Term time tips

Expert tips for ensuring a healthy, happy return to school

Returning to school after the summer holidays can be a nerve-wracking time for both children and parents. Added to that, many youngsters find themselves coming down with coughs and colds as they get back into the school routine. Here we spoke to various natural health experts to get some advice for how to make the transition back to school smooth and easy for everyone involved.

Establish a good routine

“Establishing a routine before your child starts school, such as waking up, dressing independently and having meals and snacks on ‘school time’ as well as trying on the school uniform will all help first day nerves,” says Dr Maite Ferrin, consultant psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health (www.recognitionhealth.com). “Create a calm household routine with early bedtimes and stress-free mornings. Children who aren’t well rested or don’t have enough sleep won’t have the internal resources to cope with stressors and anxiety and they are more likely to struggle during the school day than children who have rested and slept. Early bedtimes are essential so that children can deal calmly with the morning rush and with the rest of the day.”

Stimulate their brains

“Get their brains all fired up and ready again by doing a little bit of light work each day across the last couple of weeks before school starts,” suggests Maryhan Baker of Kensington Mums (www.kensingtonmums.co.uk). “I’m not keen on children doing workbooks in their holidays so promote literacy through reading together, handwriting from writing thank-you letters, or shopping lists and numeracy through budgeting for the weekly food shop or giving them a budget for a family day out.”

Set some goals

“Review the previous year and set goals for the new one,” suggests Maryhan. “What did they enjoy and do well at school last year? What have they learnt about themselves, and what might they want to do differently? If this is your child’s first school year then what would they like to be able to do and feel about school by the end of their first year?”

Check in with them

“The return to school can lead children to worry about their new environment,” says Dr Victoria Galbraith, a registered psychologist with expertise in psychological therapy for children and adults (www.drvictoriagalbraith.co.uk). “If you think your child may be feeling anxious, take the opportunity to check in with them and allow them the space to tell you what’s on their mind. If your child isn’t forthcoming with their fears and anxieties, then look out for changes in behaviour, for example, your child may be more withdrawn or may be acting differently to usual. Anxiety can manifest physically, so keep a look out for complaints of nausea, headaches, stomach ache, disrupted sleep or difficulty falling asleep.”

Identify their worries

“Communication is key so firstly see if you can identify what may be worrying them,” says Dr Galbraith. “Sometimes simple things like not knowing where the toilets are, or not knowing who they will be sitting next to can cause anxiety, so provide as much accurate information as you can. Check if there is an opportunity for the child to meet their new teacher or have a peek in their new classroom. Failing that, you could have a word with their teacher prior to the first day, so that they are aware of their nerves and can support them.”

Give them reassurance

“Little reminders of home such as photos of the family, pets and toys as well as little post-it notes of pictures or motivational wishes can all act as a reminder of home and ease anxiety,” says Dr Ferrin. “Tell your child you will be thinking of them and give reassurance that their teacher will contact you if something is not right.”

Look after their gut health

“At school, children are in close contact with each other and their less mature immune systems mean they’re susceptible to picking up infections,” says Hannah Braye, technical advisor and nutritional therapist with Bio-Kult (www.bio-kult.com). “Rather than addressing symptoms when they occur, remedies that support healthy immunity from the inside are the best preventative strategy. Over 70 per cent of immune cells are located in the lining of the gut and supported by a vast array of bacteria. Studies show that live bacteria supplements may help prevent common respiratory and digestive infections in children attending day care and school.” Hannah suggests supporting children’s gut health with live bacteria supplements. She adds: “Introducing traditionally fermented foods, such as live plain yogurt for breakfast or sauerkraut on top of homemade burgers, is also a tasty way to encourage healthy gut bacteria balance.”

Support their immunity

“Children are very prone to infections, such as glue ear, tonsillitis, bronchitis and the common cold,” says BioCare Clinical Nutritionist Beth Morris (www.biocare.co.uk). “Certain factors can make children more vulnerable to infection such as nutritional deficiencies, low gut bacteria, stress and disrupted or lack of sleep. An easy place to start is food! Ensure a healthy diet with plenty of good quality protein, eating three meals a day (don’t forget breakfast!) healthy fats, antioxidants and vegetables. Then, targeted supplementation with a specialised children’s multinutrient, omega-3 and additional immune supportive nutrients and botanicals including elderberry, zinc and vitamin C could be beneficial. This will help to optimise their baseline nutrition status, immune defences, memory and concentration, and provide the foundations for supporting overall health alongside good food.”

Key vitamins and minerals

“Some of our key immune-boosting vitamins and minerals can often run the risk of becoming depleted in children, particularly if they struggle to consume a healthy and varied diet,” says Keeley Berry, BetterYou’s in-house nutritional expert. “In an ideal world, we would always get our vital nutrients from our diet, but for some it can prove tricky and supplementation can help to plug the nutrient gap left behind.” Here are Keeley’s top vitamin and mineral suggestions for children:

Vitamin D

During autumn and winter, the NHS and Public Health England advise that children over the age of one consume at least 10µg (400IU) vitamin D as the sun isn’t strong enough in the UK to produce vitamin D, and those who have a higher risk of deficiency are advised to supplement all year round. These recommendations have come from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following its review of the evidence. Vitamin D plays an integrative part to keeping the immune system functioning and promotes protective immunity, so deficiencies can often lead to an increased susceptibility to infections.

Selenium

Selenium also has proven benefits when it comes to immunity and is one of the micronutrients that is often overlooked. Due to our intense farming within the western community, soils become depleted and the vegetation we eat lacks this immune-boosting mineral. Supplementation of this nutrient may be beneficial in enhancing immune response to help ward off invading pathogens.

Magnesium

Magnesium is used by the body to initiate over 300 reactions that keep us healthy and functioning. Depletion in this mineral can often manifest in many conditions including a sub-optimal immune system. Magnesium is an important co-factor for the formation of antibodies, and depletion in this mineral may decrease the body’s natural defence system. In addition to its immune benefits, magnesium is essential for sufficient sleep and rest, so our bodies can replenish as we sleep. Without quality sleep, children can struggle to have steady energy throughout the day and maintain levels of concentration whilst at school.

Vitamin B12

Getting children back into a bedtime routine after the school holidays should be tackled gradually to avoid upsetting the sleep-wake cycle which can leave children tired throughout the day. To help with this, an extra boost of vitamin B12 in the morning can help increase energy levels and sustain them throughout the day. This is because B12 is a co-factor for energy metabolism as it aids the body in converting food into glucose.

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