As thousands of students across the South and Central Coast head back to school, parents have an opportunity to get a fresh start on creating healthy habits and routines to help their children succeed in the school year.
While most parents place high priority on their child’s health, 76 percent of parents were unaware of the recommended standards for healthy eating and physical activity for children, according to the YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot survey conducted in March in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight.
“Not being informed of how to best support a child’s health can lead to poor behavior patterns during the school year,” said Sal Cisneros, president and CEO of the Channel Islands YMCA. “With better knowledge, parents can make a positive difference in their child’s health and motivation.”
This summer, the Channel Islands YMCA sought to overcome gaps in learning and health through its “Hop the Gap” program that aimed to help kids reach their full potential.
More than 2,000 local youth participated in the program, which focused on five key areas: nutrition, health, learning, water safety and safe spaces.
While healthy habits and learning retention are at higher risk during the summer months, lessons learned from the program provide valuable knowledge for creating good habits the rest of the year.
Here are seven key ways parents can help their kids succeed year-round:
Nourish Development Through Proper Nutrition
1.) Ensure meals are well-balanced.
Less than 50 percent of kids eat the recommended amount of vegetables. Half of your child’s plate at each meal should consist of fruits and vegetables, and they should be served at every meal and snack.
Allow children to serve themselves (family-style) to limit portions.
Remove partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat), fried or pre-fried foods from kids diets, and serve whole grains when grains are served.
Serve foods with less than 8 grams of added sugars and foods free of sugar as one of the first three ingredients on the list
2.) Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
About a quarter of kids average one or more sweetened beverages daily or nearly daily, the Family Health Snapshot survey found.
Offer water at the table during every meal and have it accessible at all times. Serve only water and plain, low-fat (one percent) or non-fat milk.
Model an Active Lifestyle
3.) Limit screen time.
Sixty-four percent of parents admit that their kids spend three or more hours a day online or watching TV in the summer.
While being at school helps reduce this, screen time can be a big distraction during the school year inhibiting schoolwork completion and exercise time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you limit screen time to one to two hours per day
4.) Encourage your child to be active.
Children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Though many schools have gym class, it’s important to reinforce this at home.
Go on a walk or bike ride after school. Play games outdoors after dinner.
The YMCA offers sports clubs and youth activities and programs to help your child stay fit and healthy.
Close the Achievement Gap
5.) Support holistic development.
By fifth grade, children in low-income households are two to three school years behind in reading compared to kids in middle-income households.
Through holistic programs that support academic, physical and social-emotional development, the Y helps students realize who they are and all they can achieve.
Seek a quality, licensed after school program. A 54 percent improvement in social-emotional skills was seen in students who participated in the Y’s Afterschool Child Care.
This state-licensed program is designed with the working parent in mind. Like all Y programs, child care is open to all, with financial assistance available.
Keep Kids Safe
6.) Promote water safety.
Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1–14.
While pools, ponds, oceans, rivers and lakes tend to be a central part of summer activities, they can pose a threat year-round.
Seek a quality swim program staffed by expert instructors and certified lifeguards.
The Y offers recreational, competitive and specialty aquatics programs for all ages and abilities, including parent-child classes, water exercise and therapy, water safety and rescue and water sports.
7.) Provide safe spaces.
Unsupervised youth are at high risk for juvenile crime, accidents, substance abuse, gang involvement, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.
Make sure that children and teens have a space where they can be themselves, learn and make friends, surrounded by caring adults.
The Y offers after school enrichment programs as well as Teen Centers to provide a safe and fun place to study and socialize.
To learn more about the various programs mentioned above and how to enroll, visit www.ciymca.org to find your local branch offerings or call .805.569.1103.
— Hannah Rael is a publicist representing Channel Islands YMCA.