The transition from summer to fall comes with a lot of changes. Whether it’s time to help your family adjust to a new school schedule or you’re trying to get out of “summer mode” yourself, this transition is clearly an adjustment for everyone this time of year.
Creating healthy new habits will help you start the new season off on a good note. Consider how you can refocus on some good habits that will help improve these areas of your family’s life:
Make Meals a Priority
The laid-back days of summer can wreak havoc on a regular eating schedule. Before your kids head back to the classroom, spend a week or two establishing a regular meal routine, with emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good quality protein. Multiple studies have shown that kids perform better in school when they start their day with a nutritious breakfast, so give them every advantage to succeed. Try to also make family dinners part of your routine — at least most nights of the week. There are a whole host of benefits to eating with your children nightly, from lower rates of obesity and reduced risk for underage drinking to improved vocabulary and lower anxiety.
We are a nation in sleep crisis. It’s not just adults who aren’t getting enough restful sleep. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 2 out of 3 middle and high school students are falling short of the 8-10 hours of sleep recommended for kids age 13-18. Lack of sleep affects children’s ability to learn and retain new information, and leads to reduced performance on tests. It also increases irritability and stress levels, and over time can even contribute to anxiety and depression. With so many distractions that can interfere with sleep schedules, children of all ages need to stick to a routine and practice good sleep hygiene, including a strict policy of “no screens” in the bedroom for at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. It’s also important to set and enforce regular bedtimes (even for teenagers) to ensure your child gets enough sleep for his/her age:
- 10-13 hours for 4-6 year olds
- 9-12 hours for 7-12 year olds
- 8-10 hours for 13-18 year olds
Regular physical activity is an important habit that will have life-long benefits. Active children are much more likely to become active — and healthier — adults. In fact, a 2014 study of World War II vets found that the single strongest predictor for well-being later in life was participating in sports as a child. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children age 6 or older get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise every single day. If your child doesn’t participate in organized sports, make exercise a family affair. An evening bike ride, a weekend hike, or just a nightly dance party or game of frisbee are all fun ways to keep everyone active and healthy. Just make sure to finish an hour or two before bedtime — that way the increased activity will help promote sleep, rather than hinder it.
Visit the Pediatrician
Back-to-school is a perfect time for an annual check-up with the pediatrician. Your doctor can assess growth and development and identify any physical, emotional or mental issues that need to be addressed. Regular check-ups can also detect any vision or hearing problems that could impact your child’s ability to learn and thrive. It’s also a great time to review vaccinations and make sure your child is up-to-date on all recommended immunizations.
Practice Positive Mental Health Habits
School can be stressful for kids at any age, and a bad day can feel like the end of the world. You can help your child (and yourself!) be more resilient, happier and confident by helping them find healthy ways to cope with challenging situations. For younger children, talking about their concerns, reassuring them and helping them feel calm may be enough. Slightly older children may benefit by learning how to “reframe” their negative thoughts into more positive and kind statements. And the entire family can reap the rewards of practicing gratitude when each family member shares one thing they are grateful for every single day.
It’s not too early — or too late — to start some new habits for a healthier, happier back-to-school season for the whole family!
This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.