She added that following these tips can help your child be at their best health for the new school year.

“We want every child (that) comes to school this year to be healthy, safe and ready to learn,” King said.