Back to School: 5 Tips to Help Your Kids Both Physically and Mentally
by DK Kara MD on Aug 09, 2021
We’re not built for the 21st century, and neither are our kids. This past school year has been challenging, no doubt. You may have had to put on your teacher hat for the first time. Maybe your kids went to school part-time. Either way, hopefully there were some positive takeaways from the experience.
Now, a brand new school year is just around the corner. You've already gone out to pick up school supplies, new outfits, and other materials. You may feel your kids are ready to hit the books.
They may have everything they need academically, but what about physically? What about mentally? Peering a little deeper into our kid’s lives lets them know you care. It will give them the confidence they need to start the year off with a healthy body and a healthy mindset.
This article gives you 5 tangible tips that will give your kids the best start for this upcoming school year.
Tip #1: Eating a Nutrient-Packed Breakfast
Life is hectic, and some days it’s all you can do to get them out the door so they don’t miss the bus. It may be tempting to give your kids a quick, “ready-made” breakfast (we see you, frozen waffles).
If your kids aren’t a fan of breakfast, no worries. If they are, what are some smart choices? A good start is too aim for foods high in protein. Sources of good breakfast proteins can be:
- Eggs (scrambled, over-easy, omelets)
- Turkey Bacon
- Cottage cheese
- Nut Butters (almond, cashew)
- Protein powders
- Smoothies with protein powder
Starting the day with protein can help your kids stay sharp as they learn new things.
Another great thing to include in your kid’s breakfast is fresh fruit. Keeping your kid’s immune systems healthy is paramount. After all, classrooms are busy and hallways are crowded. Fruits high in vitamin C like oranges, strawberries, and grapefruit are great options.
Tip #2: Make Sure They Get Adequate Play Time
Recess isn’t the priority it once was. After spending hours sitting at their desks, your kids need time to run around and stretch their limbs.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (1), “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”
Your kids don’t have to be super athletic to enjoy the benefits of a moving body. Maybe they’re not into kicking the ball or running around the yard. Stretching or martial arts is a great alternative. Having a dance party is also a fun way to get your wiggles out before sitting down for dinner or homework.
Quiet times are also important. Studies show being bored is actually a necessary part of healthy brain development. It gives your kid’s brain a chance to process information and even sparks creativity (2).
Tip #3: Limit Sugar
The door swings open and the kids run in. On their way to their room they snag a chocolate chip cookie. No harm done, right?
It’s a sad truth, but sugar really isn’t that great for us. Sure, we need the energy. Sugar has an interesting way of providing that… for a short time. But too much on a regular basis can:
- Increase hyperactivity
- Cause cavities and tooth decay
- Contribute to obesity
- Lead to diabetes
- Cause mood imbalances
- Increased forgetfulness
Not exactly the best recipe for success if we want our kids to do well in school.
So what can you do? If the goal is to limit sugar, here are a few realistic ways you can do that:
- Pack snacks ahead of time (mixed nuts, crackers with cheese, or carrots with hummus are a great choice).
- Swap the canned fruit with fresh fruit
- Include whole grains (bagels, english muffins, or toast can work)
- Offer kids milk or water instead of soda (nut or oat milk is a great option here as well!)
It can be tough at first to kick sugar to the curb. It gets easier with time, and the benefits your kids will get definitely makes it worth it.
Tip #4: Carve In Quality Time
As the school day winds down, why not ask your kids how things went? After all, there is a lot that goes on at school. Your kids won’t always know how to handle situations, feelings, or relationships.
Everyone is busy these days, and you might be wondering how much time you should be spending with your kids. The key here is to focus on quality over quantity. Even if you break it up into 5-10 minute chunks throughout the day, take that opportunity to give them your undivided attention. Dan Siegel, MD shares insight from his book Mindsight (3).
“When parents and children align their focus on each other, there is a neurobiological process…that is activated. This process, which mediates a sense of well-being, joy and elation, is at the heart of emotional attunement when one person feels “felt” and understood by the other person.”
Yes, there will be times where your kid doesn’t want to make small talk (hello, teenage years!). In those cases, try inviting them to go for a walk, share a funny story or joke with them, or ask them to help with dinner.
Letting your kids know you care, and that you’re there for them when they need to have those tough conversations, will go a long way in building your child’s confidence. This will help them long after their school days are over.
Tip #5: Get Plenty of Zzzz’s
Sleep is one of those things we often don’t prioritize enough. But if you’ve ever gone a day or two on only a few hours of sleep, you know how detrimental it can be.
Lack of good, quality sleep can affect your kid’s mood, appetites, ability to focus, and even immune system. According to kidshealth.org (4), kids between the ages of 5-12 need an average of 10-11 hours of sleep per night! This is just an average, though. Every kid is different, and some will need more than others.
Helping establish regular bedtime routines can help make this easier for both of you. Things such as:
- Turning screens off 1 hour before bed (TV, phone, tablet, etc.)
- Encouraging quiet activities (reading, coloring, puzzles, toys, etc.)
- Dimming bedroom lights
- Playing soft music
…can all add up in helping your child get great sleep.
Bringing It All Together
As Nelson Mandela wisely stated, “Children are our greatest treasure... they are our future.” It’s our job as parents to make sure they’re prepared in every way possible.
Getting them ready to go back to school can be difficult, even challenging. There is still so much change going on in the world, and there is a lot of uncertainty.
But one thing we can do is give them the best care we know how, especially when it comes to their physical and mental health. Nutritious foods, playtime, a limit on the sugar, quality time, and good sleep can add up to a much better start to the school year.
What other tips can you think of? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
References & Disclaimers