Back-to-school basics for healthier kidsPublished On: Tue, Aug 22nd, 2006 | Health | By BioNews
With school just around the corner, those lazy afternoons, wee-hour bedtimes and endless hours of free time will soon be hazy summer memories. As America’s kids head back to the classroom, rigorous academic workloads may be a shock to the system after three months of fun and relaxation.
How can students start the school year with energy to last throughout the year? United Press International talked to child health experts about how to keep children well-versed in healthy living.
A few weeks before school starts, begin to tweak your child’s sleep pattern for an earlier wake-up call, the National Sleep Foundation recommends.
–Set limits on sleep. Gradually move these times earlier about 15 minutes a day as the school year approaches, the NSF said.
–Get kids active early. Send them outdoors in the bright light of the morning — not in front of the television.
–Be consistent. Keep a sleep schedule going on weekends.
In the days leading up to school, smooth a stressful transition by being as prepared as possible, said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
–Update vaccines and boosters. Some vaccine requirements, such as whooping cough, may have changed since the last doctor’s visit.
–Protect your child’s back. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Backpack weight should be no more than 15 percent of a student’s total body weight, the American Occupational Therapy Association recommends. Backpack straps should be worn over both shoulders.
–Keep contact information current. On the first day of school, send updated health and emergency contact forms in with your child.
–Preview the day. It’s helpful to walk younger kids mentally through their day, from arrival to lunch to after-school routines.
As school gets into full swing, make sure the family spends at least 20 minutes together sitting down and talking, preferably while enjoying a healthy dinner, Brown said.
–Create a productive workspace. A study area should be quiet, well-lit and technology-free.
–Know your kids’ friends. Likewise, if you notice your child is not making friends after about a month of school, talk to his teacher.
–Maintain a good sleep pattern. The NSF recommends making bedrooms cool, dark, quiet and comfortable.
Forget those backseat burgers on the way to soccer practice. Eating habits on a tight schedule are easier than parents might think, said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietician at the Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute in Chicago.
–Keep the fruit bowl stocked; kids will reach for them after they get home, Blatner said.
–Prepare quick finger foods. Offer pre-peeled oranges in baggies, frozen grapes, fruit cups in their own juice and apple slices with low-fat caramel sauce.
–Think creatively with veggies. Pair low-fat ranch or Italian with carrots or broccoli to make them tastier. Go for fun and nutritious with “ants-on-a-log.”
–Keep veggies and fruits at kids’ eye-level in the fridge.
–Make soda a treat. Allow kids to have water or no-calorie flavored water. Or, freeze 100-percent juice in ice-cube trays and add to plain water for a colorful kick.
At the school cafeteria, kids should be aware of “go, slow and whoa” foods: “go” foods are green, “slow” foods are caution and “whoa” foods are a red light, said MaryKate Harrison, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. Some U.S. schools have also started to label foods for kids to make easier decisions about what’s best to eat, she said.
Harrison recommends parents check to see what kind of breakfast and lunch programs their school offers. She also suggests looking at menu choices. For example, is there also a chicken sandwich available to swap with that pork burrito? Many school menus are now online, too.
Lastly, remember your child is also adjusting to a dizzying array of social networks and relationships, and it might take a while until she finds her place. If you do suspect your child is the victim of a bully, however, it’s important you notify the teacher and tell your child how to handle tense situations. Dave Bennett, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., said children should be equipped to handle conflict.
–Walk away and ignore the bully, Bennett advises. Bullies seek a reaction of fear or frustration.
–Make it funny. Humor can diffuse a bully’s aggression.
–Be assertive. The child should be instructed to say something like, “Stop doing that. It’s not fair.” Fairness seems to strike a chord with other children, and may encourage support, he said.
(Christine Dell’Amore ,UPI Consumer Health Correspondent )