Dr. Deirdre Jasper ND
Top 10 Back to School Tips for Success
Summer days are fading into the sunset and autumn is in the air...it is back to school and back to regular work routines for many of us. I don't know about you but summer can be a time of the year when many healthy routines fall to the wayside. In summer, we embrace the longer days, the sunshine, and vacation days. Summer is often a time of more social events—barbecues, weddings, festivals/fairs, concerts, sporting events, and camping trips! These events can throw off our diet, exercise and sleep regimes for weeks on end. At the end of summer, there may even be just a smidgen of you that is actually looking forward to a return to healthy routines. If you are a parent, then your children may not be as thrilled for this time of year as you are. So let's review a few tips for making the transition from summer holidays to the school year a little bit smoother.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Back to School Success:
1. Earlier bedtime School age children may need 10-12 hrs of sleep per night, while teenagers may need about 9-10 hrs per night. Ensure that the child's bedroom is dark, by hanging black-out blinds or curtains. Offer a sleep mask as another option (there are some very cute sleep masks out there!) If your child struggles with bedtime, start early (some kids may need up to 2 hrs of preparation for bed). Calming activities such as a warm bath, reading, playing a game (not on a screen) or listening to ambient or classical music are all great tools for winding down. Turn the lights down low, as darkness encourages melatonin secretion in the brain (the hormone that makes us sleepy). Offer a cup of chamomile tea, rub their feet, or sing a lullaby. Talk about the day they had and what they can look forward to tomorrow.
2. Personal hygiene reboot Let's face it, kids are magnets for germs. Part of the issue may lie with forgetting to wash one's hands regularly. Remind kids at home of washing up before they eat, with the hopes that this routine will translate to washing their hands at school as well. Pack a reminder note in lunch kits about washing before eating. Preferably, use soap and water versus hand sanitizers whenever possible as the alcohol can dry out skin and the scents can be bothersome to others.
3. Healthy breakfast Teens are notorious for skipping breakfast...it drives me nuts! Without that first meal of the day your child is more likely to have mood swings, feel tired, and have difficulty focusing. Discourage sugary and processed foods, such as many of the cold cereals, pastries and cereal bars sold at stores. Healthy breakfast ideas include smoothies (don't forget to add a source of protein such as yogurt or a protein powder), hot cereal, homemade granola (see recipe section), eggs with sprouted grain toast, homemade muffins, and homemade power bars (see https://elanaspantry.com/ for a ton of healthy recipes).
4. Healthy lunch If there are two things to consider about a healthy lunch I would say it is vegetables and protein. Vegetables (and fruit) can be made a bit more enticing by using wooden skewers to make shish kabobs—this is a colourful and fun way to present veggies! Consider including a healthy yogurt-based dip or hummus for vegetables. Good sources of protein may come from yogurt, cheese, eggs, legumes (hence, hummus!), lean meats (preferably not deli meats which are full of sodium and preservatives), and fish. Some grains can also provide some protein (e.g. Rice, quinoa, sprouted grain bread). Schools typically will forbid shellfish, nuts and seeds, so these sources of protein are out. Avoid juice and sugary treats in lunches, instead opt for water (possibly with lemon) and fruit.
5. After-school activities Fall is busy for grown-ups too, often partly due to extra-curricular activities. It's all about finding balance! Some kids do well with 2-3 activities per week beyond school, others may be overwhelmed beyond 1 additional activity. Discuss your child's interests, explain how enrolment will affect their daily schedule and err on the side of caution (i.e. less is more!) Be sure to explore an array of activities—team sports, clubs, dance, music, art, theatre, swimming lessons, etc. The goal is to have fun and possibly hone a new skill...not to create stress (for kids or parents!) Since kids today tend to be less active overall, perhaps consider extracurricular activities that involve movement.
6. Reward chart Something that has worked well in our household is creating a reward chart. This is a chart with a list of goals and healthy behaviours than can ultimately result in some sort of a reward. For example, healthy behaviours may include screen time limits, reading time, attending to chores, completing homework, and performing kind deeds. Rewards can be simple, such as a fun activity together as a family or a toy/game they've been eyeing.
7. Be together Spend time with your child daily (if possible) talking about their day, the good and the bad. Carve out time for playing a game together, setting a puzzle, reading, baking/cooking, doing a craft, or heading outdoors for a walk to the park.
8. Health check-up Fall is a good time to consider checking in with your health care provider(s). If your child is struggling with repeated colds or infections, sleep issues, behavioural or learning difficulties, fatigue or mood swings, consider making an appointment with a naturopathic doctor. A naturopathic doctor can discuss healthy diet, healthy lifestyle, recommend necessary testing and possible vitamins or supplements to support your child's overall health.
9. Supplements to boost immunity Although a healthy diet and lifestyle is the foundation to good health, there may be some merit in using certain supplements to further support the immune system throughout the school year. Top four that I often recommend are probiotics, vitamin D drops, vitamin C, and omega-3 supplements.
10. Limit screen time Discuss screen time limits with your child and warn them that new rules will be set in place soon. When all the chores and work is done, a small amount of screen time can be allowed. Try to avoid the combination of eating and looking at a screen—instead use mealtime as a time to converse about the day. Screens should be turned off well before bed, but no less than one hour prior. Choose games and shows that are educational whenever possible. When you can, watch movies together with your child, for some “together time.”