Eight Tips for a Healthy Back-to-School Transition
As the summer winds down for kids nationwide, many parents are breathing a sigh of relief, while others are shedding some silent tears. No matter your feelings about your kids heading back to school, shifting from summer vacation mode into a structured school routine can be daunting for parents and children alike. Here are eight tips to help make your kids’ back-to-school transition smooth, healthy and stress-free.
Start with a Healthy Breakfast
The age-old adage says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it certainly can set your kids off on the right foot. Avoid sugary cereals, breakfast bars or toaster pastries and instead reach for yogurt, fruit or oatmeal, or eggs and toast if you have the time to cook. For an on-the-go option, try making overnight oats with your kids and letting them add the fruit and nuts they like, that way they’ll be excited to eat it in the car on the way to school. Remember, your kids imitate your behavior, so if you make healthy breakfast choices, they’ll be more likely to do it, too. Talk to them about how eating healthy food makes you feel more alert, better able to concentrate and ready to face your day.
Pack Balanced Lunches
Many parents struggle with finding nutritious lunch choices their children will actually eat. It helps to stay organized and plan ahead. Try keeping a variety of fresh fruits and cut up vegetables that can easily be packed into lunches, along with healthy and tasty main course options that are kid-friendly. Think egg muffins, turkey and cheese rollups, cheese quesadillas with guacamole and salsa or pasta salad. It doesn’t hurt to have a fun lunch box or bag your child likes. You can fill it with small containers that keep foods separated and fresh, or you can try a bento-style lunch box with separate compartments. If your child buys lunch at school, talk to him or her about how to make healthy choices. Many school systems post weekly lunch options online, so you can even go over menu items ahead of time with your child so they can plan their choices in advance.
Make Dinnertime Family Time
To further educate your children about healthy eating, include them in preparing dinner and cleaning up afterwards. Talk to them about why you’re including certain foods, about the importance of eating colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains for vitamins and minerals and lean protein to fuel their bodies, and about staying hydrated with beverages like water or seltzer, either plain or flavored with a little fruit juice, rather than sugary sodas or sports drinks.
Set a Bedtime
Sleep is incredibly important for children and adults alike to feel focused, energized and ready to face the day. While the Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, all growing kids need between nine and 12 hours to be healthy. If your kids stayed up late during the summer months, it will be important to gradually roll back that bedtime to ease them into an appropriate school-night time for lights-out. And because a regular routine is essential for young kids, try to keep that bedtime on weekends, too. To ensure your kids get quality sleep, try to limit screen time before bed, keep bedrooms cool and dark and avoid snacks – especially those with sugar and caffeine – in the three hours leading up to bedtime.
Teach Good Hygiene
Of course, germs are everywhere, and your kids are going to encounter some of them. But, helping your child to develop good hygiene habits will go a long way towards stopping the spread of those germs. Teach your kids to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and to wash their hands with soap and water after that cough or sneeze, before eating and after using the restroom. Also encourage your kids not to put dirty hands into their mouths or otherwise near their faces or eyes, and discourage them from sharing food or drinks with other children.
Choose the Right Backpack
How often do we see small children bent under the weight of enormous backpacks? As you can imagine, that stress is not good for their growing bodies. Kids should not carry more than 10-15% of their bodyweight; that’s eight to 12 pounds for an 80-pound child. Choosing a properly fitting bag with two wide, padded and adjustable straps is also essential for proper distribution of that weight, and for avoiding back, spine, shoulder and neck injuries. Encourage your child to use both straps and adjust the bag so it rests about two inches above your child’s waist. To lighten the load, choose a lightweight bag made from nylon rather than leather, pack only the essentials and bring as few textbooks as possible to and from home each day.
Organize Outfits in Advance
Mornings can often be chaotic, so selecting school clothes the evening before can reduce undue stress and anxiety for kids and parents alike. Have your child lay out their clothes for the next day, down to socks and shoes. If you want to be even more organized, set aside space on a shelf or a bin in the closet to lay out clothes for the week. This will help your child plan for days when he or she needs to wear comfortable clothes and sneakers for gym class or dress clothes for a music recital. It also helps to ensure necessary items for after-school activities, like a bathing suit or cleats for swim or soccer practice, won’t be forgotten.
Schedule an Extracurricular Activity
Whether it’s a sport, club, musical group, cooking class or volunteer program, extracurricular activities stimulate your child’s brain and creativity in ways the regular school curriculum cannot. They can help them to find interests, create friendships and develop skillsets that can last a lifetime. As a bonus for parents, extracurricular activities also burn up surplus energy and fill a few more hours each day. But, avoid the temptation to overschedule your kids! A little downtime is a good thing, because it teaches your children to occupy themselves and promotes creative and cognitive development.