Author: Diane Dean, RN, LPC
Although you might not see Yale or Harvard in your child’s future, you’d at least like to keep him on the upper rungs of the academic ladder. In all aspects of life, we want more for our children than we, ourselves, had. Money. Status. Love, perhaps. Although children have preferences, personalities, strengths, limitations and wills of their own--some say from birth--encouraging good life habits can help them develop good study habits, and in turn, help them to experience academic success.
- Good Sleep – Although the exact mechanism remains unclear, researchers support that there is a clear link between sleep and effective learning. Getting less sleep diminishes focus. Also, getting adequate sleep helps us to consolidate or stabilize a memory so we can access it in the future. Sleep experts believe that consolidation takes place while we sleep, when nerve cell connections strengthen, creating memories. Research supports that early REM sleep and/or deep, slow-wave sleep may both play central roles in learning simple fact-based information and procedural “how to” tasks. Just how much sleep do we need? Preschoolers need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, while school-aged children need 10 or 11. And teens? They need nine.
- Nutrition – Consuming a smart breakfast may indeed make your child an academic champion. Glucose fuels our brains, and without it our ability to understand and remember information that’s been presented shrinks. But be careful not to reach for those sugar-laden foods that kids love. Pastries and sugary cereals tend to have the opposite effect. Indeed they do quickly infuse our bloodstream with glucose, but our bodies in turn produce insulin to lower the sugar level in our blood quickly. In a recent study of 4000 children, those who ate breakfast outperformed those who had not, in both memory and verbal fluency tasks. But don’t just hand over the Sugar Pops. Those who ate oatmeal outdid those who downed a sugary cereal by 20%!
- Hone Their Focus – Training the mind to focus holds great benefit for learning and memory. In a study of 16 subjects who practiced enhancing their focus by practicing mindfulness meditation daily for eight weeks, MRI scans showed significant changes in the grey matter of the hippocampus of the brain, a structure known to be important for learning and memory. Additional benefits may be derived from natural remedies such as homeopathy, which has been found to help children focus. Gotu kola has been found to stimulate mental functioning without inducing hyperactivity.
- Reinforcement – What child or adult doesn’t like flattery? It’s no different when it comes to academics. Authentic praise can go a long way. But it’s important to be careful not use praise that’s too general, praise that compares, or insincere praise. Also, be sincere and specific, praise only for what is in kids’ power to change, and be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love or for achievements that come easily.
Although school may be out for the summer, your efforts to support your child’s academic success remain a year-round endeavor. Basics like encouraging sound sleep and nutrition habits, coupled with exploring natural remedies, practicing focusing, and offering authentic praise will go a long way toward helping your child to perform at his fullest potential academically. Baby Einstein? Maybe not. But the best rate version of himself, indeed.