Summer vacation is winding down, and families have been busy preparing for another school year. Back to school can be anxiety provoking for parents and students alike. With a little preparation—packing bags and lunches the night before, meeting the teacher before the first day of class—getting back in the swing of things doesn’t have to be so difficult. Healthy habits at home can help children succeed in the classroom.
SLEEP: To support healthy growth and development, children need a lot more sleep than adults. According to some helpful guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, school-age children need 9-12 hours of sleep nightly, while teenagers typically need 8-10 hours each night. Children who don’t get enough sleep have trouble learning. Help your children get the sleep they need by establishing a sleep routine 1-2 weeks before school starts. Children (and adults) should turn off electronic devices well before bedtime, have a calming bedtime routine, and go to bed and wake up about the same time every day.
HEALTHY EATING: Hunger in the classroom has a negative impact on learning. Some studies show that children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better at school on tasks requiring attention, executive function, and memory. Many schools provide breakfast and lunch, but if your child’s school doesn’t, make sure she eats a breakfast with some protein—dairy, nuts, plant-based proteins, and lean meats are all good sources. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals essential for healthy growth; encourage your children to eat at least five servings each day. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas, sweet tea, and fruit juices.
EXERCISE: Getting enough exercise supports health in so many ways! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get at least 1 hour of exercise daily. School sports can be a fun way for kids to be more active and try new things. Before taking the field, see your pediatrician for a sports physical or annual visit. Even if a pre-participation physical is not required, an annual checkup visit is a chance to make sure it’s safe for your children to participate in their chosen extra-curricular activities. If you and your pediatrician decide it’s not safe, your pediatrician can often identify tools to make an activity safer or suggest alternative activities. All children need exercise — finding a safe, fun activity for each child is key.
Addressing these foundations of health at home is a great way to help your child succeed at school. But if school is still a struggle, call your pediatrician. Pediatricians can often provide resources to address issues like bullying, learning differences, and behavioral issues.