Going back to school is often an exciting and stressful time for kids (and parents too). Here, eight things you can do to help your kids have their best and healthiest year ever.
#1 Get involved with homework
Want to help your children do their best in school? A new study published in the MIT journal Review of Economics and Statistics suggests that a parent’s effort is even more important than the teacher’s or child’s effort when it comes to doing well in the classroom. According to the study, children work harder when their parents are more involved. It may influence teachers’ performance as well. Reading to your kids, helping them with or supervising their homework, attending meetings with teachers, and talking to your kids about their schoolwork can all help motivate your children to perform well at school.
#2 Encourage exercise for better learning
Another reason to get your kids moving: Physical activity could have a significant effect on brain development. A study in nine- and ten-year-olds shows that children who are the most physically fit tend to perform better than their less-fit peers on memory tests. The research also shows that kids who regularly exercise have a bigger hippocampus — an area of the brain that is important in learning and memory. Previous research has also shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all children and adolescents get an hour or more of physical activity every day. Bring them to the park where they can run around and play on jungle gyms, go for walks or bike rides with them, or play active games like tag or softball.
#3 Pack a water bottle to keep them sharp and energized
Where do your kids get most of their liquids from? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that most children aren’t getting the minimum amount of water recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and that the fluids they do ingest are derived largely from sweetened beverages and moisture-packed foods. Even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness and decreased mental capacity. Give them water or milk at meals, and have them sip water throughout the day.
#4 Monitor online activity to keep kids safe from cyberbullying
Forget stolen lunch money and punches at recess. Bullying today is more relentless and far-reaching than those schoolyard skirmishes. Today’s trend goes by the name cyberbullying, which involves the use of communication technologies (think cell phones, e-mail, chat rooms and Facebook) to support repeated hostile behavior intended to harm others. In a 2009 Cox Communications survey, 15 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds said they had been cyberbullied. Other studies show even higher numbers, like a 2006 survey by Harris Interactive that reported that 43 percent of U.S. teens had experienced some form of cyberbullying in the past year. And 25 percent of kids admit to being cyberbullies. Cyberbullying hurts kids’ self-esteem, causes stress and strain, and can even lead to suicide. To help kids avoid being cyberbullied, see if they’ll let you take a look at their Facebook page to check if there’s anything there that could be used against them. Ask if they’ve received mean or hurtful messages and discuss with them how to handle it if they do get cyberbullied. They should let an adult know and save the evidence. If your child is the one doing the cyberbullying, have him read about some of the effects of this kind of behavior. Sometimes kids are trying to be funny or cool and don’t realize the power of their words. Or it could be that the lack of tone of voice in texts and posts leads to misunderstandings. The key is to help your kids learn how to use technology responsibly, which means not hurting others and protecting themselves from getting hurt.
#5 Give your kids the freedom to explore their own talents
How you respond to your child’s activities can determine how healthfully they will approach them. Giving children the freedom to foster their hobbies helps nurture true passion. Teaching them that excellence is linked to Mom’s and Dad’s approval, on the other hand, can make them obsessive about something they might not care about. Find out what your kids are interested in, and sign them up for classes. Show them plenty of encouragement and support — based on their efforts, not on how well they perform.
#6 Choose a backpack that is the right size for your child
Is your child lugging around a backpack that’s as big as him or her? Kids’ backpacks can cause back, shoulder and neck pain when they’re too heavy and worn for most of the day. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 7,300 backpack-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2006. Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. To reduce strain on the shoulders, backpacks should also hang no lower than four inches past the waist.
#7 Get active as a family
Set a good example for your kids by getting off the couch and being active. Parents who watch a lot of TV are more likely to have kids who do too. Little ones like to get involved with whatever Mom or Dad is doing. Pop in your favorite workout DVD and let your tots join in. You can even buy workout programs that are made for kids and parents to do together. If your children are older, center family time around physical activities, like shooting hoops or going for a bike ride or a daily after-dinner walk.
#8 Set bedtimes (even for teens)!
If your teens like to pull all-nighters, here’s another reason to send them to bed: Sleeping fewer than eight hours a night can mess with their metabolism and stimulate their appetite. According to a study in the journal Sleep, sleep-deprived teens not only eat more calories than those who get enough shut-eye, they also eat fattier foods. Teens need nine to 10 hours of sleep each night to feel rested and alert. Since adolescents are wired to stay up late, let them sleep in on weekends.