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Natural health tips to ensure children are fighting fit on their return to school

The summer holidays are drawing to a close and a new school year is beginning. It’s particularly important at this time to look after our little ones and make sure that they are eating well and getting all the nutrients they need in order to enjoy a happy, healthy return to school. Here we speak to the experts to get some top natural tips for children’s health.

Healthier food choices

“After a summer of ice-creams, biscuits, crisps and chips, most parents are keen to start the new school year with healthier food choices,” says Lucinda Miller, Nutrition Advisor to The Children’s e-Hospital (www.e-hospital.co.uk). “Getting back into the school routine can mean children get very tired and run down easily, and also struggle to focus; this is the time of year when what they eat really can make a difference to how they cope.

“To supercharge your kids’ diet, start the day with a nourishing breakfast containing protein and healthy fats as well as carbs to help them stay fuller and more focused until lunch. Breakfast might include a boiled egg with wholemeal pitta, porridge with mixed seeds or a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Add in a piece of fruit and this should set them up nicely for the day.

“Kids are usually starving and exhausted when you pick them up from school, so instead of arriving at the school gate with crisps or biscuits, swap your kids’ after-school snacks for fresh fruit, home-made muffins or crunchy veg with hummus.

“Cooking more evening meals from scratch is important too, as shop-bought convenience foods are usually full of refined white carbs and sugar, which can deplete the immune system and contribute to fatigue. Aim to fill their plate with lots of veggies and ensure they are getting a good balance of protein and carbs. To help with concentration, feed them oily fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines twice a week as these contain omega-3, which is an important brain food.”

Brain boosting support

While oily fish is a fantastic brain food, not everyone is a fan of fish – particularly fussy young eaters. This is where supplementation may be helpful. Dr Emma Derbyshire, a nutritionist and advisor to Equazen, makers of evidence-based brain health supplements, notes: “Omegas are vital for children’s brain health. Previous research has shown positive effects of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids in children with daydreaming and reading difficulties.” Dr Derbyshire cites one particular study involving Swedish children aged between nine and 10, who were given omega-3 and 6 capsules twice a day for three months. She states that they “showed improvements in phonics decoding, improved visual literacy and visual communication skills and also in reading ability. Positive results were particularly seen in children with attention problems.”

Good gut health

A healthy gut is key to ensuring that your child enjoys good health and a strong immune system. One of the ways to help support their gut health is through taking a daily probiotic.

“Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help to support and maintain a healthy gut and digestive system,” says Dr Kate Stephens, an OptiBac Probiotics Gut Microbiologist. “In addition to introducing fermented foods and plenty of water and fibre into your child’s diet, try supplementing this with a specially formulated children’s probiotic that’s easy to take and free of added nasties.” Increasing their fibre intake is another way of supporting children’s gut health. Dr Stephens says: “High fibre foods such as beans, peas, oats and bananas have been shown to have a positive impact on digestive health and will help keep your child’s bowel movements regular. Another easy fix is swapping white bread or pastas for wholegrain alternatives – they might not even notice! Just be careful not to overfill their plates with fruit, as sugar can impact the healthy balance of your microbiome.”

Outdoor exercise is another way to support your child’s gut health, whilst encouraging them to keep fit and active. “Studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency and low gut microbial diversity could lead to a rise in certain allergies and some autoimmune diseases,” says Dr Stephens. “So, getting those sunshine hours in (weather permitting) is important to supplement a healthy gut.”

Tackling ‘back to school’ anxiety

Angelina Nizzardi MAC, MNCP, MCMA is a health and wellness coach who works with children in private practice and with the NSPCC in schools service (www.angelinanizzardi.com). Here are her tips for helping youngsters who may be anxious about returning to school.

Talk to your child

It’s so important to keep lines of communication open.

Show them understanding, reassurance and make them feel safe. Don’t try to belittle their feelings or ignore anxiety in your child as the situation could escalate unchecked. Reduce their fear of failure at school by talking through any particular worries they have and putting those anxious thoughts and projections into perspective. Teach your child to recognise the signs of anxiety and talk to you about it. Struggling to sleep, headaches, stomach ache and increased heart rate are all common symptoms to watch out for.

Focus on and explore solutions with your child

Writing down your worries is a good way to let go of anxious thoughts. Older children can journal in a diary, whilst younger children can have a ‘worry box’ to post daily notes or draw what they feel their worry looks like. If a child has a particular worry about school – let’s say changing year group or riding the bus to school – it’s useful to explore possible scenarios. Think about silly, funny, unrealistic and then realistic outcomes. It is a useful way of identifying unhelpful thinking and switching to more positive projections.

Don’t reinforce their fears

Try not to reinforce their fear by allowing them to avoid anxiety-inducing situations. This sends the message that they cannot cope, or the fear is valid. Instead, help them to find coping mechanisms and explore their beliefs around the worry. If you think your child might need extra support at school, let someone know. Speaking with their class or form tutor is a good start.

Be aware of your own stress

Be careful not to pass on your own inevitable stress at the start of term. With the onslaught of school timetables, activities, homework and extra-curricular activities, we all feel the pressure in September. You can pass these anxious feelings on to your child. Be aware of your own stress levels and try not to over commit. Initially leave weekends to decompress and recharge for the following week as a family.

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