For children to be at their best in school, healthy habits must be built into their everyday lives. That may sound like common sense, but in my experience as a school nurse the tips below are not always being followed.
1. Please, PLEASE don't send your sick child to school. Feeling miserable in school will definitely impair your child's concentration and learning. Your school should provide you with a list of symptoms and illnesses that exclude a child. For example, if your child has a high fever, an undiagnosed rash, pinkeye, and/or a constant cough, he or she should be treated and may need rest. If your child has vomited in the morning, there's a good chance it'll happen again in school. If your job is a problem, call on a relative or hire a babysitter to help care for him or her. By sending the child to school, you are exposing the other children and the staff to illness. The child will likely be sent to the nurse's office and you will be called.
2. Be sure your child eats a healthy, filling breakfast every morning before school. A hungry student will not function well. And please, do not buy fast food or give the child candy on the way to school. In my job I have seen kids arriving at school carrying french fries and candy bars. And make sure you don't load them up with sugar-laden cereal or pastries. They may be sensitive to sugar, which may result in inattention and may lead to excess weight gain.
3. A good night's sleep is crucial for being alert and productive in school. Sleep guidelines are: preschoolers, 11 to 12 hours, school-age children, at least 10 hours, and teens, 9 to 10 hours a day. Adequate sleep may also help prevent depression and other mood disorders. It will also help a child function well at play and with friends and family. Teens are notorious for getting too little sleep. Many walk around in a stupor. Parents must set appropriate bedtimes. Televisions and other electronics should be kept out of children's rooms. Lack of sleep has also been linked to obesity. Hormones triggered by fatigue cause increased appetite and lack of satiety.
4. Children need daily exercise. As we know, most American children do not get enough exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity daily. This may include walking, running, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, biking, sports and dancing. Three days should include muscle-strengthening exercise, such as playground activities, gymnastics and push-ups. Also, include bone-strengthening play such as jump-rope, sit-ups, rock climbing, sports, hop-scotch, hopping, skipping, and jumping. Exercise keeps your child alert, and can help prevent or lessen obesity.
5. Play is important for so many reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that "play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth." You often hear that "play is children's work." That is true because it helps to develop their creativity and imagination and it adds to their healthy brain growth. They learn to interact with the world and master skills which can lead to self-confidence. Children learn to get along with peers and adults who are willing to play. They learn to share, resolve disputes, and make decisions. It promotes physical as well as mental health. Play assures that a child will be able to connect with other children and adults, both of which are critical to success in school and life.
Easier said than done, you say. Time doesn't permit a lot of play or exercise or enough sleep. We are on extremely busy schedules. The kids have lots of extra-curricular activities. Academics comes first. Gone are the days when children played outside in the sun and snow and rain unrestricted for hours. But time must be made available to them for developing academically, emotionally, socially, and physically to their best advantage.