It’s that time of the summer break when camps and family vacations are winding down and parents and kids eagerly look forward to another school year. Preparing your children for a successful new school year is not just about shopping for a new wardrobe and school supplies, it’s also about the non-material things.
Helping children succeed in school encompasses a nutritious diet, a solid sleep schedule and supporting mental wellness. Remember, success is not defined by report card results alone but rather a confident, happy and healthy individual.
So, what can parents do to help their children conquer another school year?
PROVIDE A NUTRITIOUS DIET: Providing children with a variety of essential vitamins, minerals and important nutrients helps to support learning, memory, focus and attention. Nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids are all major players when it comes to healthy brain function and have shown to be beneficial in children with hyperactivity and attention difficulties. However, getting children to consume all these important nutrients can be a challenge. Some ways to help provide nutrient rich foods are discussed below:
- Make homemade smoothies. Smoothies are a sure way to pack in protein, healthy fats, antioxidants and even those leafy greens into a tasty beverage. A blend of dairy free milk, nut butter, cocoa powder and a few slices of banana can hide the “healthy” taste and texture of leafy greens and most vitamins and minerals. For the children who don’t want to sip on a smoothie, try pouring that smoothie mixture into a popsicle mold for a delicious frozen treat instead. Most children cannot resist a frozen treat.
- Get children involved in lunch and snack preparation. Having children participate in grocery shopping, meal prepping, cooking and packing encourages them to be an active participant when it comes to eating their food. Start with small steps such as having children choose between an apple or fresh berries as a snack. This allows them to make their own decision between these two options and not only encourages them to eat their chosen fruit but also builds their confidence in the long term.
- Cook more meals at home. It should not come as a surprise that home cooked meals are generally much healthier than pre-packaged and restaurant purchased meals, not to mention that it is also more cost-effective to cook meals at home. Cooking from scratch reduces consumption of potentially harmful preservatives, additives and flavour enhancers. Having children observe and participate in cooking homemade meals is not only healthier but can teach them an essential lifelong skill.
PRIORITIZE BED TIME: Children who have varied sleep schedules or poor sleep throughout the night experience difficulty with attention and focus during the day. Brain functions such as learning, communication and alertness require a well-rested brain.
- Adhering to a strict bed time provides structure and supports biological functions that help children sleep more soundly at night. A varied bed time can alter sleep hormones and cause night-time waking, irritability and low energy throughout the day.
- Make bed time an enjoyable and calming experience. Restricting sugary treats, excessive activity, and turning off electronics at least one hour before bed are some measures to help children transition into night mode. Calming activities such as spending time reading as a family, meditating or story-telling in dim-lit setting can help children ease into a restful slumber.
SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH: Oftentimes parents can get caught up with their child’s school grades and use that as a measure of success, focusing on the end product rather than the process.
- Encouraging kids to learn, fail and then continue to learn is significantly more important than achieving straight A’s. Fostering and valuing curiosity, exploration and drive focuses on the process of learning itself rather than the outcome. This helps children build confidence and encourages children to keep moving forward despite multiple set-backs, something that happens throughout life.
- Keep a balanced schedule. Many parents fill up their children’s schedule with after school activities, recreational sport commitments, and social gatherings. A jam-packed schedule can overwhelm children and impact mental-wellbeing. Instead, check in with your children and suggest technology-free activities that support mental health rather than encourage mental distractions. Solo or family activities such as a hiking, biking, a simple backyard picnic or working on a puzzle gives our brain and eyes a break from electronic devices and helps us reconnect with our thoughts.
Taking on a new school year may seem daunting but supporting our children throughout the process with a healthy diet, regular sleep routines and fostering a sense of mental wellness can help children succeed both in school and throughout life.
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