Back to School: 7 Ways to Keep Your Children Healthy and Support Their Academic Success
It’s that time of year again — when children return to school and parents scramble to help them navigate the transition from summer break to full-time immersion in school life. If you’re one of those parents, you probably already have your hands full registering your children for class, making sure they have all their supplies, tracking down medical records, and scheduling physicals.
You’re fully focused on the logistics of education — new clothes, schedules, supplies, transportation, and meals. And while we’re reluctant to add to that burden, this is an opportunity to do what’s needed to support your children’s physical and mental health, both of which play a crucial role in their brain function and development and hence, their overall success at school.
In this post, we present seven ways to optimize your children’s health so they can achieve their full potential at school.
1. Establish Healthy Routines
Most people function better when they have healthy routines in place that make their days predictable. This is especially true for children, teenagers, and young adults, and even more so for those with learning or developmental challenges. Routines can also help to reduce stress and anxiety.
You can structure days by setting times for the following:
- Wakeup and bedtime
- Mealtimes (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
- Study times
- Time for chores
Be sure to leave some unstructured time in your children’s schedules that gives them the freedom to determine how they spend it.
2. Support the Gut-Brain Axis
We are all aware of the importance of proper nutrition in supporting physical health, but a growing body of evidence suggests that the digestive system plays a crucial role in brain function and development and in supporting a healthy immune response. In fact, many brain-related illnesses, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and Parkinson’s disease are directly linked to imbalances and disorders of the gut.
We recommend that everyone, regardless of age and overall health, adopt a healthy diet. Here are some specific recommendations:
- Keep the consumption of sugar and sweets, including soda and fruit juices, to a minimum.
- Eat mostly whole foods (natural and unprocessed) — vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), and healthy proteins, such as organic free-range chicken, eggs, and beef and wild-caught fish.
- Avoid processed foods — chips, crackers, baked goods — anything you have to read the ingredients list to find out what’s in it.
- Drink mostly water.
If you have a child who is struggling at school or has digestive issues — diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, pain — chances are they have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO), which can lead to leaky gut (damage to the intestinal lining). We encourage you to have your child tested and treated for these conditions and others that can negatively impact the gut-brain axis.
Get involved: If you have time, get involved at your children’s school. If the school provides meals, find out what they’re feeding the students. School lunches often contain a lot of highly processed foods that are counterproductive to brain health, function, and development. If you can’t change the system, prepare a nutritious alternative for your child.
3. Test for and Address and Brain Trauma or Dysfunction
If your child is struggling at school, it may be through no fault of their own. Most children are naturally curious, they desire to please their parents and teachers, and they want to get along with their peers. If they’re experiencing cognitive or behavioral issues, be sure to have them tested to rule out any underlying brain trauma or dysfunction.
Here at Restoration Healthcare, we offer a non-invasive, pain-free RightEye examination to screen for brain trauma and dysfunction that can be completed in 15 minutes. During the exam, you simply look at objects on a screen. An infrared camera built into the screen collects data related to your eye movement to gauge your “control of eye movement” accuracy.
Results from the exam give us metrics to evaluate the severity of certain health issues, such as brain trauma (concussion) and inflammation, and determine whether the brain is fully functioning correctly (integration).
For many of our patients, RightEye is part of our Comprehensive Initial Evaluation — one tool in the diagnostic toolbox we use to root out the underlying cause of illness and dysfunction.
We also have available several supplements to support brain function, including OptiMag Neuro — a unique magnesium supplement that’s available online in the Restoration Healthcare eShop. Boosting the brain’s magnesium level is vital to healthy cognition, including long- and short-term memory, learning, stress management, and sleep. OptiMag Neuro features magnesium L-threonate — a form of magnesium shown in animal studies to cross the blood-brain barrier, thereby optimizing magnesium delivery to the brain.
4. Boost the Immune System
Infectious diseases appear to be on the rise, along with the pressure to get vaccinated, so it is becoming increasingly important to support the immune system. Immune system health can protect against infection and reduce some of the risks involved in getting vaccinated.
A variety of supplements can support the immune system and regulate the immune response, including Vitamins C and D, zinc, and quercetin. The best course of action is to consult with a function and integrative medicine clinic for evaluation and specific recommendations. If you are concerned about vaccines and their side effects, protocols are available that can help to reduce the risks.
And we can’t say this enough: At Restoration Healthcare, we are not proponents of vaccines in general, nor are we antivaxxers. Our recommendation to receive a specific vaccine or not relies on several factors, including the vaccine’s risk/benefit profile, the individual’s likelihood of being infected, and the impact the disease is likely to have on the patient. We believe all healthcare providers should do as we do — conduct a risk-benefit analysis for each patient, allowing them to decide what’s best for them and their family members on a case-by-case basis.
Vaccine spacing: If you choose vaccinations for your child, a good rule of thumb is to space them as far apart as possible — even if it means additional costs and doctor visits. Also, before getting any vaccine for your child, discuss the risks and benefits with your child’s pediatrician so you can make a well-informed decision.
5. Dial Down the Stress
Stress comes in a variety of forms, including physical, emotional, and psychological, and stress in any form may trigger serious physical and mental illnesses. So, do what you can to reduce the stress in your life and the lives of your children.
We know that this is easier said than done. Families have far more to struggle with now than ever before in terms of social and other turmoil, including concerns over the environment, high inflation, and uncertainty.
Here are a few ways to make your home a more peaceful and serene oasis for everyone in your family:
- Keep lines of communication open. Encourage everyone to discuss their problems and concerns, and try to resolve them as a family.
- Approach disagreements as problems to be solved. Seek solutions instead of placing blame.
- Replace criticism with suggestion. In fact, reduce criticism overall, looking instead for opportunities to compliment other family members. Be positive.
- Reduce the noise and distraction from electronic devices — TVs, smartphones, stereos, and video game consoles. Consider turning off all devices at dinner and one or two hours before bedtime.
- Try to create memories together — activities you’ll look back upon fondly, including playing games or performing hobbies or games as a family.
6. Optimize Restorative Sleep
As you sleep, your body repairs and restores itself. In other words, your brain detoxes during sleep. As a result, your child should wake up feeling refreshed and energized. If they feel tired when you wake them up or a short time after waking, they’re either not getting enough sleep or their sleep quality is lower than it should be.
Work toward getting your entire family on a healthy sleep schedule — one that’s aligned as closely as possible with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. That means going to sleep when it’s dark outside and waking at sunrise.
Here are a few suggestions for improving sleep quality:
- Get plenty of natural light during the day.
- Make bedrooms dark and silent. Keep electronics out of the bedroom if possible or make sure they’re turned off at bedtime.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages late in the day.
- Don’t eat or drink late in the evening.
- Create a bedtime routine that is conducive to sleep, including no screentime at least an hour before bed. Blue light from screens disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Avoid any emotionally charged conversations at least an hour before bedtime.
- Dial down the thermostat before bed. According to the Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleeping is between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit.
If you or any member of your family has trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, they may have an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed. Let your doctor know what’s going on and explore treatment options.
7. Take Care of Yourself
When you’re focused on caring for your children, it’s easy to overlook your own health and well-being — and that’s not good for you or for them. Don’t overexert yourself physically or mentally in an attempt to make a “better life” for your children. They value quality time with you more than anything else, even though they may not come right out and say it.
Eat a healthy diet, get seven to nine hours of restorative sleep per night, and take advantage of weekends and vacation time to unwind and engage in activities you enjoy. Don’t try to be a Super Mom or a Super Dad. Be prepared to say “no” when asked to take on extra work. Focus on conserving your energy for yourself and your family. Remember that you’re no good to your children if you’re sick or stressed out.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about keeping your children healthy and supporting their academic success is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at Restoration Healthcare, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.