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5 Ways to Help Your Child Perform Better at School

09/10/2015 12:25 EDT | Updated 09/10/2016 05:12 EDT
PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson via Getty Images

If you've missed the endless stream of first day of school photos, let me be the first to tell you: school is back in session! Some parents are tearfully sending their kids to their first day of kindergarten or freshmen orientation -- others are glad to have survived the summer. But all parents share a common desire, and that's for their kids to do better. Every day, make it a little bit better than the last. How can my child perform better at school, or anything they set out to do?

In all the fuss of extracurricular events, clubs, classes and grades, be careful not to miss the basics. These five things comprise the foundational focus for keeping your kids healthy and ready for whatever this school year throws at them.

Study tips, books and resources all have their place as supplemental tools to help your child improve in school, but without a healthy mind and body, external changes are likely to fall flat. If your child is struggling in school or simply wishes to improve, you have to start at the source.

1. Boost Brain Health

The brain is the most powerful computer we can fathom, so when I say that essential fatty acids are "brain food," it would probably be easier to say that they are the plug that connects the brain to the power source. But few kids are reaching for shellfish these days, making supplements a priority. A 2014 review published in the journal Nutrients told us that omega-3 supplementation appears to "enhance cognitive performance relating to learning, cognitive development, memory and speed of performing cognitive tasks." In other words, give your kids a high quality omega-3 so they can plug their brain in and really get to work.

2. Improve Gut Health

In recent years, the gut has finally begun to get the attention that it deserves. Consuming most of the space in the center of our bodies, filtering all of the nutrients we ever consume, determining what is to be used and what is waste -- our intestines are incredible. What's the connection to school performance? Put simply, the gut is the connection to everything. It even has neurotransmitters. If the gut isn't healthy, everything from immune responses to cognitive function may suffer. Along with a healthy diet free of additives and artificial ingredients, try including fermented foods or even a probiotic supplement. "Good bacteria" are on our side and will help the gut do its many jobs and still repair any damage we've inflicted.

3. Develop Spine Health

Backpacks are much too heavy, and they are wrecking our kids' backs. Backpacks that you pull along don't seem to be much better, according to a posture assessment in 2010 -- leaning to pull the pack actually appeared to be worse than carrying it. Think about how you feel after carrying a weight or being forced into a hunch -- could you focus on learning new material? Help your kids keep their backpacks clear of excess weight, especially younger kids, and visit a chiropractor regularly to help curb the damage.

4. Create Solid Sleep Habits

Kids aren't getting enough sleep. Blame screen time, blame homework, blame sugar -- the bottom line is that we have to help them get better sleep if we expect them to succeed. High school seniors in Italy had markedly improved test scores after improving sleep quality, according to a study recently published. Sleep, as a way to help kids perform better in school, "had the strongest effect on school achievement in adolescents."

5. Foster Close Family Habits

At the end of the day, the only thing our kids really need is a safe place to come home to and unwind in, as well as safe people to unwind with. Take time for meals together whenever you can, or time as a family before heading off to bed. You'll be improving your child's chances of performing well in school and in life, and you'll also be making just one more memory, each one a little more precious and sacred than the day before.

After all, the last day of school is just around the corner.

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