Summer can be a wonderful time for kids: no school, no homework, lax rules — they’re living the dream. Then the school year hits and so does the realization that your child is going to be surrounded by other kids and therefore increasing their exposure to germs. While your child may be excited to be back in the swing of things, it’s not uncommon for parents to still feel apprehensive about school, especially when it comes to their child’s health. The good news is, you can help support your child’s health throughout the academic year.
How? According to the Centers for Disease Control, establishing healthy behaviors is easier and more effective during childhood and adolescence than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. To help facilitate this, parents can focus on creating routines for their children and providing them with the necessary resources they need. SheKnows spoke with several medical professionals about this, and here’s what they had to say about the habits your kids can start now, to help support their health.
Sleep for success
One of the biggest adjustments between summer and the school year is probably the time your kid wakes up and goes to sleep at night. Instead of having a lax bedtime schedule, it’s important to have a set, sleep routine for your child. The Better Sleep Council (BSC — not to be confused with the Baby-Sitters Club) suggests setting non-negotiable bedtimes and wake-up times.
More than that, getting enough sleep is key to their academic performance. “Sleep is a powerful mood regulator too, predicting a child’s mood at school the next day – and a parent’s propensity to lose it in the school drop-off line,” Ellen Wermter, board-certified family nurse practitioner, and BSC spokesperson, tells SheKnows. “Memory, concentration, attention, even creativity – key ingredients of a good school and work performance – are also greatly affected by sleep. Emotional intelligence, which improves your ability to get along with others and be socially involved instead of isolated, soars with quality sleep.”
Cut down on screen time
Though your kids may have been glued to their phones, tablets, or the TV during the summer months, it’s best to limit their screen exposure during the school year. A recent study revealed a lot of screen time could be detrimental to your child’s health with too much actually causing developmental delays. To help prevent this, Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, recommends allowing your kids no more than two hours of media each day, noting that less is better, and during the school year, doing no screen time for kids during the week and one hour on the weekends.
To accomplish this, Ganjian tells SheKnows that parents can start with internet filters, a family media use plan (like which apps are permitted and for how long), and a rule that there are no TV or internet electronics allowed at the dinner table or in the bedroom.
Eat a healthy breakfast
Grabbing a bowl of sugary cereal in the morning is easy, sure, but it’s not the best option for your kids — especially during the school year. There are ways to ensure your kids start their days off with a nutritious meal that doesn’t take much effort — just a little preparation ahead of time, according to Shira Sussi, a registered dietitian. “Things like baked oatmeal, overnight oats topped with fruit, frittata packed with some vegetables and cheese — these foods can be easily put together in five minutes,” she tells SheKnows. “[All it takes is] reheating or plating, so you know your kids are starting off their day on a healthy note.”
Work on their posture
A bad posture while studying can lead to Carpal tunnel syndrome because of the tightening of muscles. Leaning or bending while sitting can also lead to poor digestion. That’s why Vivian Eisenstadt, a physical therapist, recommends that parents get their kids in the habit of implementing proper ergonomics — like sitting straight, standing straight, and knowing how to go up and down stairs properly.
“It can make all the difference in the world to teach children and teens how to sit properly and do stretches to balance out the long hours that they are sitting in their chairs and looking on their computers,” Eisenstadt tells SheKnows. “If you can catch poor habits early in life and balance out the severe imbalances caused by poor ergonomics and posture, you can give your children the gift of living a healthier and more pain-free life later.”
Create a supportive emotional environment
For kids with anxiety — whether they have an official diagnosis or not — school can be extremely stressful. I fell into that category starting in kindergarten and stayed there well into college. Each year around the end of July, I’d have constant, low-grade nausea thinking about the start of school. One way parents can help in situations like mine (or in general) is to make sure your child knows they are supported emotionally.
“Your mental health impacts your physical health and stress, depression, and anxiety often exacerbate or aggravate physical conditions, especially in kids,” Dr. Caesar Djavaherian, co-founder and chief medical officer at Carbon Health tells SheKnows. “Across the board, when I look at the healthiest children, I find them to be those who are supported by parents who foster open communication with their kids while at the same time establishing healthy boundaries.”
Djavaherian explains that this does not mean adopting a helicopter parenting style, but quite the opposite. “It’s encouraging and empowering your kids to pursue their own interests, whether it’s reading a book or acting in their school’s play,” he says. “Perhaps your child is an introvert or doesn’t fit the gender binary. Regardless of who your kid is, the more space you give them, and the more you make it clear that your home is a safe space for them to come to you with problems, the less stress you place on your kids, and the more likely they are to come to you with a health issue or concern.”