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Back to School Health

Going back to school is often an exciting and stressful time for kids (and parents). Here are seven things you can do to help your kids have their best and healthiest year ever.

#1 Get involved with homework
Want to help your children do their best in school? A new study published in the MIT journal Review of Economics and Statistics suggests that a parent’s effort is even more important than the teacher’s or child’s effort when it comes to doing well in the classroom. According to the study, children work harder when their parents are more involved. It may influence teachers’ performance as well. Reading to your kids, helping them with or supervising their homework, attending meetings with teachers, and talking to your kids about their schoolwork can all help motivate your children to perform well at school.

#2 Encourage exercise for better learning
Another reason to get your kids moving: Physical activity could have a significant effect on brain development. A study in nine- and ten-year-olds shows that children who are the most physically fit tend to perform better than their less-fit peers on memory tests. The research also shows that kids who regularly exercise have a bigger hippocampus — an area of the brain that is important in learning and memory. Previous research has also shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all children and adolescents get an hour or more of physical activity every day. Bring them to the park where they can run around and play on jungle gyms, go for walks or bike rides with them, or play active games like tag or softball.

#3 Pack a water bottle to keep them sharp and energized
Even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness and decreased mental capacity. Give them water or milk at meals, and have them sip water throughout the day.

#4 Give your kids the freedom to explore their own talents
How you respond to your child’s activities can determine how healthfully they will approach them. Giving children the freedom to foster their hobbies helps nurture true passion. Teaching them that excellence is linked to Mom’s and Dad’s approval, on the other hand, can make them obsessive about something they might not care about. Find out what your kids are interested in, and sign them up for classes. Show them plenty of encouragement and support — based on their efforts, not on how well they perform.

#5 Choose a backpack that is the right size for your child
Is your child lugging around a backpack that’s as big as him or her? Kids’ backpacks can cause back, shoulder and neck pain when they’re too heavy and worn for most of the day. Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. To reduce strain on the shoulders, backpacks should also hang no lower than four inches past the waist.

#6 Get active as a family
Set a good example for your kids by getting off the couch and being active. Parents who watch a lot of TV are more likely to have kids who do too. Little ones like to get involved with whatever Mom or Dad is doing. Pop in your favorite workout DVD and let your tots join in. You can even buy workout programs that are made for kids and parents to do together. If your children are older, center family time around physical activities, like shooting hoops or going for a bike ride or a daily after-dinner walk.

#7 Set bedtimes (even for teens)!
If your teens like to pull all-nighters, here’s another reason to send them to bed: Sleeping fewer than eight hours a night can mess with their metabolism and stimulate their appetite. According to a study in the journal Sleep, sleep-deprived teens not only eat more calories than those who get enough shut-eye, they also eat fattier foods. Teens need nine to 10 hours of sleep each night to feel rested and alert. Since adolescents are wired to stay up late, let them sleep in on weekends.  Grade School aged kids benefit from 10-12 hours of sleep per night.