Your child’s health and well-being are keys to success inside and outside the classroom. Studies show that good health can lead to higher academic achievement, improved performance in activities and better behavior. So with all of those benefits on the table, how do you keep kids healthy as they go back to school?
Below, we share back-to-school health tips and explain what you can do about any stress or anxiety your child might have as they enter another school year.
Tips for keeping your kids healthy when they go back to school
Exercise, diet and sleep are the foundation of your child’s health. And although looking after all three will help keep your child’s immune system strong, there are some other steps to take to protect them against illness. To set your child up for success, do the following:
Make sure their immunizations are up to date
Classrooms can be crowded. To help protect your child from preventable illnesses like tetanus, polio, measles and mumps, make sure they’re up to date on recommended vaccine doses. Generally, this means being current on their overall vaccine schedule. But getting your child a flu shot and any necessary COVID-19 boosters is also important to provide extra protection for the upcoming cold and flu season.
Get them moving
Organized sports are a staple of many childhoods for a reason. Among the many benefits of regular physical activity, the positive effects it has on energy levels and sleep quality may help your child feel and focus better during the school day. And the team aspect can give them a social network to build relationships.
If your child isn’t interested in playing sports at school, see if you can get them interested in some form of physical activity outside of it. It may be that your child prefers an individual sport like a martial art, or a more recreational environment that’s less competitive than those at school.
No matter their favorite activity, a simple way to get them moving is to encourage them to spend time outside each day – whether it’s riding their bike, watering the garden or playing catch. There’s actually a growing body of research around the idea of nature deficit disorder, which suggests that regular, direct exposure to nature can offer a range of health benefits.
Whatever your child’s preferences turn out to be, taking them to get a back-to-school physical exam is a great way to know if there are any aspects of your child’s health that might need attention. And if your child is participating in a school sport, they can get a completed sports physical form at the same visit so you don’t need to make an extra trip.
Prepare healthy school lunches
Your child’s lunch is key to a productive school day. The energy they get from their food powers them through the afternoon and can keep them focused on their schoolwork rather than on a grumbling stomach or a craving. You can double down on such benefits by making school lunches from healthy recipes that account for your child’s needs.
For example, if they participate in a strength-based sport, a little extra protein can prevent after-school hunger and aid in muscle development and recovery. If they’re running around a lot, more fast-burning carbs can help them keep the pace. You know your child – and their tastes – the best.
Create a school night sleep routine
Quality sleep is just as important for your child’s health as diet and exercise. Most kids need around 8-10 hours of sleep each night, but it’s easy for things to get in the way, especially electronics. That said, kids respond well to routines, so set up a pattern of good sleep hygiene to ensure that they get every wink they need. This can include:
- Setting a strict bedtime
- Unplugging from screens at least one hour before bed
- Leaving time between preparing for bed and lights-out for a calming activity like reading
Tips for supporting your kids’ mental health when they go back to school
If your child is already getting good nutrition, exercise and sleep, they’ll be getting a lot of benefits for both their mind and body. But school can affect mental health in a lot of ways. Make sure that your child feels supported and comfortable addressing their feelings, whether it’s nervousness about returning to school or a deeper mental health issue.
Tips for handling first-day-of-school nerves
The first day of school is a common source of anxiety for many kids. There are a lot of unknowns – whether they’ll have friends in class, what their teachers will be like, how much homework they’ll have – the list goes on.
Removing as many unknowns as possible beforehand may help your child go into their first day with more confidence. This could look like helping them pick out clothes and pack their backpack the day before they start school. You could also walk them through their schedule and help them visualize a positive first day. Some schools even do open houses near the beginning of the school year so parents and kids can meet teachers and see classrooms.
But sometimes, jitters are about more than the first day. Below, we explain what to do if your child experiences longer periods of anxiety as the school year gets underway.
Make mental health okay to talk about
If school causes stress or anxiety for your child, it can be deeply helpful for them to talk about it rather than bottling it up. Encourage your child to talk about how they feel, ask them questions and help them talk through why they feel the way they do. As an outside observer, you can point out things to help ground your child and put their feelings in perspective.
For example, if your child is comfortable enough to ask, “Why am I nervous to go back to school?” You can point out that it’s normal to feel nervous in a new situation. You could also remind them that they’re not the only one who feels that way – after all, lots of kids share similar anxieties. Now, instead of feeling isolated in that feeling, your child might see it as something they have in common with their peers that will pass with time.
Watch for changes
Even if you encourage communication, your child might not freely talk about everything they go through at school. Sometimes the only signs that your child is dealing with something may be changes in their daily habits.
This could include changes in behavior, like wanting to spend less time with friends or not showing much of an appetite at dinner. It could also take the form of staying up extra late or having trouble sleeping in general. You know your child best – if it seems like something is affecting their schoolwork, socializing or quality of life, remind them that you’re there for them and want to help.
Know when to ask for help
Open communication, support and time often allow kids to adjust to the changes that school brings. But sometimes, a child may need more help.
This is another area where communication is key. If your child has an issue, it’s important to know where it’s coming from – whether it’s another student, their studies or something else. If the issue is specific to a class or a sport they’re participating in, it may be appropriate to get in touch with the teacher or coach.
On the other hand, if the issue is something like persistent sadness or stress, your child may benefit from meeting with their primary care physician, who can perform an initial assessment and refer you to a behavioral health expert if necessary.
We’re here to help
Your child’s health – both physical and mental – matters. Making sure they feel their best will help ensure that they get as much as possible out of the education and relationships they build at school. Whether you need physical forms for a school sport or have questions about your child’s mental health, we have you covered.