As the long days of summer come to a close and families prepare for their children to go back to school, here are some tips for a healthy and safe school year:
Set up a consistent sleep schedule. During the summer, children may grow accustomed to both falling asleep and waking at later times. About a week or two before school starts, gradually alter bed times until your child is used to his/her school year sleep schedule.
Take away mobile or tablet devices before bed. Smart phones and tablets emit “blue light,” which gives our body a false signal that it is morning, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Make sure your child is sleeping enough. A study from the National Sleep Foundation has shown that the recommended sleep for preschoolers (three to five years old) is 10-13 hours, and school-aged children (six to thirteen years old) is 9-11 hours.
Getting enough sleep is critical for a child to be successful in school. Children who do not get enough sleep have difficulty concentrating and learning as well as they can.
Make sure your child wears their backpack properly. Children should always use both straps on their backpack. Wearing a backpack with just one strap can put too much stress on certain parts of the body, leading to lower back pain or poor posture.
Monitor the weight of your child’s backpack. Make sure your child is not carrying too much in his/her backpack. If you think your child is carrying too much home, talk to your child’s teachers on ways to reduce the load.
Go through the backpack with your child every week to remove unnecessary items to keep it lighter and easier to carry.
Make sure your child eats breakfast. Children who eat a nutritious breakfast everyday function better. Having a full breakfast that contains some protein can help increase a child’s concentration, energy and improve their grades. Make sure your child eats three healthy meals a day and does not skip breakfast.
Look into what food choices are available in school, in and out of the cafeteria. When you visit the school, look at the vending machines, school stores and snack carts to see what is available. Schools should stock healthy choices like fruit, low-fat dairy products, water, and 100 percent fruit juice.
Consider drinks other than soft drinks on a regular basis. Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. In fact, drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child's risk of obesity by up to 60 percent.
Choose healthier options (such as water, 100 percent fruit juice boxes and low-fat dairy products) to send in your child's lunch.
Schedule a physical. Remember, every child, regardless of athletic participation, should be getting an annual physical. If your child is an athlete, you should set up a sports physical before the school year, so your child can join their team with little to no obstacles.
Keep your children active. Fewer than half of America’s youth meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Children need 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate intensity activity a day.
Make sure to work in exercise or vigorous play for your child outside of school.
Dr. Joseph J. Abularrage is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens.