NashvilleHealth | How to Keep Kids Healthy During Hectic School Year

How to Keep Kids Healthy During Hectic School Year

By Melonee Hurt

Getting your child to the bus stop on time each morning is only a small fraction of the stresses that can accompany a new school year.

Kids’ sleep patterns need to shift from the relaxed days of summer thanks to that early morning alarm clock. Words like “the flu” work their way back into your vocabulary. And finding and establishing a good, healthy balance of eating right, sleeping enough and carving out time for homework and some extra-curricular activities becomes a daily challenge for parents.

An average middle schooler wakes up around 6 a.m. and has to be at school by 7 or 7:30. School lets out around 3 p.m., but most kids have band or soccer or football or cheerleading right after that last bell, meaning they don’t get home many evenings until 7 p.m. or so. Then there’s dinner, a shower, homework and then you have to do it all over again the next day.

So how do parents best arm their children to manage all of the scheduling, homework and hassles that come with every new school year?

Beverly Frank, a pediatrician with Tennessee Pediatrics, says the one thing that can make or break a child’s day is a good night’s sleep.

“Most students — especially teens — need 10 hours a night to boost brain growth, immunity and energy,” she said. “Because teens are growing so rapidly, they need almost as much sleep as toddlers. I also remind parents that when we say sleep, we mean for kids to lie in bed in the dark without electronics. Not only do phones and computers provide stimulation, the light from their screens inhibits melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone.”

Routine, routine, routine

Molly Hood, a physician with Pediatric Associates of Franklin, says the biggest problem she sees in the fall is fatigue, particularly for kindergartners who aren’t used to a daily regimen and skipping naps.

To beat exhaustion, Hood tells parents to limit after-school activities for younger kids during the first few months of school. For older kids, sleep-stealers come in the form of extracurricular activities and screen time. The solution, Hood says, is for parents to help their children learn time management skills.

“If you know you have a ball game that evening, get homework done first,” Hood said. “Everyone’s mind needs a little break after school, which might include eating a snack or exercising. After that, they need to do their homework and whatever else might keep them up at night.”

Frank adds that since teens can easily become overscheduled with homework, extracurricular activities and jobs, establishing a routine can make the transition from a busy day to a restful night easier.

“Children learn by repetition, which is why they do 20 math problems instead of two,” Frank says. “Having a regular schedule lets them know what to expect and what their plans are for the day. Ideally, after-school routines should include at least one hour of physical activity, homework time, and if possible, eating dinner as a family. I recommend limiting non-academic screen time to one hour a day.”

Read the full story on the Tennessean.

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