The coronavirus outbreak along with the lockdown has been a challenging time for families. It caused major disruptions to daily life where some parents found themselves working from home or perhaps lost their job all while trying to balance school, having children at home and being isolated from family. This dramatic change to daily routine was not only overwhelming for parents but also very unsettling for kids as they adapted and adjusted to the “new normal”.
As restrictions ease and some schools re-open now comes another challenging adjustment - back-to-school in all different formats. More than 70 countries have announced plans to reopen schools. Given the variation across the globe, countries are in different stages regarding how and when they plan to reopen schools. If you are living in a country where returning to school is happening soon, there are lots of mixed emotions around it. The return to school may be exciting for some students while others will be feeling anxious about this new transition. Supporting children through the coming weeks and months will set the foundation for their long term physical and mental health.
What can parents do to help kids deal with the uncertainty of the upcoming school year?
Starting a new school year can be stressful on its own, let alone being in the midst of a global pandemic. Returning to school will look different than ever before - smaller class sizes, different teachers, not being able to sit close to classmates, restricted play areas, lack of assemblies, staggered lunch breaks, lack of sharing equipment and this list goes on. Some things that parents can do to help kids with this difficult transition include:
Address fears and communicate openly
- Have open conversations about their fears and reassure them that it's completely okay and natural to feel anxious or even have mixed emotions at this time. Kids are feeling excited about getting to see their teachers and friends again but nervous about the changes. Keep a close eye on the child’s physical health and signs of stress and anxiety once returning to school. Reassurance that all these mixed feelings are normal and it is ok to feel this way can go a long way in making your child feel supported. It is also important to encourage open communication. Some questions to help stimulate conversation include:
- What are you most excited about going back to school?
- Which friends and teachers are you happy to reconnect with?
- What makes you nervous about going back to school?
Talk about what changes to expect and discuss new safety measures
- Take the time to talk to your children about what changes to expect in school. Some questions to address include: What will the classroom look like? What will recess be like? What about extracurricular activities? Pacing kids ahead of time is a good way to give them a sense of control.
- It is important to remind kids about the safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of germs. This includes screening before going into school, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and coughing into the elbow. Kids need to understand that even though you can't see the germs they can still be present. Make sure to always communicate why these safety precautions are in place. Helping kids understand the why’s can help them cope better. Here is a great resource on how to talk to your kids about wearing masks
Get back into a routine
- Many parents have adopted a flexible routine during the lockdown - later bedtimes, sporadic eating, more screen time. It is time to re-adjust to stricter bedtimes, getting out of bed earlier and getting dressed earlier. Start these routines earlier rather than later and make it a gradual approach before school starts.
What are the foundations of health for kids?
The foundations to live a well balanced life for children are rooted in diet, sleep and physical activity. So, how can parents and kids optimize these three foundations of health to ensure a healthy new school year?
Step 1: Diet
Children learn to eat what their parents prepare and what is stocked in the pantry and fridge. Eating for a healthy brain includes: keeping blood sugar levels balanced, eating the rainbow while limiting refined sugars and processed foods. Here are some tips to help get you started.
- Plan recipes the week before to avoid spending too much time on what to cook/prepare everyday. Once the recipes have been planned out, grocery shop according to your recipes.
- Meal-prep 2-3 times a week. A great example would be marinating chicken breasts or steak ahead of time so all that needs to be done is popping it in the oven. Cut up all your veggies so access during the week is simple and easy.
- Prepare foods simply - Foods that are steamed, boiled, baked or broiled are easily digested. Use water, lemon juice, broths and herbs vs. sauces.
- Breakfast: Start their day off with a low glycemic index, high fibre, high protein meal. This allows for sustained release of glucose to the brain allowing children to stay mentally and physically active throughout the day.
- Example of a well balanced breakfast: Eggs + Fruit + Whole grain toast with nut butters OR
- Smoothies are another great breakfast option. Add some frozen berries, chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts and spinach for a full balanced breakfast!
- Lunch: Pack their lunches full of healthy snacks like raw veggies and hummus, almond butter and celery, baked apples and some fruit. Make sure to include iron rich foods like meat, eggs and spinach. Iron deficiency has been associated with poor cognition and lower attention span and fatigue.
Step Two: Sleep
Sleep is necessary for our little one’s bodies to regenerate, repair and grow. School aged children need about 10-12 hours of sleep a day and teens need about 9 hours of sleep each night. Growth hormone is secreted while we sleep and this can affect mood, energy and appetite.
Here are some ways to optimize their quality of sleep:
- Establish a routine with the same bedtime every night. Kids need a well-established routine that is being enforced everyday.
- No electronics before bed. This allows melatonin to be released and reduces mental stimulation before bed.
- Spend about 20 minutes with them before bed. This makes them feel safe and loved, allowing them to fall asleep quicker.
Step Three: Physical Activity
Increased physical activity has many benefits for children, including better physical health, improved academic performance and better self esteem. How can you get your kids to engage in more physical activity:
- Reduce screen time
- Encourage fun activities at home, like dancing while listening to music
- Encourage kids to get out into the backyard to play
What supplements should kids take?
The following 4 supplements can help support digestive, immune, and mental health in kids.
- Vitamin C has shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds while also reducing inflammation in the body. It is a natural antioxidant that helps white blood cells fight off the infection!
- Typical Dosage: 500 mg/day
Omega 3 fatty acids:
- Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be obtained through the diet. Supplementing with a good quality omega-3 supplement can be a great choice. The DHA component of the Omega-3 fish oil is super important for brain development, focus, skin health, and mood optimization.
- Typical dose for kids: 500-1000 mg/day
- Living in Canada we do not get enough Vitamin D due to the reduced exposure to sunlight in the fall and winter months. Fall is a great time to start supplementing with Vitamin D. It is super important for hormones, bones, skin health and a healthy immune system.
- Typical dosage for kids: 500-1000 IU/day
- Children are naturally born with undeveloped digestive systems. Probiotics as a supplement can help to populate the digestive tract with healthy bacteria from an early age. Healthy bacteria can help to make a healthy gut which in turn can help to regulate the immune, digestive and nervous systems.
- Typical dosage for kids: 10,000 CFU of a multi-strain probiotic/day.
At the onset of a cold it is great to take a combination of vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea, like SISU cold and rescue. This kind of formula can help to manufacture immune cells and shorten the duration of colds!
What should kids do to ensure a safe and happy return to school?
- Brush up on reading and maths - This can can help to refresh memory and may reduce anxiety about going back to school
- Practice wearing a cloth mask around the house for longer periods of time to get used to the concept
- Practice signing a song while hand washing to ensure correct hand-washing technique
- When getting together with family and friends ensure the 2m distance is kept to simulate what will happen in schools
What should the kids be very careful about when at school?
- Be cautious about sharing food and drinks with other kids
- Be cautious about putting toys or objects in the mouth
- Always remember to keep a 2m separation between children, staff and volunteers
- Ensure cloth face covering is always worn
- Limit items that are being carried back and forth home to school and vice versa
- If you are not feeling well, always remember to communicate that with your caregiver and stay home!
This year is not like any other school year. Parents and kids are adjusting to the new changes and regulations in place to ensure safe return to all schools. It is therefore very important to talk about how this year will be different in advance to ensure children have an understanding of the new guidelines. So whether your kids are going back to school full time or part time, steps should be taken to ensure safety and optimal well being for all children from a physical and mental standpoint.
- Guidance for school re-opening. Sick Kids
- Back to school planning: Checklists to guide parents, guardians, and caregivers
** Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.