BY DR. ROXANNE ALLEGRETTI
If your child is a Stafford County student like mine, you’ve got one week of school under your belt. Other area students have been back in the school routine for several weeks.
Hopefully, no one else was like me on the night before school started, feeding the kids dinner at 8:30 p.m., after a crazy day of getting last-minute school items, doing laundry, packing up backpacks, doing some community service and more.
All the while, I felt guilty for not using our pool passes or Kings Dominion season passes one last time.
Our late dinner made for a late bedtime, and knowing that teens are supposed to get nine hours of sleep per night (and that mine wouldn’t even get eight), I was freaking out. Ah, the school year maternal guilt has begun again.
So now that the novelty and (hopefully) the initial stress of the new school year have worn off, what can you do to help your child do his or her best in school?
First and foremost is to help your child maintain good health. Getting enough sleep is a big part
Children ages 5–12 need 10–11 hours of sleep, and teens should get nine hours of sleep each night. It can be hard to fit that in, but keep in mind, children in the U.S. watch an average of three to four hours of TV daily. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than two hours a day of screen time daily. You do the math.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends trying to keep bed and wake times the same every day. And to promote good sleep, kids should get regular exercise (though not right before bed), and not watch TV or use a computer for at least one hour prior to bedtime.
Studies have shown that a normal child who is deprived of just one to two hours of sleep each night can be affected enough to be diagnosed with ADHD.
SKIP SUGARY CEREALS
Sleep helps the immune system, as does good nutrition. Be sure that your child gets five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, along with adequate calcium and vitamin D. Your child’s diet should be low in saturated fat, sugar and processed foods.
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, so don’t let your child skip it. But the commercials showing sugary cereal as “part of this nutritious, balanced breakfast” are way off. Simple carbs like the ones in sugary cereals increase blood sugar level quickly and practically guarantee a big crash by lunchtime.
A better choice for breakfast would be a hard-boiled egg or peanut butter on whole wheat toast, plus fresh fruit with milk or water to drink.
Include whole grains, complex carbohydrates, and some protein with every meal. And think out of the box—traditional breakfast foods like Pop–Tarts and juice, or pancakes with syrup, sausage or bacon, are not good for your kids. A piece of veggie pizza would be much better!
Avoiding illness is also important for kids, but contact with sick people is inevitable in school. Teach your kids to cough into their elbow, sneeze into a tissue then throw it away and wash hands frequently.
SAFETY ON THE ROAD
Accidents—especially car accidents—are the top cause of death in children. Keep your children in five-point harness car seats until they outgrow them, then use a high-backed booster seat.
Virginia law requires a booster until a child’s eighth birthday, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that kids ride in a booster until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall (usually 9–12 years old).
Kids should ride in the back seat until 13 years old (longer if under 5 feet tall, due to air bag safety).
If your teen drives, check your phone bill to see if texting or talking on cellphones is occurring during drive time. And if they are texting or talking while driving, take away the phone. Also, consider driving teens yourself in bad weather.
If your children ride the bus, review safety rules with them and try to have an adult present for loading and unloading.
ONCE THEY’RE HOME
Outside of school hours, make sure homework time is distraction-free—no TV, texting, loud music, etc.—and done in a quiet, well-lit setting.
Be sure kids also have some free, unscheduled time in their week to play and read for pleasure. And try to have family dinners together as much as possible. This has been shown to reduce childhood obesity and emotional problems.
Also be sure your child has good before- and after-school care if you’re not available. Although Virginia doesn’t have laws about this, it’s usually accepted that children under 11 shouldn’t be home alone for long, if at all, depending on their maturity.
If your child does have to be home alone, try to enlist a trusted neighbor to check on them and watch your house for unwanted visitors. Review emergency procedures and phone numbers and have a schedule for what they need to do during that time.
Talk to your child’s teacher(s) on a regular basis so you’re not one of those parents who find out when the first report card comes home that your child is failing at everything.
Walk the fine line between being out of touch and being a helicopter parent (constantly hovering). Volunteer in your child’s school if possible, so that you can observe firsthand how things are going.
If you help out with school events, try to steer things in a healthy direction, by providing kids with fruit, stickers or toys instead of candy.
If problems related to school start to show up, always try to address them early. The school won’t do formal testing until your child is significantly behind, but you can do this privately if you have a concern.
Talk to your pediatrician if your child is doing poorly in school or has any physical, emotional or mental problem that may be affecting his or her school performance. Often, there is help available, through other venues, before problems become severe.
I know there are a lot of do’s and don’ts—i.e., a whole lot more advice for moms and dads to either follow or feel guilty about not following.
As we all tell our kids, “Do your best.” And if you see my kids, don’t ask them what they had for breakfast.
Dr. Roxanne Allegretti is a pediatrician with Preferred Pediatrics at Snowden in Fredericksburg.