If you believe all the hype you read in flyers and hear in TV ads, everything your kids need to head back to school can be picked up at your local big-box store. Well, don't believe the hype because three of the most important things that kids—kindergarteners, middle schoolers, and college students alike—need to stay emotionally and physically healthy during the school year don't come with price tags.
1. Yoga lessons
If you don't remember your teenage years being stressful…you don't remember your teenage years. Between the hormonal mood swings of adolescence, the peer pressure of high school, and the need to get into a good college, it's a wonder any of us made it through our turbulent teens without bleeding ulcers. So do your kid a favor and get the child into a yoga class. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston found that a 10-week yoga class was able to lower negativity, stress, and mood problems in eleventh- and twelfth-graders better than a regular 10-week PE class.
Get it for free: Most forms of yoga require little, if any, equipment, and you can often find instructional DVDs at your local library.
2. Nutrition advice
With the ever-in-flux state of school lunch programs, don't expect your kids to learn proper nutrition in the cafeteria, lest they start thinking that mashed potatoes and chocolate milk constitute a balanced meal. Don't keep foods in your home that you don't want them to eat, says Michelle LaRowe, a career nanny and author of Working Mom's 411 (Regal, 2009), and get kids involved in making their own lunches and snacks. "Put up a drawing on the refrigerator that shows healthy snacks," she suggests. Also post a list that groups foods and drinks into "all-the-time foods," "sometime foods," and "special treats" categories.
Added bonus: Obviously, healthy diets equal healthy bodies, but children benefit mentally, as well. A number of studies in the past year have suggested that kids who drink a lot of soda are more aggressive, and that children who consume high levels of artificial food dyes have behavioral issues. Another food additive that deserves no place in a healthy diet, sodium benzoate, which is used in sodas, was linked to symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It's not just kids who are under stress; the bad economy has school systems slashing budgets and, as a result, school sports programs. While some school systems are asking parents to pony up the difference, at an average cost of $93 per sport per season, a survey from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health showed that about 12 percent of parents are just pulling kids out of sports to save money. Organized sports are a good way to make sure your kids get a consistent level of exercise, but studies show that parents who exercise have children who exercise. Take your children out for walks, hikes, and bike rides, advises Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, Rodale.com advisor and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. And get them involved in household chores, especially the more physically active ones like yard work and gardening.
The payoff: Smarter kids. Dartmouth University researchers studied the effects of exercise on the brains of teenagers and younger children and, not surprisingly, found that kids who exercise regularly have lower stress levels. But they also had better memories and were better able to learn and retain information than kids who exercised sporadically. They also noted that children suffering from ADHD responded to non-drug behavior-modification programs after being on regular exercise programs better than more sedentary children did.