College is when many kids first experience new-found freedom – from navigating classes and meeting new people to preparing meals and doing their own laundry. For many students, it’s also when they first become responsible for their own health and wellness. Tackling health with confidence is easy, if they’ve done their homework.
The best way to help children prepare to take on the many challenges of their new home away from home is to make sure they have the right tools and resources from the start.
First, schedule a visit with your family physician before your kid leaves for school. At the appointment, come prepared to discuss a game plan to get your young adult ready.
Here’s a checklist of things you may want to do:
- Check vaccinations are up-to-date. You’ll also want to get a copy of your child’s vaccination history in case a healthcare provider needs to know his or her medical history while away at school or if the school needs one for its record.
- Encourage your child to talk about sex. Both sons and daughters can benefit from a frank discussion with their physicians about safe sex, STDs and the HPV vaccine. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so you may also want to discuss condom use and long-term birth control options.
- Get any needed prescriptions filled. In addition, have them bring along hard-copy prescriptions – or have their physician phone or fax them – to college, so that your kids can make arrangements to have future prescriptions filled at a pharmacy nearby.
- Stock up on any needed vitamins or supplements. Discuss with your physician which vitamins or supplements could benefit your child. College is often associated with poor nutrition, poor sleep and hit-or-missexercise. Your physician might recommend certain vitamins or supplements to keep your kid’s health on track.
- Pack a first aid kit. Consider packing these items in a plastic, waterproof container to store in a college dorm room: tweezers, adhesive bandages, non-stick gauze, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, ice pack, heating pad (or a warm pack), acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antacids, antihistamine, throat lozenges, thermometer and eye wash.
Also include inside the kit your family physician’s phone number, the campus clinic’s phone number and copies of any pertinent health insurance information. Personal information to include are your kid’s blood type, any medical or food allergies, any medical conditions and an emergency contact. Your family physician can also give recommendations on other items your kid should consider bringing to school.
Off, Off and Away
You can’t be there with them, but you can make sure your kids are stocked with these items for a healthy dorm room:
- Hand sanitizer. If your kids have a roommate, they’ll be sharing not only a room, but each other’s coughs and sneezes. Communal spaces are great for socializing and studying, but they can quickly become germ-filled. Keep a hand sanitizer nearby to stop germs in their tracks.
- Disinfecting wipes. Your kids will also want to bring disinfecting wipes to clean off surfaces – food prep area, phones, electronic devices and bathrooms.
- Tissues. Have a box of tissues nearby for the onset of sniffles and sneezes.
- Flip flops. Bring flip flops for shower time. Fungal foot disorders are common in damp, communal areas. Your kids can protect their feet by wearing flip flops. They should make a quick foot examination part of their daily shower routine to ensure plantar warts and fungal infections, like athlete’s foot, are kept at bay.
- Bedding. New bedding is great and with regular washings, it can remain so. Your kids should be sure to set a weekly wash schedule to keep their bedding fresh (and free of bugs), as well as their clothes.
When Being On Their Own Isn’t Fun
Many students transitioning to college have difficulties making the adjustment to life on their own. The many new stressors can feel overwhelming and result in some students withdrawing from college while others may begin to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Unfortunately, many students don’t focus on their own health until they have to. There are many resources for mental health and students should never feel ashamed asking for help. Campus support services can provide guidance to clinics, physicians and other valuable resources. Remind your kids to call home, too. Sometimes, a familiar voice at the end of the line can help when they’re feeling down.
College is a time of discovery. For your kids, this means learning new perspectives, forging new friendships and expanding their sense of self. Staying healthy while they’re doing all this earns nothing less than an A.