NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As the school year begins, learn best practices to keep kids healthy mentally and physically with a pediatrician from CHKD.

Dr. Leah Rowland from CHKD Pediatric Specialists joins Digital Host Sarah Goode to discuss some of parents’ top questions. Rowland is the co-chair of the School Health Committee for the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Watch the conversation in the video player on this page.

Rowland said one of the top priorities this year is that kids return to overall health and well-being.


With kids heading back to school, how do they stay protected from germs and bugs?

Rowland said handwashing is one of the basics to help stop the spread. Also, if your child is sick, keep them home. It’s better not only for other kids and staff, but also for their overall health. They need time to rest and recover.

Looking ahead to the RSV, COVID-19, and flu potential this year, Rowland said we have to use tools available to keep kids healthy. Rowland said we are going to see illnesses in kids, but we have to keep them as healthy as possible.

“I think taking advantage of what we’ve learned from the pandemic, and utilizing the resources that we have to keep kids healthy,” Rowland said.

This fall, she recommends getting the flu shot when it is available, as they have seen that season move up earlier.

Rowland said health is not one-size-fits-all. It is important to make decisions for your child and family. Communicate with healthcare providers and know the risk factors that exist in your home, whether that’s a child with asthma or one with pre-existing conditions.


For overall health, nutrition is important. When packing lunch, focus on real foods.

“Food that is not processed,” she said. “When you read the label, you know what the ingredients are and where they came from.”

She offered an example if your kid only eats apples, and that’s what they want for lunch. She said apples are real food and easy to transport. Use other meals of the day to try out new foods. And, keep trying. She said it might take 30 to 40 times to get something new into their diet.

Another tip, model good eating behavior. Show them what eating real foods means, and balanced meals.

Rowland said the School Health Committee is looking into school meals. They are concerned about nutrition of children that helps with their health.

During the pandemic, universal school lunches were offered for a while. Districts were seeing kids less hungry at school because kids had access to food. Rowland says one in 11 kids in Virginia is hungry.

Mental Health

Another piece in overall well-being is mental health.

“In general, we are seeing a lot more mental health concerns with our children,” Rowland said.

Bring kids in to see a medical provider if they need someone to speak with. Don’t be afraid to bring kids in to a visit.

For younger kids, look for signs for behavioral changes, poor sleep, crying and sometimes anger.

For teenagers, if they seem off, Rowland said as much as you think they might be pushing you away, they still need you more than ever.

She’s seeing the mental health topic be destigmatized.

Rowland said she tells parents that speaking with people is like having a coach.

“You wouldn’t just throw a baseball,” she said. “You’d have a coach show you how to throw a ball.”

There are ways to teach you how your brain works. And, kids can get help to cope with their emotions and anxieties.


Kids come into visit the doctor’s office exhausted. They have illnesses, or are anxious, worried and sad. Some are not attentive at school.

Rowland said some of these kids can be involved in too many activities and are overscheduled. It leads to the children and the whole family being exhausted.

Teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep. That number might not be possible for most teens.

Rowland wants kids to have healthy sleep habits. She does not recommend them taking melatonin or other supplements.

Here are two things that are helpful for sleep that Rowland shares with families.

  • Early morning light is helpful for waking up.
  • Turn off the screens earlier at night. Get them off technology, and let melatonin naturally kick in.

To find more information and resources, visit the CHKD Health Library.

Watch the full conversation in the video player on this page to learn more from Dr. Rowland.