1. Make Sure Your Child Gets Enough Sleep
Children ages 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. When your child doesn’t get enough sleep, he could have trouble focusing in school and getting along with his parents, teachers, and classmates. And, surprisingly, exhausted children are more likely to be hyper-active. To help your child get a good night’s sleep, make sure his room is quiet and comfortable, enforce a consistent bedtime routine, keep TVs, computers, and electronic games out of his room, and steer him away from caffeine.
2. Make Sure Your Child Eats a Healthy Breakfast
Kids don’t just get cranky when they’re hungry, they also have a harder time concentrating, solving problems, and recalling things from memory. Eating a healthy breakfast can keep hunger pangs at bay and can help improve grades and standardized test scores. Offer healthy protein sources such as lean meat, nuts, and eggs, and serve whole-grain breads and cereals. Encourage kids to eat one of their five daily servings of fruits and vegetables at the breakfast table, too.
3. Manage Screen Time
With television, video games, computers, and smartphones, kids can spend a lot of time looking at electronic screens. It’s important for parents to set limits and make sure their children aren’t missing out on exercising, playing, socializing, and studying because of screen time. Elementary school students shouldn’t have more than an hour of screen time each day, and middle school students shouldn’t have more than two hours per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Time spent on the computer doing schoolwork does not count toward those limits, says Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Iowa State University. Choose quality, age-appropriate TV shows and computer games. The Common Sense Media website is a good source of parent and expert media reviews.
4. Choose Activities Carefully
Make sure the extracurricular activities you and your child choose have value, says Carolyn Dalgliesh, a Rhode Island-based professional organizer who specializes in helping kids who are anxious or distracted. Is she having fun? Getting fit? Learning how to be part of a team? Nurturing a talent? Following a dream? If you’re not sure what you’re getting out of an extra-curricular activity and your child doesn’t know either, it might be time to drop it. If the activity adds value to your child’s life, make sure she gets the most out of the experience. Help her with scheduling so she has time for the activity as well as for school, fun, and family.
5. Make Sure Your Child Stays Active
Children and teenagers need an hour or more of physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of that exercise should be aerobic, and it’s fine to count brisk walking and other moderately intense forms of exercise. Try to include intense aerobic activity at least three times per week. Your child also needs muscle-strengthening activities such as gymnastics or old-school push-ups three times a week. If your child doesn’t seem to enjoy physical activity, try different types of exercise until the child finds something he can stick with. Make time for exercise by taking a walk together after dinner, stopping off at a playground while running errands, or downloading workout videos.
6. Read Whenever You Can
Yes, you should read to your young child every day for at least 30 minutes. Yes, you should make sure your older child has the opportunity to read independently or with you for half an hour each day. But that reading does not have to take place at bedtime, says Linda Bradley, an associate professor of literacy studies at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga. Squeeze in that reading time whenever possible. You don’t have to do it all in one stretch. “And at night, it is OK to choose sleep over reading, if that’s what you and your child need,” she says. Make reading with your child part of your daily routine by reading words as they appear in everyday life, whether on street signs or food labels.
7. Save Some Time for Play
Kids need time to play and relax. They need opportunities to choose what they want to do, with their friends or by themselves. A busy school life combined with activities and family time can squeeze out playtime. The decline in free play has contributed to anxiety, depression, short attention spans, and problems with self-control, according to the American Journal of Play. Make sure your children have the opportunities to do what they’re designed to do. Playtime helps students do better in school by improving their social skills and releasing stress. Most important, play just makes kids happy.