Is your high school or middle school student already talking about college? Is your child looking forward to becoming independent? College is an important time in a teenager’s life; it can be exciting, but also overwhelming, especially if your child is unprepared to deal with the stress that often comes with newfound freedom. Too many college students fall victim to eating disorders, irregular sleep patterns, and mental health issues simply because they did not establish a routine of healthy habits while living at home. These habits don’t need to start once that acceptance letter arrives in the mail, either – In fact, the earlier a healthy routine is established for your child, the easier it will be to continue it once they are on their own. So just because college (or even high school) is a thing of the distant future for your family, maintaining overall good health should be practiced by everyone, every day, starting right now.
Here are a few tips to help you and your child get started:
· Encourage good hygiene from an early age: Emphasize the importance of regular showering/bathing, teeth brushing, face and hand washing, etc.
· Emphasize the importance of a good night’s sleep: College students are at high risk for not getting the appropriate amount of sleep, what with erratic class schedules, intense course loads, and busy social lives. While it might be difficult to adjust to their new routine and therefore some loss of sleep could be inevitable, if your children have learned from personal experience the importance of a good night’s sleep, chances are they will strive to make it a top priority.
· Encourage healthy eating habits: We’ve all heard of the dreaded “Freshman 15;” some college freshmen think that’s it unavoidable and simply give in to the idea with little or no resistance. Late-night snacking, stress, irregular sleep schedules, and unhealthy meal choices can all lead to weight gain in college, if not before. Prevent these patterns by setting an example for healthy eating at home long before you even start those college visits. Even simple things such as having healthy snacks around the house and promoting 3 meals a day can pave the way for good, long-term habits.
· Establish an exercise routine, or encourage your child’s interest in being active: Exercise can do amazing things for your body, not to mention your mental health. Many students enjoy sports and are involved in these activities after school or through the community. Dance, yoga, cycling, and hiking are also great ways to keep your child on the move. If organized sports aren’t her thing, try working out together as a family; even something as simple as jumping rope or taking the dog for a long walk can help to foster a positive view of staying active.
· Devote time to organization and stress management: Succumbing to the pressures of homework overload is all too common amongst students of all ages these days. When a child isn’t doing well in school, sometimes the culprit is simply disorganization. Do you keep a planner, or mark things to remember on the calendar? Have your child do the same with school assignments and test dates. Devote a specific time of day to homework, and have your child pack up his or her bag the night before, making sure everything needed for the next day is ready to go. An academic coach can also assist with organization, as well as motivation.
Healthy habits will not only improve students’ overall well being, but also their academic performance. When preparing for college, make sure you focus as much on your child’s physical, mental, and emotional health as you do on applications and AP courses. Remember: It’s never too early to start promoting a positive routine for your whole family!