Seven steps to a healthier academic year

August 31, 2010

School is in full swing again, so now’s the perfect time to set up healthier school-day routines at home. Consider these your "New School Year Resolutions" for minimizing stress and maximizing well-being.

Healthy back–to–school strategies

Organize the night before. A mad morning rush starts everyone’s day off stressfully. Skip the drama by taking a few unhurried minutes in the evening to load backpacks and lay out school clothes and shoes. Are there forms to be signed? Do snacks or lunches need packing?

Set a bedtime and stick to it. School-age children need nine to 11 hours of sleep. Kids who don’t wake easily often seem irritable and lack daytime energy need more sleep. "Getting enough sleep is important for so many things, from overall growth to learning and concentration at school," says John Herman, Ph.D., a sleep disorders specialist on the medical staff at Children’s. Help kids wind down quietly before lights-out.

Make time for breakfast. If your child hasn’t eaten since dinner the night before, there’s no energy to draw from – the gas tank is empty. Kids learn better with food in their stomachs. Plus, breakfast-eaters are leaner because they’re not as likely to snack on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods later in the day.

Learn what’s up. Ask open-ended questions, such as "What were the best and the hardest parts about today?" or "What things stress you out?" Then listen to the answers. Kids are more apt to open up about problems if you show interest. When following up with a teacher or principal, take a problem-solving approach.

Teach safety. Think through your child’s day from the moment she leaves for school to the time she arrives back home. How can she stay safe — from wearing bicycle helmets to avoiding conversation with strangers to keeping doors locked at home?

Spell out expectations. Discuss appropriate classroom behavior, a homework policy, how to balance social time and schoolwork, and realistic goals for grades. Set the path for children and they’ll know when they’re on track.

Practice relaxation. "It’s important for everybody to have some downtime, even children," says Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical Center. "When signing kids up for sports or classes ask, ‘Whose needs is this meeting – mine or the child’s?’"