Back-to-school: Helping kids get a healthy start
It’s the end of August, and with that, the start of a new school year is on the doorstep. There’s always lots for children to anticipate with the start of school; whether it be a new teacher, a new class/classmates, or a new school. Excitement and anxiety can go hand-in-hand for many kids, and their parents as well.
To get the school year off to a healthy and happy start, here are some tips and considerations for the whole family during this time of transition.
Getting into a regular sleep routine once school starts can be difficult because of less restriction on sleep times in the summer, that later setting sun, and vacations that throw a sleep schedule out the window.
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for a number of reasons including maintaining good energy throughout the school day, supporting concentration and focus in class. Both sleep quality and quantity are important, because this is the primary time when the body rests and restores.
On average, preschoolers need 10-13 hours, school-aged children need 9-11 hours, and teenagers should be sleeping at least 8-10 hours every night.
The timing of when kids fall asleep can make a big difference in sleep quality. Children from infancy to school-age seem to sleep better when they fall asleep between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. On the other hand, children who go to bed after 9 p.m. often take longer to fall asleep, wake more frequently during the night, and end up sleeping less overall.
To support kids getting the shut-eye they need, start establishing an earlier bedtime gradually over the next few weeks. Work towards the ideal time by working back in 15-20 minute increments every day or two. These gradual but consistent shifts can help make the bedtime change easier for children and parents.
It’s also worthwhile to re-establish a consistent evening routine, that includes a regular bedtime. Powering down the screens and electronics at least an hour before bed is a good idea, as the blue-light emitted is a known disruptor of melatonin secretion. Suppression of melatonin makes it difficult for children and adults to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Healthy, real food builds healthy bodies and brains. You literally are what you eat, so think about how you can prioritize nutritional building blocks like healthy fats, protein, whole grains and colorful veg and fruit. The ideal lunch includes veggies (1-2 different colours), a serving or two of fruit, a protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, beans/bean dip, nuts/seeds and their butters) and a carbohydrate (whole grain bread, crackers, tortilla, whole grain pasta or rice, oats, quinoa).
I know you have heard it before but avoid added/refined sugars as much as possible to help keep everyone’s nervous system healthy. Sugar consumption has been linked to poor memory, and attention span in the classroom – not to mention it just tends to make kids more anxious and irritable.
Make time to connect and listen to your kids. As tough as it might be with busy schedules, having some time to give your kids space to talk and just be connected with their parents is especially important with the back-to-school transition. Maybe you prioritize having dinner together at the table regularly to facilitate this, maybe you use the bedtime routine as a time for sharing, stories, cuddles and love. Try to make this time a consistent part of the daily routine to support the whole family.
Enjoy the last few days of summer. I hope these tips help everyone in the family get a healthy and happy start to the new school year!
For healthy school lunches and snack ideas, check out www.100daysofrealfood.com and www.nourishingmeals.com.
Dr. Bronwyn Hill is a Naturopathic Doctor at StoneTree Clinic in Collingwood. She and her colleague Dr. Maggie Pattillo both live in the Creemore area and will be regular contributors to The Echo.