Each year when your kids go back to school provides an opportunity for a fresh start and a clean slate, so to speak. That may involve a new backpack, that cool new binder, and some new clothes, too.
But the back-to-school season should also involve a fresh look at your kids’ health—and what you can do as a family to improve it.
Read on as Farrah Vernon, DO, family medicine physician at West Tennessee Healthcare Primary Care Martin, offers a look at ways you can boost your kids’ health.
Back-to-School Basics: Helping Kids Get the Sleep They Need
Let’s be real here—getting your kids in a good sleep routine is often one of the hardest parts of parenting. And you usually have to set and reset that bedtime and wake-up routine every time back-to-school season rolls around.
Still having difficulties getting your kids back into a good routine? We have a few tips to make it easier.
But first let’s consider: How much sleep do they actually need? The short answer—it depends on their specific age.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that:
- Children ages 3–5 get 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night
- Children ages 6–13 get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night
- Children ages 14–17 get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night
Getting enough sleep can ensure your kids stay on track developmentally, but it also promotes better learning. Your children will have an improved attention span, better memory, and boosted problem-solving skills when they get enough sleep.
Help your kids get the sleep they need by practicing good sleep hygiene habits:
- Set—and stick to—a consistent bedtime and wake-time, even on weekends. This is important for both children and adults, since it allows the body to develop a familiar routine and know when it’s time to sleep and wake up. Determine each child’s bedtime by subtracting the number of recommended hours of sleep from the time he or she needs to wake up.
- Build a bedtime routine. This may involve taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading a book, and any number of other soothing nighttime routines.
- Turn off the electronics. Ideally, electronic devices should be kept out of the bedroom. But at the least, they should be turned off an hour or two before bedtime to allow kids to wind down for sleep without blue light exposure.
- Keep the room cool and dark. That sleep environment is most conducive to quality sleep.
Back-to-School Basics: Getting Kids the Right Nutrients
Whether you have picky eaters in your family or your kids simply have a taste for junk food, building healthy eating habits is also a challenge in many cases. But it doesn’t have to be!
Use the back-to-school season as a chance to truly hit the reset button on your family’s eating habits. As a family, start incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet—half the plate at each meal should contain produce.
Eating a nutritious breakfast is an important way to get your kids’ days started on the right foot. Aim for a meal that contains a healthy carb, a lean protein, and a small amount of healthy fat. That combination will help keep the body full and the mind focused until lunchtime.
Promote healthy eating in your family by selecting and preparing recipes together that involve new and healthy foods. Kids are more likely to eat foods that they have a hand in helping to prepare.
And the very act of sitting down for a meal together is also a big booster for kids’ health. Family meals have been shown to boost self-confidence and to lower the risk of mental health issues.
Back-to-School Basics: Keeping Kids Illness-Free
It seems like it’s always the case. The school year gets started…and then illnesses crop up.
No matter what back to school looks like for your family, it will include some new processes this school year. For kids who will be learning from home, you’ll need to talk through the basics of how that will work and what is expected.
If in-person learning is planned, there will be more to talk about. Step your kids through new rules and regulations implemented at school, including extra safety and health measures.Help your kids avoid other illnesses, including head lice, by teaching them at an early age not to share items such as hats, combs, brushes, cups or utensils.
Go over the basics of how to practice social distancing whenever possible—and if masks are required, find your children ones that they like and that are comfortable. It’s also important to talk through how to wear them correctly, ensuring that they fully cover the nose and mouth.
Reviewing handwashing basics also isn’t a bad idea. Even many adults slack on proper handwashing, so talk through washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time. Make sure your kids know to lather up all surfaces of their hands, including under the nails, and to fully wash off the residue.
Between hand-washings, make sure your kids know not to touch their eyes, mouth or ears with their hands. Doing so is one of the biggest ways that illness spreads, since bacteria and viruses can enter the body that way.
And finally, help your kids boost their immune system by following tips one and two—ensure they’re getting plenty of quality sleep and eating a healthy diet. Regular exercise is also key in keeping the body functioning at its best and preventing illness.
One final tip: Make sure everyone in the family gets a flu shot this fall. That’s the single best way to prevent the flu.
Regular checkups are an essential part of keeping your kids healthy and on track with development. Need a doctor? Find one here.