1 Eating Right
Food is the fuel that runs our bodies, and just as the right kinds of oil and gas are needed for an engine to run optimally, our cells need the right nutrients to power our bodies adequately. For growing children, their nutrition today is building the foundation for their bodies in the future. For the first time ever, the medical community is saying that our children will not live as long as the previous generation because of increasing rates of chronic disease and malnutrition that leads to a variety of ailments.
Malnutrition doesn’t necessarily mean hunger. It means a diet void of usable nutrients. An obese child who eats nothing but junk food and fast food can be malnourished. This leads to diabetes and heart disease in children!
All parents need to be concerned with what goes into the bellies of their children. Think of them as a finely tuned race car or luxury car that requires only the best fuels to be ready to learn in school. A brain works better when it is nourished! And for children who have learning challenges, ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, behavior issues or are anywhere on the autism spectrum, the ingredients in food can be a contributing factor. Artificial dyes, MSG, preservatives, gluten and sugars can make these conditions worse. In some cases changing the diet completely can completely change the child’s life.
It’s so critical that at the Brain Balance Center of West Tampa, all clients undergo ALCAT testing to determine food sensitivities. Parents are counseled by a nutrition specialist throughout the program. Similarly, natural health doctors, chiropractors, nutrition coaches and therapists evaluate diet as part of their treatments for children.
While we can’t say enough about the importance of quality food, we realize that everyone has their own mix of challenges in the way of money, time, accessibility to fresh food and cooking abilities. The easiest way to make changes is one step at a time. Some easy changes to make:
1. Switching to organic dairy to eliminate the concentration of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics that occur in milk, yogurt and butter. It’s $2 to $3 a gallon more for organic milk, but by the time you pay $100 for groceries you don’t notice it. Just overcome the sticker shock at the cooler and set it in the cart. The first glass of organic milk your child drinks will give you a sense of relief and you won’t look back.
2. Stop buying packaged cookies and sweets for snacks and dessert. If sweet treats are must have for your family, make them from scratch using whole ingredients or switch to fruit.
3. Increase your dinner menu by incorporating one new whole food meal a week. This helps you to learn new techniques and recipes slowly. Eventually processed meals and fast food can be eliminated from your routine. The Internet is rich with websites that have one pot meals, slow cooker meals, frozen meals, casseroles and pressure cooker recipes.
4. Reduce the amount of sugar, diet and caffeine beverages that you buy and increase the amount of water your family drinks. This is especially important for school aged children.
5. Forego the sugar-filled breakfasts during the week and make an effort to prepare a high protein breakfast. Kids need the staying power of protein to get them through their mornings in school. If necessary, make a large batch of scrambled eggs for breakfast burritos or make a breakfast casserole. Whole wheat pancakes with Greek yogurt and fruit, homemade protein bars and even a peanut butter sandwich with a banana are some easy options.
2 Getting Enough Sleep
American children simply are not getting enough sleep to keep their minds healthy and ready to learn for school. Contributing factors are too many activities during the week, parents’ work schedules, homework and screen time. The bottom line is that parents must be in charge of the sleep schedule and stick to the routine.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours of sleep a night. At this age, their involvement with extracurricular activities is increasing at the same they become more involved with computers and other media. Homework also becomes more time consuming. Too much stimulation from screen time and caffeine can lead to sleeping difficulties, bedtime resistance and nightmares. Sleep problems and disorders are prevalent at this age so it’s recommended that parents intervene and set rules to optimize sleep times. Poor and inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral issues such as ADHD and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school.
• Teach school-aged children about the importance of healthy sleep habits
• Continue to emphasize need for a regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine
• Create a soothing sleep environment that is dark, cool and quiet
• Keep TV, computers, cell phones and tablets out of the bedroom
• Avoid caffeine
• Teach natural relaxation and breathing techniques to calm the body
• Incorporate gentle massaging with positive affirmations and/or prayer to calm the mind
• Use essential oils on the child or in a diffuser to encourage peaceful sleep. Young Living Oils have blends especially developed for children.
American Academy of Pediatrics Urges High Schools to Start Later
Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. Getting enough sleep each night is a challenge for teens whose natural sleep cycle makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. – and then must face a first-period class at 7:05 a.m.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement that recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so would align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”
Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.
Napping, extending sleep on weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep, according to the AAP.
The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.
3 Know, Set, Communicate and Enforce your Family Values
He’d say you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything
You’ve got to be your own man not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name
You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything
These song lyrics by Aaron Tippen can apply to a person, a family, a group or a company. It’s about knowing who you are, where you come from, where you’re going and what you stand for all along the way.
For parents in particular, having a clear understanding of your own values is necessary before determining the direction of your family. Building a home on shifting sand would create an unstable structure. The same is true for a family unit. Creating a firm family foundation gives children a truth to rely upon, security for the future and clear boundaries to live within. The Internet has created an era of misinformation that can lead many parents to be confused about what is best for any situation or question. With opinions as plentiful as stars and parenting books that would stack to the moon, it’s important more than ever to seek resources of authority and wisdom to determine your own truths about life and success.
Take major issues, such as education, and determine what your family values are regarding that issue. Make sure all your actions and words support that value in front of your children, and be intentional about instilling those values into your children as early as possible. Tell your children family stories and regularly use phrases like, “In our family, we place a high value on education,” “In our family we always do our best in school,” “In our family we respect our teachers,” and “In our family there are consequences for misbehaving in school.”
Other major topics for building a strong family foundation are behavior expectations, values regarding the treatment of others, food, exercise, relationships, family time and psychological and spiritual development. Consider these top priorities first and put maximum effort here. And while external values such as team sports, academic achievement and making money have an out-of-balance priority in our society, it’s important to instill internal values for a balanced life.
Once the family foundation is determined, parents will need to work hard to fight the battles of culture and peer pressure. That’s where true strength and resolve are needed. We can make the initial lift to get the bar up high, but the fatigue sets in with holding it up over time. Do not grow weary! Find strength to hold true to your values and someday your children will thank you for it.
4 Communicate about Risky Behaviors
Keeping an open avenue of communication should start as soon as children learn to talk. There is a popular meme in social media that says, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” Your values about risky behavior should be a part of your family foundation discussion from an early age and can support an overall healthy approach to life. “Just as mom and dad help teach you to eat healthy food, we want to teach you that using any kind of drug or alcohol is unhealthy for you, too. Your body is growing and we want you to grow to be your best self. When you are an adult, you will make your own choices, but while you are a child, we will not allow smoking, drinking or drugs of any kind.” Keep in mind that children can spot inconsistencies a mile away and building their trust is necessary. Modeling healthy habits is the best way to reinforce your family values.
5 Learn how to set and visualize goals
Want to help your children be motivated about school? Help them set some goals. Several studies have shown improved academic performance when parents help their children set some educational goals. Rather than focus on a competitive goal, together determine personal learning goals.
Ask your child what he’d like to do differently this year compared to last year, giving him a boost with some leading questions. Perhaps he’d like to improve his math grades or be a better listener.
The trick is to let the child determine his or her goals. This is empowering to a child and gives them a sense of control over their destiny. This lesson will continue through life and be one of the best skills you can teach.
A good goal is one that is achievable, measurable and timely. For children who have larger goals, break them down into incremental steps so achievement of a goal comes sooner. For example, if a child wants to raise a grade from 70 percent to 100 percent, it may be better to aim for 10 percent increases over a set period of time. This allows the parent to monitor progress and assist with strategies like additional study time or tutoring.
Create a vision board with the goals in writing and include some fun visuals to stimulate the brain every time the child sees it. This can be as simple as a small poster board or a more elaborately designed bulletin board. Place the board where the child can see it every day. Include some supporting positive affirmations as well, such as, “I am going to be a good listener today,” “I am going to work hard in math class today,” and “I am in control of achieving my own goals.”
An important part of goal setting is celebrating your child’s success when their goal is attained. Some experts don’t recommend offering rewards or enticements to help children achieve goals, but parents know what motivates their child best.
6 Kids Need Activities Outside of School
Numerous articles and studies have been circulating that warn parents about the dangers of too much standardized testing in schools. The concerns are that children are losing their creativity, their abilities to think for themselves to problem solve and their individual uniqueness. Other concerns are for the children who do not test well that they will dislike school, have poor self esteem and develop chronic stress. The priority placed on testing scores in schools has also caused a reduction of the amounts of art, music and physical activity during the school day. We can’t solve the testing issue today (although we encourage you to share your opinions with your state legislators today and through the year), we can as parents make it our mission to get our children involved in activities outside of school. For one, this will help a expand his or her feelings of worth and teach that “I am more than a test score.”
• Find clubs, Meetups and neighborhood youth groups that explore an interest or develop a skill. Here children can meet other children who share a common hobby. This could include community gardening, video gaming, 4H, cooking, civic engagement, conservation, robotics and more. Talk with the children’s librarian at your local library. They are fantastic resources for information in your community. Also check the bulletin boards at your community recreation centers. Having friends with similar interests will develop confidence and make school easier.
• Join scouting. Several different kinds of scouting organizations are in our county. They enlist adult volunteers to teach skills, build leadership and instill confidence. Community service is often involved and kids learn a lifelong value of helping others when they can be hands on with their peers.
• Start a business. Many young people are venturing into entrepreneurship at very young ages. The Internet has created a vehicle for a child without a car and a busy school schedule to reach customers around the world. It’s an exciting time for kids to learn about business and earn their own money.
7 Get Help When Help is Needed – Tutoring, Therapy, Counseling
So far there is no explanation as to why so many more children are suffering from attention deficits, learning disabilities, sensory disorders, executive functioning delays, behavior challenges, medical conditions, allergies and anxiety. The realm of “special needs” has grown to an unmanageable level for school systems, and not all children who need help are qualifying for free assistance at school. There simply aren’t enough dollars and therapists to give attention to those who struggle, or don’t reach their potential in the classroom.
It may not be a dysfunction or a disorder, it may just be a child who need extra help with math or reading. And it may be a child who has difficulty coping with these and other challenges. Whatever the issue, if a child needs more than the parent and the school can provide, then outside is necessary. We’ve come to believe that everything we need should be provided by the education system, the healthcare system or the government. That simply isn’t the case, even if it once was. Most insurance policies cover very little in the way of therapies including physical, speech, occupational, behavior and mental health counseling. We’re on our own to provide for our children however we can. We are their advocates and we are fully responsible to help them become the best they can be.
To find what you need, consult friends, ask at the school, ask your doctor and scour the Internet. There are coaches who use technology to do sessions via your computer. There are therapists and centers that accept payment based on financial need. There are support groups, online classes and peer groups in the community. Many libraries offer free tutoring. Seek out the help your child needs and cut corners in your budget however necessary to afford the cash payments for therapy, tutoring or counseling.
8 Create a peaceful environment at home
We are all products of our environment, and while some kids are more sensitive than others, they all feel the effects of what is happening inside the home and they carry it to school. Creating and managing a peaceful home environment takes everyone’s cooperation. It is a core belief that needs to be a part of the Family Foundation Plan. Adopt the mindset that you will have a good environment in your home and make it happen. For moms, that means some tactful diplomacy with spouses, a firm set of guidelines for the kids and personal self awareness and discipline for yourself.
Picture yourself as a stranger in your home. Is there constant yelling? Is the house a disorganized mess? Is there excessive drinking and drug use (prescription drugs, too) happening? Do you see depression, sadness or loneliness? Is there negative language, cursing or insults being thrown around more than the opposite? Is there mutual support and love being shown? Are members of the family isolated and disconnected? Is there too much exposure to media and the Internet? Is there a lack of money, stability or security?
This one is difficult, admittedly for the adults in the home, because only the adults can change their home life for their kids. At times this may seem impossible, overwhelming and hopeless. The good news is that it is never hopeless. Our community is filled with resources to help families with their relationships, their financial management, behavior issues and learning how to adopt a positive lifestyle. The best place to start is calling 211 if you need some serious help for your family. Counselors there can connect you with local resources. Private counselors are abundant and can work wonders, and so can your local house of worship. Nearly every church in this community has trained pastors and lay leaders who can give you a compassionate ear and find some way for you to get the help you need. Don’t isolate yourself. Empower yourself and your family to live up to your full potential and enjoy a happy, healthy home.
9 Teach Kids How to Relax
An infant learns how to self calm, but who teaches a school-aged child how to relax his or her mind and body after a long day? Yes, kids have stress. It could be peer pressure at school, a lack of academic confidence, perfectionism, behavior issues or struggles within the family. It’s a skill that needs to be taught and utilized not only at bedtime but before a test or whenever stress appears. Learning to understand emotional signals and to have body awareness will go a long way to staying in control as they get older.
• Deep Breathing: An effective way to slow down the heart rate, lower blood pressure and provide a feeling of being in control. Anyone can do this at any time. Breathe in deeply to a count of four, hold the breath for a moment, release it slowly and repeat until relaxed.
• Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Relieve stress by tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in your body, one at a time, including the face, jaw, hands, shoulders, belly and feet.
• Visualization: Using one’s imagination to slow down the chatter of the mind and help release negative thoughts and worries. Together create beautiful, peaceful scene that can become the child’s “happy place.” Describe color, smells and soothing sensations to create a full sensory moment that will calm. Add calming aromatherapy with lavender by using a diffuser.
• Stretching: Teach gentle stretching of large muscle groups to relax the body.
• Music: Play quiet, calming music known to relax the mind.
• Physical Closeness: If a child like to cuddle for security, encourage some quiet time hugging and petting a beloved pet. If appropriate for your child, offer some cuddle time for security and love. We all need at least 12 hugs a day to maintain mental health. Physical touch is important to feeling loved and it reduces stress hormones. Even for teenagers.
Meditation: Stopping for some quiet time to breathe, relax and the clear the mind has multiple health and mental benefits. Include positive phrasing or prayer to settle the mind.
10 Be Involved with the Child’s School
Last but certainly not least is the importance of being involved with the child’s school. It’s so easy for parents to drop off and pick up, and never set foot within the school. Building a relationship with the teachers, administrators and PTA members will not only connect you to the school, but it will show your child that school is important. Attending events is also important, and so is being a part of the PTA or other parent organization. They not only support the school, they share important information about advocating for education. If you are thinking that your school is not open to parents or that you don’t like what your PTA does, then the answer is, go and get involved anyway. Be a change agent. Be a cheerleader for your child’s education. Learn what the issues are and offer suggestions. Find help for your school within the community. Go to school board meetings. Write letters to state legislators. Students and parents are the customer. If you need to be the squeaky wheel, then be the squeaky wheel in a positive, proactive and cooperative manner.