Help your kids do their best in school: Focus on the Foundations of Health
It is back to school time. Often with a mix of nerves and excitement, students open the next chapter of their academic journey meeting new teachers, seeing old friends and getting back into the early mornings. Some students may plan ahead with the perfect outfit to look their best, but may need some help and support to encourage feeling and performing their best in school. In addition to the back-to-school clothes shopping, focusing on some key health foundations could improve their wellbeing and academic performance.
Focus on sleep. According to the CDC, Adequate sleep allows students better focus, concentration and improved academic performance. Children and adolescents who get less sleep, not only are more likely to have attention and behavior problems but also other health problems like diabetes, obesity and are more susceptible to injury. School age children ages 6-12 are recommended to get 9-12 hours per night, and adolescents 13-18 are recommended to get 8-10 hours per night. With school starting early, achieving this amount of sleep means an early bedtime. Try setting a regular bedtime for your children (and yourself). Allow exposure to bright light in the morning and early in the day. Later in the evening, start dimming the lights creating an artificial dusk. This helps our bodies’ sleepiness signaling. Remove screens from the bedroom and consider implementing a media curfew.
Focus on Food. In addition to the health implications, there are also associations between the quality of diet and academic performance. Help your kids plan ahead with time for breakfast and pack a healthy lunch. Get their input for shopping for healthy things they like. Consider how a different kind of lunch box might help. A bento style box for the kids who like foods separate or with dips like hummus. Or a thermos style container for kids who would prefer soups, stews or stir fry. We make healthier choices when we plan ahead, so try getting into the habit of packing the night before instead of rushing in the morning. Skipping breakfast has been associated with more mistakes in math and vocabulary questions. Planning out breakfast the night before may be helpful. For a healthy breakfast on the go, try packing piece of fruit and some nuts or seeds. If you are inspired to help on a broader level, think about helping your school make changes to offer healthier school cafeteria options. A great guide based on how changes were made to Boston’s public school programs is available here https://www.locallunchbox.org/make-change
Focus on exercise. According to the CDC, recess, physical education, in classroom activities and extracurricular activities all were positively associated with academic performance. This is likely due to how important exercise is to our brain health, improving oxygen, and decreasing inflammation. There has also been an important link made between the cerebellum which controls balance and executive and emotional function because of all the connections it has with the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that helps with focus, planning and impulse control. Engaging in activities that practice hand eye coordination and balance may also be important for optimizing those connections to improve impulse control, working memory and focus. If team sports aren’t your child’s interest, brainstorm together about other ways to get their body moving. Try walking or bicycling to school. Or an after-school activity like a running club, walk with the dog, gym membership, YouTube exercise video, home dance party, laughter yoga, or rock climbing. Be creative. Be a role model.
Focus on peace and connection. Recent study from the CDC explored the mental health impacts of COVID 19 on high school students. More than 1/3 report poor mental health, and over 40% reported feeling sad or hopeless in the past year. The right amount of stress helps us feel energized for the challenge, but too much stress can weigh us down and have long term health and mental health effects. Be there to listen and validate their experience. Guide them towards mindfulness and gratitude. Try mindful eating at the dinner table together, or starting the meal with 3 things everyone is grateful for, or even appreciation for where the food has come from. Encourage time outdoors in nature and with pets. Consider aromatherapy; try calming blend with lavender. All of the above health foundations, sleep, exercise and healthy food also support mental health and wellbeing. If needed seek out a counselor or psychologist for help and support.
Best wishes for a strong new school year!