School is starting soon and your children are probably feeling excited, and maybe a little sad that summer is over. Some may even be feeling rather nervous and a bit anxious. But going back to school, or going for the first time, can be a calm and pleasant experience, if you, the parents, are prepared.
The first day of school brings a lot of new things: new teachers, new friends, and maybe even a new school. Don’t let it end in tears. You can ease your child back to school with reparation and strategy
ENSURE GOOD MENTAL, EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Make use of holiday time to schedule specialist appointments and dental check ups. If you are concerned about your child’s back due to a heavy school bag or his/her turned in feet, holidays can be an ideal time to make those appointments and get all your concerns out of the way before school starts. If your child is a picky eater, discuss this with a nutritionist or dietician to help you come up with ideas to support your child’s nutritional needs. Any developmental and emotional problems can be discussed with your homeopath or integrative medical doctor.
IT’S ALL IN THE PLANNING
Review all forms sent by the school when they arrive so that all books, uniforms and stationary can be purchased in good time. Discuss extramural activities with your child and enroll him/her to avoid disappointment. Why not use the holiday time to build fitness by running, swimming or cycling together. I have seen my own children struggle to keep up on the athletics track or in the swimming pool in the beginning of a new school year. They really get launched into running and swimming within the first week back and with your help, your child will start the new year fit and ready for sport, with confidence.
Buy the snacks for lunch boxes ahead of time and plan what you are going to send to school with each week. Packing the lunch boxes the night before school will make you – and in turn your children, less stressed in the morning. Your children will concentrate and retain new knowledge better with a well-fed mind and body. So make sure to pack a healthy snack with fresh fruit and vegetables like cut cucumber, carrot sticks, nuts and so on. I have found that by creating a lunchbox tray in the fridge packed with ingredients such as lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and cheese, bypassed the time- consuming gathering process. Store your nuts, seeds and dried fruit in a container in the cupboard which to fill lunchboxes from.
Prepare before you shop. Take an afternoon and assess each child’s clothing needs. Work with your child, empty drawers and cupboards of outgrown or worn-out clothing, and donate the discards. Make a wardrobe needs list for each child. Check for possible hand-me-downs from older siblings as you make your list. Get your uniform requirements from the school before shopping. And shop early! With back-to-school sales beginning in January, tardy shoppers have a tough time locating needed supplies and this will cause unnecessary stress for the child – and for you. Use this opportunity to mark the clothes too with a permanent fabric pen.
THE FAMILY CALENDAR
It can be overwhelming when you have more than one child, possibly in different schools with different holiday and camp dates, and extra murals from piano and cricket to ballet and art! I am a single mom with three children – one in university and the other two in different schools. I don’t know how I would have managed without a great calendar at the front door. I use a hanging wall calendar with the top half showing the month of the year with days in blocks and the bottom has columns: one for mom/dad, and then a column per child. The stickers provided are so useful and make it easy to quickly mark dentist and hair appointments, camp dates, school term dates and holidays such as Easter and family trips. This way at a glance, we can all see what is going on and this helps us stay sane and organised. Let your children stick the stickers on themselves and take responsibility for their own activities and sorting their items for extramurals and pack their own bags. You will be teaching them organisational and life skills. They can participate throughout the year by adding birthdays and dental appointments etc. to the calendar. When your family is organised, you dramatically reduce stress.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ROUTINE
Make a concerted effort to establish mealtime and bedtime routines, especially breakfast, at least one week before school starts. You can really avoid many tears by ensuring your child isn’t hungry, stressed or over-tired. For a child to suddenly have to wake up at the crack of dawn, and be rushed downstairs to gulp down breakfast, can be quite a shock to the system if he or she has been allowed to stay up very late during the holidays, sleep in late, and spend the mornings curled up in front of the TV! Wake them earlier and earlier the closer you get to the start of school: read with them in the morning before breakfast, play piano together while the kettle is boiling, or just sit in the sun outside with your pets.
Switch off the distracting television in the mornings. Your child will be more organised if she or he has engaged in less passive activities and participates in a pleasant morning routine. I have memories of pleasant, relaxed, summer mornings before school when I used to pick rosemary with my youngest daughter and we made rosemary and honey tea together. Rosemary tea in the morning is great for mind and memory.
A HEALTHY BREAKFAST
It’s essential for children to start the day with a nutritious breakfast packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. There are many commercial cereals on the market that promise a lot but contain high levels of sugar, which can affect concentration. Wholegrain cereals make the best breakfast!
Protein is essential for brain balance and acuity, as it is responsible for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Eggs make a wonderful breakfast – they are a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids and will help maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout the morning.
Sometimes eating breakfast just feels like too much too early, and if this is a problem for your child, a smoothie is a great way to ensure protein intake in the morning. Blend water and ice with a dollop of yoghurt, fruit such as berries or banana, extras such as lecithin granules, rice or whey protein, and even any supplements the child may be taking. They can get their green food in this way.
Visiting the school with your child will help ease pre-school anxieties and allow the child to ask questions. When she or he is young and going to a new school, make an effort to meet the teacher, find their classroom, tuck shop and the toilets together.
PREPARE A HOMEWORK AREA
Decide on a homework area with your child. Allow them to organise a desk space, lamp, clock and stationary in their bedrooms or in a quiet area of the house to facilitate monitoring or supervision. Make space in a kitchen cupboard or drawer just for lunch boxes and water bottles. Another ‘must have’ at the front door is a cupboard or space for school bags, hockey sticks and other equipment to prevent running around in the mornings looking for the missing sports cap or tennis racket. The emptying and packing of the rucksack and sports bag is as important as setting the table together for the family dinner-time in establishing routines and taking responsibility.
SUPPLEMENTATION IS IMPORTANT
New teachers, new friends, new rules and a bombardment of new information has to be taken in and dealt with in a very short space of time! It’s therefore not unusual for excitement and anticipation to be combined with a certain level of anxiety, and even dread, about the tasks and situations that lie ahead. Fortunately, there are some great solutions in naturopathic medicine.
It’s important to address any stress or anxiety that a child is experiencing at the beginning of a new school year. Untreated anxiety can lead to inattention and behavioural issues, contributing to what is known as ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Talk to your child about his/her anxiety and let them know that it’s natural to feel a little nervous when you start something new. Let them know that everything will be ok once they become familiar with classmates, the teacher and school routine. Show your child you care by putting notes in their lunch box or school diary.
Supplementation with herbs such as passion flower, valerian and German chamomile have a calming effect while improving focus and behaviour. In combination, these herbs can help children get to sleep more easily as well as deal with daytime anxiety. Another option is a homeopathic remedy such as Rescue Remedy. Combination homeopathic remedies such as Relicalm and Quietude from Boiron are available at your health shop.
It is well documented that certain herbs can support brain function and help in dealing with stress. These include brahmi, Ginkgo biloba and gotu kola. These medicinal herbs have been shown to improve memory and learning in children by balancing brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin. Balancing brain chemicals goes a long way towards improving focus, concentration and memory.
- DHA, the main component of omega-3 fatty acids, is essential for balanced and optimal brain function and normal visual function.
According to Dr Jason Mallia, accredited naturopathic and Integrative medicine practitioner and founder and director of Integrated Health Australia, ‘the brain and retina contain more DHA than any other tissue in the human body. A number of studies have shown DHA to enhance learning and memory. It is therefore recommended to children and teenagers who have learning difficulties and to students under high pressure. It is, however, essential that the DHA comes from purified fish oil, as fish oil may be contaminated by heavy metals such as mercury. Some manufacturers of fish oil guarantee its quality by using a special nitrogen flushing system, but others do not, and such products could be harmful to your child. So be sure to check your fish oil source.’
- Adequate nutrition is essential in supporting the brain. Valuable vitamins and minerals include zinc, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, folate and vitamin C. Discuss dosages with your naturopathic physician.
- Iron is especially important, and is a key nutrient for the brain. It is often found to be deficient in children with ADD and ADHD, and is essential for energy production. Low iron or ferritin stores predispose your child to lethargy, irritability, apathy, fatigue and an inability to concentrate. Make sure you check your child’s iron levels before supplementing.
Along with a balanced diet, it is crucial that the above nutrients are included in a back-to-school health programme. Many companies now manufacture multivitamin and mineral supplements specially tailored to children’s needs, which can be taken in a child-friendly form with all the necessary nutrients in one convenient capsule.