Keeping your children healthy helps them make the grade at school

August 13, 2012

One of the best ways to make sure your children do well this year in school is to keep them healthy. You can help them get off to a good start. Make sure they are rested and get enough sleep, make sure they eat well at home and at school, and make sure your children are up to date on the vaccinations.

They need their ZZZs in order to earn their As

Lack of sleep can hurt your child’s health, academic performance, and behavior. It is a problem many parents ignore.

From elementary school through high school and beyond, many children don’t get enough sleep. More than 2/3 of all children have some kind of sleep problem.

Sleep affects how your child thinks, feels, and functions. Sleep also has an effect on academic performance. One study looked at students getting Cs, Ds, and Fs in school. The study discovered these students got about 25 fewer minutes of sleep. They also went to bed about 40 minutes later than A and B students.

Poor sleepers are more depressed, without energy, tired, tense, moody, stressed, irritable, and less rested. Sleep problems are connected to learning difficulties throughout the school years.

Teach your child good sleep habits, also known as "sleep hygiene." Set up sleep-healthy bedtimes, bedtime routines, habits, and diets. If late bedtimes are a problem, try moving bedtimes in 15-minute increments every night. Use this method until you find a bedtime where your child wakes up refreshed.

You should try to reduce as much daytime stress as possible. Limit TV and other "screen time," like computers and video games. Limiting screen time is especially important at bedtime. Do not put a TV in your child’s bedroom. Children with a TV in their room tend to go to bed later. They also get less sleep than those children without a TV.

Do your best to be consistent and ask for help. Do not hesitate to call your doctor or sleep specialist.

Breakfast food is brain food

You have probably heard the saying, "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day." But that saying is more than something your mom told you. It is backed by research. A study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study found that skipping the first meal of the day can hurt academic performance.

What you eat for breakfast matters. Whole-grain types of cereals are a good choice. Combining cereal with milk and fruit makes a quick meal. It offers many nutrients, including carbohydrate, fiber, calcium, iron, folic acid, and zinc.

There’s no need to limit breakfast foods to easy choices like cereal. WebMD.com offers the following healthy, kid-friendly breakfasts that will bring kids to the table. Better yet, they can take them along on their way to school.

  • Half a whole-grain bagel spread with almond, peanut, soy, or sunflower seed butter. Top that with raisins and wash it down with a glass of milk.
  • 1 small slice of leftover cheese pizza. Combine that with a glass of 100 percent orange juice.
  • 8 ounces of low-fat fruited yogurt with whole-grain toast. Pair that with 100 percent juice.
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie with whole-grain toast.
  • Scrambled egg stuffed into half a whole-grain pita pocket. Top that with shredded cheddar cheese and salsa or ketchup. Then drink 100 percent juice.
  • Waffle sandwich: two whole-grain, toasted waffles spread with almond, peanut, soy, or sunflower seed butter. Eat that along with drinking a glass of milk.

Make sure you have their back

Overloaded backpacks could hurt your child’s back. The American Chiropractic Association offers a simple guideline. Your child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. If your child has a backpack that’s too heavy, there are options. Buy a backpack with wheels. Or, buy a backpack with a support belt to help distribute the weight more evenly.

Your best shot for a healthy year

Your children need to be protected against common childhood diseases and illnesses. The best way to do that is to make sure they are up-to-date on their immunizations.

Another name for an immunization is a vaccination. Both are special medicines that help protect people from life-threatening diseases. The vaccinations your child needs can be different. It depends on how old they are, the state, or school district in which you live.

To find out exactly what is needed at your child’s school, contact your local school district. Below are the vaccinations for school-age children suggested by medical professionals:

Age 4-6

Boosters are recommended between ages 4 and 6 for the following vaccines:

  • DTaP
  • Polio
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)

Ask your doctor which of these vaccines your child needs and what diseases they prevent. In addition to these vaccines, children should also get the flu vaccine every year.

Ages 11-12

A visit to the pediatrician is recommended at age 11 or 12 to review all vaccinations. Your pediatrician should also make sure all the needed vaccines have been given. Some vaccines may be given – especially if they were missed at an earlier age.

Flu shots are usually not recommended for this age group. But you should ask your doctor if your child needs one. Your child may have an increased risk for complications from the flu.