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By - Zonya Foco, RD, CSP, CHFI
It’s back to school time! The question is: How can we best help our kids achieve their maximum focus and performance 8 hours a day for 5 days a week? For their best school year yet? And is there anything we can do to prevent pre-test jitters, which can sabotage even the best study skills? There is a lot we parents can do. Check out these four simple steps:
Getting ample slumber time is not just important the night before a school day, but for several nights preceding. The sleep deprivation that can occur on Friday and Saturday nights cannot always be made up in just one night of good rest. If you’re looking for ideal alertness on Monday, numerous nights of sufficient rest are needed. Strive for children to get at least 9-10 hours of sleep each night, and stick to a moderately flexible “sleep window,” which means that retire and rise times on weekends are not more than 2 hours different than those on school days.
With so many kids hooked on Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, fancy coffee drinks and so-called “energy drinks,” quality sleep for children and young adults is being seriously compromised. Caffeine absolutely interferes with the much-needed deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep our brains and bodies require, especially when consumed within 8 hours of bedtime. You or your children might not even realize the impact caffeinated drinks are having on sleep... even though a person may have no problem falling asleep, they are most probably being robbed of QUALITY sleep, resulting in that dreaded feeling of “dragging tail” the next day.
First goal? No caffeine for our kids. If caffeine is a must, then your second goal should be: no caffeine after 3 pm. Also - limit highly-stimulating video games and/or TV time just before bed. Studies show that kids with TVs in their rooms have the worst sleep habits, so avoid a TV in their room at all costs!
Whole-grain, low-sugar cereals like Wheaties, Cheerios or oatmeal, topped with bananas or berries and accompanied by a full cup of milk or serving of yogurt makes for a “high octane” breakfast combination that can help increase school performance. Another great choice for breakfast? Whole grain toast with peanut butter, a scrambled egg or slice of cheese and melon slices. The key is in the varied sources of “fuel” your kids start their days with. I’ve had countless parents tell me their hard-to-focus children perform much better after a “low sugar, mixed fuel breakfast” like these than a bowl of sugared cereal! For how to select a cereal visit: www.zonya.com/cereal_smarts.html.
You may not know it but everyone wakes up mildly dehydrated. (That’s why we weigh less in the morning.) We are all, essentially, wilted flowers when we get up and out of bed. “Watering” our flowers by hydrating in the morning wakes our children’s’ brains better than anything else. It’s a simple habit - hydrating first thing upon rising for ideal performance - yet time after time, both adults and kids ignore their need for water!
And remember hydrating with coffee drinks or Mountain Dew or an “energy drink” doesn’t count. Each of these contains caffeine, which makes your body and brain even more dehydrated...priming your child for a headache later that day! Relying on sugary fruit cocktails, or even 100% fruit juice, to hydrate your children in the morning is also something to avoid. The high sugar content in these drinks, including the natural sugars found in 100% fruit juice, also dehydrate your body. If you just can’t get your kids (or yourself!) to drink up a glass of water first thing in the morning, try diluting 100% fruit juice with water. A 25% juice and 75% water combination will be very tasty...and prepare your children’s’ brains for the day ahead of them. And don’t forget to SEND your child to school with a water bottle, so they can easily maintain this necessary hydration all day
Get your whole family in on this SIMPLE and powerful habit!
Recent studies have shown that children who exercise regularly have more alert brains, study better and are better able to retrieve information stored in their brains when being tested. Therefore, in addition to daily Physical Education classes, our school began 1 1/2 years ago using my 3-minute exercise video (utilizing Brain Gym movements by Dr. Dennison) in their classrooms just before testing. This 3-minute video includes a warm-up, peak heart rate activity and a cool-down with deep breathing...three exercise components that are known to help brain neurons fire more quickly and “burn off” any pretest jitters. Since it’s natural to be thirsty after performing this 3-minute “desk” work out, water is provided for rehydration, which in and of itself is also known to improve mental focus and clarity. Test scores have indeed improved since we added this 3 minute investment of time. Check out the BRAIN GYM exercise video.
I hope these ideas help your child prepare for and achieve their best grades this upcoming year. I bet I don’t have to tell you that these same tips work all year long for ideal learning and school performance! AND... these tips aren’t just for kids. I bet your own bodies and brains can perform much better if you turn these four simple tips into daily habits. Make these your new ’Healthy Family’ Habits for the current school year, so you can ALL truly maximize your focus and performance!