It is that time of year! The kids are back in school, and parents can get back into a new set of routines. Some parents love getting back into the school mode, while others dread it. Regardless of how you feel about it, we can all agree that helping our children do the best they can is a high priority. I wanted to share a few tips that will help ensure a healthier, happier, and more productive year.
There are three areas that are often underappreciated when it comes to how children function, behave, and learn. Those are nutrition, movement, and stress. Your child’s physical, mental, and emotional performance are heavily influenced by the types of food they put into their bodies, the amount of movement they get each day, and the level of stress they feel.
When it comes to food, the simplest rules would be to keep the food as real as possible and keep their sugar intake low. Their mornings should start with something other than a doughnut, Pop Tart, or even cereal. A high sugar, processed breakfast will spike their blood sugar and affect the rest of their day. Dairy is the most common food allergen for humans, disrupting proper physiology. Sugar affects brain function, attention, and immune strength. If there was one thing I would try to eliminate completely, it would be soda and sport drinks. They are loaded with chemicals and sugar and one of the worst things for human health. Make sure they are getting real foods, such as eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and substitute milk with coconut, almond, or macadamia nut milk. Even if you do not eliminate the junk, try adding some of the good stuff.
We all know that humans sit way too much in the workplace, but we forget that kids are sitting just as long. And with less emphasis being put on physical education in school, they are inactive most of the school day. You’ll hear a lot about inactivity and its relationship to obesity, but what is just as concerning is its effect on brain function and behavior. A great book, titled Spark, by Dr. John Ratey, details the effects exercise has on the brain. Not only does movement stimulate new learning pathways in the brain, but inactivity kills existing pathways. Exercise increases the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), what Dr. Ratey describes as “Miracle Grow” for the brain. Your kids need to move every day. Make a list of fun exercises and have them do two or three every morning. They love to be timed, so have them run up and down the driveway, steps, or around the house a certain number of times using a stop watch. See how many somersaults, jumping jacks, or burpees they can do in one minute. If you have a dog, have them walk it. Any movement is better than none!
A school administrator recently told me that third graders’ use of anti-anxiety medications has tripled or even quadrupled. This is insane! These little children should need no medication at all, let alone medicine for anxiety. Stress stifles brain function, affects attention, increases agitation, and also lowers immune function. Eliminating the stressors is often difficult, but helping them deal with the stress is doable. Demanding high performance in school and sports increases their stress. We demand that our kids try their best, and if that means something less than an A in a class, so be it. A little downtime after school isn’t a bad idea. I used to think that my kids should just finish their homework right away to get it done, but now I think after a long day in school, their brains need a break. They have their whole lives to be stressed out. Kids need more play, less pressure, and more creative time. The pressure they feel is often perceived stress, not actual stress, so make sure you are not contributing to their stress level by making a big deal out of small issues.
Eating better, moving more, and managing stress all complement each other. Improving one improves the other. Providing kids with the food they need, the movement they require, and limiting their stress, leads to improved behavior, better attention, less sickness, better sports performance, and better grades… all the things that we want from our children.
Oh… by the way… do you think applying these same tips to yourself could positively impact YOUR performance? Or course! Make it a family initiative!