By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
As the lazy days of summer come to an end….sigh, it is time to refocus on routine and the many responsibilities our kids face in the coming months. Gone are the late nights and sleeping in. The early mornings and long days of school, followed by extracurricular activities in the evenings will soon be upon us once again. As will the pressure for our kids to succeed both academically and very often in their extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and dance as well.
What can we do as parents to make sure our children are up to the challenge? Here are some tips on how to support your child as they return to school:
1) Sleep, sleep, sleep
School age children need about ten to eleven hours of sleep a day to replenish their active, energetic bodies. Preschoolers need ten to thirteen and teenagers need about eight to ten hours per night. Biological clocks shift for teenagers causing them to stay up later and want to sleep in longer. But, because teens need to get up early for school, you must encourage your teen to go to bed early enough that they are able to get their nine hours of sleep. Put a ban on all electronics an hour before bed. This will allow melatonin to be released in response to a dimmed bedroom, and reduce mental stimulation before bed. The importance of sleep cannot be over looked. While we sleep our bodies regenerate, repair and grow. Growth hormone, as well as many other hormones, is secreted while we sleep. These hormones affect mood, energy, appetite, and whether your child feels stressed out. Tired kids can find it difficult to concentrate and learn. Too little sleep can contribute to mood swings and behavioural problems.
2) Feed your child’s brain
Studies have shown that children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better in attention and memory tests, mathematic scores, and physical endurance than those that don’t.(1)
Start your child’s day off with a fiber and protein rich breakfast. Oatmeal has shown to have a greater effect on cognitive function then ready made cereals. A low GI (glycemic index) breakfast seems to allow for a sustained release of glucose to the brain and results in the best academic performance. Give your child (and yourself!) eggs, fruit, whole grain or sprouted toast with nut butters, greek yogurt and oatmeal. Try a smoothie with greek yogurt, frozen berries, banana, chia, or flax seed powder, spinach (if you can sneak it in) and water or milk, or milk alternative.
Be sure to pack healthy lunches and snacks, which include fruits, and vegetables which are high in phytonutrients and help to support the immune system and protect the brain cells from damage. Fewer days sick mean less missed days of school and better overall performance. Pack raw veggies such as carrots, peppers and celery with a greek yogurt dip or hummus. Try sending dark leafy greens for lunch as a salad or sneak them into a smoothie.
Encourage iron rich foods such as red meat, molasses, parsley, eggs, legumes, green vegetables, liver, and shellfish. Iron deficiency, particularly when severe enough to cause anemia, has been associated with poorer cognition, shortened attention span, fatigue and significantly lower scores on standardized math tests. (2-4) Vegan or vegetarian children and teenage girls are more susceptible to iron deficiency. If you are concerned about your child’s iron levels you can have them checked through your Naturopathic doctor.
Eat more fish. The brain is composed of 60 percent fat, which has to come from the diet. However, you want to make sure you are providing your child the right kinds of fat. The best fats for the brain are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega 6. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as tuna and salmon (eat wild only), eggs, and plants such as flaxseed. Omega-6 fats are found in nuts and seeds.
3)Water your child
Water hydrates your child’s brain cells. Log how much water your child is drinking in a typical day. You may be surprised to find that they are dehydrated. How much your child needs to drink every day depends on variables such as weather, level of physical activity, gender, and age. See chart below for general recommendations. Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, crankiness and poor concentration. It also affects your child’s sports performance. For those kids with devices try getting them to use free apps like iHydrate or Waterme app, to keep track and remind them to drink.
Kids Total Daily Beverage and Drinking Water Requirements
- Age 4-8 yo (girls & boys) – 5 cups/day
- Age 9-13 (girls) – 6.5 cups/day
- Age 9-13 (boys) – 6.5 cups/day
- Age 14-18 (girls) – 7 cups/day
- Age 14-18 (boys) – 8 cups/day
Whether it is a game of tag outside with friends or an extracurricular game of hockey, exercise is undeniably one of the best things that you can do for your child’s school performance. Countless studies show that the more physically active school children are the better they perform academically by positively enhancing brain function and cognition. Exercise brings oxygen to the brain. It also releases hormones and chemicals, which have a positive effect on mood and the effects of stress. Aim for 30-60 minutes daily.
If you have a particularly fussy eater you may want to consider supplementation of essential nutrients such as omega 3’s, Vitamin D3, calcium and magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C.
For a comprehensive analysis of your child’s nutritional status and a custom program including diet and supplement advice, which would address your child’s individual needs, please book in with Dr Berni.
- Mahoney CR, Taylor HA, Kanarek RB, Samuel P. Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiol Behav. 2005;85(5):635-645.
- Taras H. Nutrition and student performance at school. J Sch Health 2005;75(6):199.
- Halterman JS, Kaczorowski JM, Aligne CA, Auinger P, Szilagyi PG. Iron deficiency and cognitive achievement among school-aged children and
adolescents in the United States. Pediatrics 2001;107(6):1381.
- Story M, Kaphingst KM, French S. The role of schools in obesity prevention. Future Child 2006;16(1):109-142.