Set Kids Up for School Success: Healthy Habits Parents Can Teach Their Kids
Even if your child is excited about starting the new school year (whether virtually or in person), the transition from slower-paced summer days to strict school schedules can be tough. This year you’ve probably spent more time trying to understand your school’s hybrid learning model than planning healthy breakfasts, and that’s OK! As your kids head back to class either in person or online, the healthy eating, sleeping, and learning habits you teach them now will help kids do their best all year.
Breakfast: You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day,” and studies show that kids who eat in the morning tend to eat healthier overall, are more active, and are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight. Nutritious breakfast foods also help kids concentrate better in class and enhance memory. Here’s some advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Don’t skip breakfast. Kids who do skip it feel tired, restless, and irritable.
- Make time for eating in the morning, even if that means getting out of bed 15 minutes earlier.
- Choose foods high in fiber, protein, and whole grains while avoiding added sugar.
- Out of whole grain cereal and eggs? Warm up last night’s dinner leftovers.
- If your child is a picky eater, have him suggest foods he will eat and, within reason, stock up on options.
- Involve your child in the breakfast-making process, such as making smoothies together. Kids are more likely to eat foods they’ve helped prepare.
Lunch: Getting into a rhythm of making healthy lunches is important, regardless of whether your child is eating it in the classroom or at the kitchen table during distance learning.
- Choose nutritious lunch items your child will enjoy.
- Lunch at school this year most likely means eating in the classroom. Pack hand sanitizer or disposable wipes and encourage your child to clean her hands before and after eating.
- Invest in washable, reusable food containers. Bento boxes are a popular choice that can be easily cleaned and will keep foods separate.
- Buy ice packs that will keep perishable foods at a safe temperature until your child’s lunch period.
- Include prepackaged foods that are easy for your child to open herself to cut down on other people touching items.
- If possible, assemble lunches the night before to cut down on the morning rush.
After-school snacks: Help them keep their energy levels even and stay focused on their homework by keeping nutritious and great-tasting snacks on hand. Bonus points if snacks are easy for kids to prepare themselves.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a list of 25 healthy snacks for kids.
- When planning snacks, look at your child’s schedule and learn when he eats lunch, whether he has a snack at school, and if any after-school activities factor in.
- Hungry kids will eat what’s easy and handy, so have healthy options available. Cut veggie sticks or enlist your child’s help to make fruit kabobs that will keep in the refrigerator.
Earlier wake-up times can be hard for kids and parents to get used to. The old advice about transitioning to a “school night” sleep schedule by rolling back bedtimes the week before classes start is solid, and it also works after school has been in session for a few weeks.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, developing good sleep habits is important for a child’s brain, body, and emotional and behavioral health. According to their guidelines, children ages 3 to 12 need nine to 11 hours of sleep per night, while older kids need at least nine hours of sleep.
Your kids may not be getting enough sleep if they:
- Are irritable, restless, or have a short attention span.
- Have much less energy than normal.
- Are more impatient, anxious, or defensive than usual.
Setting up and sticking to a nightly routine can help your child get sufficient sleep. The NSF recommends:
- Giving kids the opportunity to use up their energy during the day and unwind before bedtime.
- Limiting caffeine consumption in the afternoon and evening.
- Avoiding serving big dinners close to bedtime.
- Setting a regular bedtime and enforcing it consistently.
- Providing an appropriate mattress.
- Creating a calm, quiet pre-bedtime routine. Limit screen time and TV before bed, and instead share a favorite story or encourage your child to read on her own.
Getting involved in your child’s education is important, even if it’s time-consuming. A large number of studies show that a child’s success in school is directly tied to the support she gets at home, regardless of socioeconomic status. Parents who are more involved and engaged have children with higher grades, better classroom behavior, higher self-esteem, lower absenteeism, and more motivation to do their best.
Here’s how to get involved and engaged in your child’s learning:
- Maintain open lines of communication with teachers. Keep their contact information handy and don’t be afraid to ask questions as issues or opportunities come up.
- Go to parent-teacher conferences and find out how you can get involved in your child’s classroom. Maybe you can chaperone a field trip or help for special events.
- Understand and reinforce the teacher’s expectations for the classwork, homework assignments, participation, and more.
- Talk with your child about school on a daily basis.
- Create a homework station and keep adequate supplies on hand.
- Set a schedule and designate times for doing homework, playing outside, and watching TV or playing video games.
- Watch your child for signs of frustration or anxiety when they’re doing homework, and help when you can.
- If you can, get involved with your school’s parent group. Our sister site, PTOtoday.com, has lots of resources to help volunteers and leaders engage with their school.
The move this year to distance learning has changed school dynamics, with many parents taking on the role of teacher. Parents can keep their kids from treating online learning as a vacation if they make school a priority. Besides all the ways already listed, parents can set up a learning area and have the right resources on hand so kids can concentrate and get work done. See our Home Learning Setup Ideas and Tips to help you create a great learning space wherever you live.
Originally posted 2020
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