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Tips From School Nurses on Keeping Kids Healthy

Most school nurses agree: The best way to keep students healthy during the school year is to make sure they wash their hands.

That simple tip matches the advice from experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others."

Hand Washing Is the Top Recommendation

A total of 271 school nurses responded to a KidsHealth in the Classroom survey in October and November 2013. When asked, "What do you think is the most important thing parents can do to help keep their children healthy during the school year?," 28% of the nurses said parents should make sure kids and teens wash their hands.

"Educate children on hand washing and how to cover their coughs and sneezes. We at the school cannot do all the education; it has to start at home," said a school nurse from Fayette, Alabama.

"Teach them how and when to wash their hands and to keep their fingers away from their eyes, nose, and mouth, and how to cover coughs and sneezes using their elbows," said a Bradford, Rhode Island, school nurse.

Here's what else school nurses suggested:

  • 18% said parents should encourage kids and teens to eat a nutritious diet.
  • 17% said parents should help kids and teens get enough sleep.
  • 11% said families need to stay up to date with all recommended immunizations, including flu shots.
  • 8% said parents have to keep students home when they're sick.

Keep Sick Students Home, School Nurses Say

When asked, "What's the biggest health problem at your school?," here's what the nurses said:

"I think the biggest health problems occur because there are parents who send their children to school knowing they are sick," said a Piermont, New York, school nurse.

A Newport Beach, California, school nurse agreed that the biggest problem is "Parents who send sick kids to school (even with a fever) because 'they have to take a test.'"

Many schools require that students stay home until at least 24 hours after a fever has broken naturally, without fever-reducing medicines.

When asked "What's the most important thing teachers can do to help keep students healthy during the school year?" even more school nurses recommended hand washing:

  • 73% said teachers should encourage proper hygiene and hand washing, and keep desks and classrooms clean
  • 12% said teachers should be role models to their students for healthy behaviors
  • 3% said teachers should send students home or to the nurse's office as soon as students say they feel sick or show signs of illness
  • 3% said teachers need to watch for signs of stress

About the School Nurses Surveyed

KidsHealth in the Classroom sent surveys to U.S. school nurses via newsletters. A total of 271 responded:

  • 88% from public schools
  • 8% from private schools
  • 4% from parochial schools

Among the respondents:

  • 49% serve K-5 or elementary schools
  • 14% serve multiple schools
  • 11% serve high schools
  • 10% serve K-12 schools
  • 8% serve K-8 schools
  • 8% serve middle or junior high schools

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2013