Healthy Habits – Back to School
After a long summer holiday, with an exciting festive season, parents, teachers and learners may have mixed feelings about settling into the new school year. One of the biggest challenges that parents face is persuading children to adopt healthy habits that are often overlooked during holidays.
The Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) outlines some of the ways in which children can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits. This will help them to cope with the stress of school and may, in time, lead to a healthy lifestyle in their adult life.
Sleep hygiene – preparing for good sleep
“Children often use school holidays as an excuse to go to bed late,” says Jackie Maimin, CEO of the ICPA. “It’s best to establish a routine for bedtime so that they sleep well and get enough sleep. Kids need more sleep than adults –, a school child needs between 9 and 12 hours of sleep daily.”
Preparation for sleep begins long before bedtime. Caffeine, e.g. in tea, coffee, soft drinks and chocolate, should be avoided after lunchtime. According to Maimin, caffeine is a stimulant which may interfere with sleep. The child may not fall asleep easily or may have disturbed sleep.
Maimin says, “Encourage kids to use their beds only for sleeping. If they watch TV or play video games on their beds, it’s harder for them to associate bed with sleep.”
The bedtime routine should be consistent and predictable. It will include activities such as brushing of teeth, putting on pyjamas and telling or reading a story. Maimin recommends that this should be a peaceful, relaxed time – soft background music can help to calm the child down while getting ready for bed. “Video games, television and cell phones shouldn’t be used for at least an hour before bedtime and shouldn’t be used if the child wakes up during the night,” advises Maimin.
Nutrition – we are what we eat
Helping children to develop healthy eating habits is one of the biggest challenges that parents have. “We need to make sure that the food that we give our children provides both energy and the nutrients needed for growth,” says Maimin. “Importantly, we must be good role models because our behaviour and habits influence our children.”
Children who eat a good breakfast before going to school usually do better at school than those who don’t because it’s easier for them to concentrate on their work. They also have enough energy to keep going. “Obviously we need to take time and budget into account, but breakfasts should consist of protein plus appropriate carbohydrates,” continues Maimin. “Fruit and vegetables are always good, as are grains, such as oats. Protein is found in eggs, nuts and low-fat milk, cheese or yoghurt.”
Children also need snacks during the day to help them focus on school and homework and to give them the necessary energy and nutrients. “Remember that we’re trying to encourage our children to enjoy healthy food choices, so salty or sugary treats, although convenient, should be avoided,” cautions Maimin. “Vegetable sticks, fresh or dried fruit, raisins, nuts or granola bars are healthier. Involve your children in packing snacks – if there is a variety of snacks available, they can choose the ones they enjoy most.”
Children thrive on movement – it relieves stress and, surprisingly, it helps them to focus and improves memory. While children’s play often involves movement, such as running, the need for movement can also be met in more formal ways, e.g. dance and sports.
Exercise during the day not only helps children to feel energetic and to focus on their work, as well as making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Parents and caregivers are urged to encourage school children to participate in age-appropriate sports at school – it can form the basis of a lifelong commitment to healthy living. “Playing sports improves fitness and physical health, but it is also useful to help children develop social and leadership skills, says Maimin. “Children who play sports usually develop problem-solving skills and self-confidence that helps them in other areas too.
Building a foundation for healthy living
In addition to the immediate advantages for the children, these lifestyle interventions can benefit them for the rest of their lives.
“Many diseases can be avoided or minimised when adults make healthy lifestyle choices. If these choices are introduced during a child’s school years, they will become a habit and your child can look forward to healthy adulthood. Remember to speak to your pharmacist about ways to keep your children happy and healthy,” concludes Maimin.