Back to school: essential health tips for the new term
Heading back to school after the summer break can be an exciting and daunting time for both children and parents. Focusing on health and wellbeing is vital this new term, especially during the unprecedented times we and our children are facing.
Whether it’s your child’s first time heading through the school gates or they’re already preparing for their big exams, there’s a whole range of things we can do to make sure they’re happy, healthy and supported during the new school year.
Prioritise mental health & wellbeing
While school can be fun and exciting, it can also be really stressful for some children and adolescents.
It’s important to make sure your child feels supported and able to come to you if they’re struggling with their mental health. Whilst it could be distressing to learn your child is suffering from something like depression or anxiety, these issues need to be handled with care, compassion and confidence.
That starts with taking time to learn about mental health for yourself, whether that be through your own research or with help from a professional.
This will give you the confidence to spot the signs of poor mental health in your child and the ability to support them if they are facing any difficulties.
Look out for the signs of poor mental health
According to the NHS, around 1 in 8 children and adolescents experience behavioural or emotional problems growing up.
Whether your child is dealing with stress, bullying, low self-esteem or any other problems, these are some of the tell-tale signs that something is wrong:
- Significant changes in behaviour
- Ongoing difficulty sleeping
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Not wanting to do things they usually like
- Self-harm or neglecting themselves
Your child may also display some physical changes like altered appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, stomach aches or increased incidences of bedwetting for younger children. If you notice that any of these behaviours are lasting a long time, it’s really important to seek professional help.
Encourage hobbies & activities
When the new term is in full swing, some children may get caught up in their schoolwork and forget to make time for the things they enjoy.
This is particularly true for older children facing lots of homework or important exams. Studying is vital for your child’s academic progression, but too much of it could lead to stress or even burnout.
Remind them to take a break every now and again to participate in a hobby or activity they enjoy. Whilst schoolwork is important, physical and creative activities like sports and arts are just as vital for your child’s development and wellbeing.
Practise good hygiene
Even if you and your child aren’t at high risk for Covid-19, practising good hygiene is still crucial to preventing the spread of the virus to vulnerable people. Covid-19 isn’t the only concern either - making sure your child is washing their hands properly will help them to avoid colds, flu, stomach bugs and other illnesses.
Read our guide about hand hygiene to learn why it's so important to be be washing your hands effectively.
Hand hygiene isn’t the only thing to focus on, of course. Making sure your child is covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze, having regular baths or showers, brushing their teeth properly and using deodorant once they've reached puberty are all essential personal hygiene habits they’ll need to practise in order to keep themselves healthy.
Focus on nutrition
Providing a healthy, balanced diet for your child is extremely important for their growth and development. Young children are growing quickly and becoming more active when they start school, so it’s essential that they get all the nutrients they need to be full of energy.
Children’s diets should include starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy and at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Make sure their school lunchbox is packed with healthy options instead of crisps or sugary snacks - you could even cut their fruits and veggies into fun shapes to make lunchtime a bit more exciting!
Be a healthy eating role model
As your child starts to make food choices for themselves and develop their own likes and dislikes, you’ll need to encourage them to eat the right things.
Whilst a sweet treat is nice every now and again, it’s crucial that you set the right example by cooking healthy meals for yourself as well as your children. Your child won’t want to eat healthy, nutritious meals if you’re at the other end of the table eating fast food or skipping dinner altogether!
If you aren't a natural chef, you can use this as an opportunity to learn a new skill by buying a new recipe book, taking a cooking class or watching free instructional videos online. You could also take a look at Change4Life, a great NHS campaign with tonnes of resources like healthy lunchbox ideas and nutritious recipes for the whole family.
Introduce new foods
If you’ve got a fussy eater on your hands, mealtime can be frustrating and the thought of introducing new foods may seem like more hassle than it’s worth. It is, however, crucial that we introduce children to a variety of nutritious foods from a young age so they can become accustomed to new tastes and textures as they grow up.
Try having your child join you in the kitchen so they can explore different ingredients and cooking techniques - the more fun they have learning about cooking, the more they’ll want to eat the meal they’ve helped to prepare.
Support your child’s immunity
The government recommends that all children from 6 months up to the age of 5 are given a daily vitamin supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. Even after the age of 5, it’s vital that your child gets the essential vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop.
Vitamin D is one of the most important to consider - it’s recommended that all UK adults and children over the age of 4 should take a vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter. That’s because it’s difficult for us to get enough vitamin D when the days are shorter and the sun isn’t strong enough.
There are plenty of vitamin supplements designed especially to give children the nutrients they need, often as tasty gummies or liquid formulas.
Keep a routine
While some adults hate being stuck in the same routine every day, there are proven benefits for children when we keep things consistent for them, especially when they’re at school. Setting a routine will help your child to learn about responsibility and create regular, healthy habits that will stick with them in the future.
Your routine might include set times for after-school activities, chores, homework, reading books and getting ready for bed. Figure out what works best for you and your child and stick to it every day as best you can.
Set a sleep schedule
The most important part of your child’s routine will be their bedtime, especially on school nights. Children between 6 and 12 years old need around 9-12 hours of sleep, more than the recommended amount for adults.
To help your child stick to their bedtime, add some relaxing activities to their nightly routine to help them drift off on time. You could try running a warm bath for your child before bedtime and, once they’re in bed, encourage them to read quietly for a short while or read a story together.
Stop them from using screens (TVs, tablets, smartphones) about an hour before bedtime and keep their bedroom a screen-free zone to encourage better sleep. When your child gets the right amount of sleep they need, they’ll feel much more energised and ready for the school day when they wake up.
We hope that you and your child(ren) are excited and ready to take on the new school year. There'll be ups and downs, as always, but as we put the pandemic behind us and get back to normal, our children will hopefully get back to enjoying their time in the classroom too.