As we head into a new school year, wellness is a big concern for parents. There are few things in the universe as efficient as a flu bug drifting through a classroom.
So this week, I want to share my top wellness tips for keeping your kids healthy at school, and I will set it in the framework of our motto here at Fundamental Health Solutions: Think Right, Eat Right, Move Right, Live Right. It’s just as true for kids as it is for adults.
There are hundreds of articles of back to school health, and most of them lead with some form of “eat right.” Frankly, it feels a little strange to lead with “Think Right,” but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. “Think Right” plays out in two ways:
As parents, we need to help our kids “think right” about wellness. Left to their own devices, most kids would probably default to cookies, chips, and sodas unless we are intentional about grooming them for healthy choices. That burden falls to us as parents. We need to serve healthy meals at home, keep healthy options in the house, and keep junk food to a minimum. Plus, we have to teach kids the value of a healthy life.
The other side of “Think Right” is creating a safe place where kids can share their thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing at school. Even if school were strictly an academic pursuit, there would still be an emotional aspect as the kids embrace new information and change their worldview. But we all know that academics is a relatively small part of what kids experience at school each day. The social dynamics of peer pressure can drive kids to suicide unless we provide a safe outlet for their feelings. That requires us as parents to be listeners.
We have to be able to hear what our kids are saying (as well as what they are NOT saying) without judgement or criticism. It’s easy to blow off our kids’ emotional trauma, because we are far enough removed from it ourselves. Think back to how you felt at that age. Get back in those shoes. Then realize that the pressures they are dealing with are 10 times magnified from when we were in school. Be a safe person to talk to. If you don’t listen to them now, they won’t listen to you when you need them to.
This is one area where there has been a lot of progress in the last twenty years. More news agencies, blogs, and thought leaders are recognizing the need for a healthy balanced diet for kids. But unless you are there to oversee their choices, you don’t always know if they are trading their apples for candy bars. That’s where training at home is important.
My biggest beef is with the schools. I understand that schools make some extra money by having vending machines in the school. But you are a fool if you provide sugary drinks and candy to students at lunch and then complain that they don’t sit still and focus all afternoon. That’s just ignorant. If you’re a school administrator and you can’t make the connection between sugary lunches and short attention spans, pardon my bluntness, but you should not be allowed to run a school. It’s that simple and obvious.
Packing A Lunch
School lunches are an explosive hot-button topic and I won’t get into it here. Instead, I’ll talk to the parents. I understand about having to scrape together a grocery budget for a family. I’m a working single dad and I have bills to pay, too. I empathize with you when you have to choose between a six dollar bag of organic apples and a three-dollar bag of chips, especially when you know your kids will turn up their nose at the apple in favor of the chips anyway.
We have to teach our kids to make the connection between eating right and feeling good. No-one likes to spend the whole school day feeling tired and sick, but hey don’t always recognize that their food choices make all the difference. You have to be creative. Lunchmeat is easy to pack but it’s not a great choice unless you get the good stuff, which can be expensive. Organic nut butters are better than peanut butter; jelly is mostly sugar, and white bread is just garbage.
It’s Not Always Easy
You have to get creative. I have seen parents send hot meals or cold leftovers in insulated bags, but some kids can’t be trusted not to lose them. You know your kids and what they can handle. Use your creative mind to find solutions; don’t just default to “I don’t know what to do.” It’s too important to throw up your hands in defeat.
I’m one of those crazy people who thinks we should be getting all of our nutrients directly from our food supply, but I also realize that most of the food in America (even organic vegetables) have been stripped of most of their nutrients through poor soil management practices. I also know how hard it can be to get kids to even eat vegetables until you have thoroughly trained them to do so (kids act out what they see modeled, parents).
That said, I can recommend a couple of vitamin and mineral supplements that you can give your kids can take to get the nutrients they need as their bodies grow.
Kids in school should keep their immune systems operating a peak performance to keep viruses at bay. That includes taking a supplement with strong Vitamin C and Vitamin D components, and plenty of magnesium, zinc, and potassium. I also recommend that your family takes a daily probiotic to maintain a healthy gut flora, which is the centerpiece of your immune system. If you call or email my office, I’ll share my thoughts with you. I don’t like to advocate for one brand or another in public because nutrition is a personalized issue. I like to give custom advice once I understand a little more about you and your unique wellness needs.
One of the biggest failures of public education is the decision by many school districts to remove physical activity from their daily curriculum. This has been going on gradually for 60 years or more, and the result is a spiraling epidemic of childhood obesity.
If your school doesn’t offer a daily period of physical activity, enroll them in an after-school program where they can run around at least a little bit. Take them out for a walk after school. Look around at the resources in your life: community education programs, family members or adults you trust.
I understand that there are a lot of single parents who read my blog and I don’t want you to feel bad because you’re in a difficult situation. You have a family to feed and I know you are working like a machine to provide. That makes it hard to set aside time for physical activity. I also know that some neighborhoods aren’t the best for letting your kids run around unattended. Write down the resources you have around you and get creative. What can you do with what you have available to get your kids some daily physical activity?
I don’t remember taking a big, bulky backpack to school every day when I was a kid. Nowadays, the kids have bags full of textbooks, notebooks, laptops, and other things that weigh up to 30 pounds!! Plus, many kids don’t think it’s cool to wear their backpacks balanced across both shoulders, so they sling them over one shoulder. That’s setting them up for serious back problems later.
If your child is complaining about back pain, headaches, difficulty concentrating, tingling fingers, or other posture-related issues, check their backpacks. Make sure they are not overloaded, that the shoulder straps are properly balanced and they have good lumbar placement. If you want, stop by my office and we’ll give it a look. Backpack design has improved significantly over the years, which is good, but we still see too many kids carrying too much weight. This might be an area where you need to work with teachers to find the right balance.
The “Live Right” category covers a pretty wide range of things that affect wellness.
One of those things is getting a good night’s sleep. Research shows that teenagers need more sleep than adults, but the fact is most teens get much less sleep than they need. Sleep is critical for resetting the brain for a new day, for processing all the mental and emotional information that has come in, and for rejuvenating the body’s internal systems. Your children’s issues with concentration, emotional balance, outbursts, and fatigue may all be tied to getting a good night’s sleep.
The keys to a good night’s sleep include:
- A dark and quiet sleeping room.
- No blue-light-emitting devices (TV, smartphone, computers, tablet, etc) for at least two hours before bed.
- Getting to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time each morning.
- An emotional discharge at the end of the day (i.e., talking about feelings in a safe environment).
- No sugar or caffeine after lunch.
You may not be the most popular parent in your house when you start to implement the changes required to get adequate sleep, but being your kids’ friend isn’t part of your job description.
A healthy immune system starts with a daily supply of clean water. The standard rule of thumb is one ounce of water per day per pound of body weight. When you start to hear talk of viruses spreading, increase your water intake.
We are really blessed here in Southwest Florida because almost all of our schools are built with outdoor corridors, so kids are getting exposed to fresh air several times a day. It’s not good to be indoors, breathing the same recycled air for hours on end. Get out!
The shortcut to a strong immune system, balance posture, and clear thinking is to get your family in for regular chiropractic adjustments. And while that sounds like a plug for my practice, my patients know that my personal preference is to teach you how to manage your own spinal health through moving right. I would much rather teach Naples to keep their own frames aligned than to get them on the adjustment table every week for the rest of their lives. It starts with regular adjustments, but it shouldn’t stay there.
Other School Thoughts
This is just a starting place. As you begin thinking about how to implement “Think Right, Eat Right, Move Right, Live Right” in your own life and with your own kids, you will think of other lifestyle choices you can make to maximize your kids’ wellness. They may not like them at first, but most kids are pretty adaptable. If you can stand your ground for the decisions you’ve made, you will see progress over time. Go to our Facebook page and share your insights with the rest of the community we’ve built there. What’s working for you? What questions do you have?
I’m willing to bet you’re not the only person thinking about this right now. Please take a few seconds to share this article on your favorite social media channel, and let’s share this information with as many people as possible.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas