Setting our Kids Up For Success

The new school year is upon us!  This is an exciting and nerve wrecking time for kids and moms alike.

At the forefront of my mind is making sure that my girls start the year on the right foot and put in place healthy habits that will help them thrive the whole year through.

This is a pivotal year for my oldest daughter Alexandra who is starting eleventh grade.  College is looming right around the corner and she knows that this year will be instrumental when it comes to admissions. She’s in a French Baccalaureate program and will be facing a huge exam at the end of the year.  This will be one of the most challenging years for her academically and she is feeling a tremendous amount of pressure.  It is my job to help her navigate all the demands on her time and put in place healthy habits to help her manage stress and not feel overwhelmed.  I want this year to set the stage for a lifetime of success, for her and her two sisters.

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As children progress in school this is a reality they all face: an increase in workload and expectations.

Teaching them a proper mindset and imparting the right values to them is as important as choosing the right learning environment.  And I believe that laying down a foundation of healthy life habits is central to helping them reach their full, brilliant potential.

With all this in mind I decided to re-publish an article I wrote about this time last year, in which I share with you the Five Pillars of Vibrant Health that will allow your child to thrive in school and far beyond!


1. Daily Routine

After the leisurely days of summer it s imperative to establish a healthy routine right away. Children of all ages need routine.  Routine establishes an orderly framework that provides comfort.  They need their world to be predicable and thrive on sameness and repetition.  Knowing what to expect allows your children to be more free, and open to new challenges.  Routine provides the safety net that in turns encourages them to be bold and adventurous.

This translates to a mind that is ready to learn and open to new experiences.

Most importantly, routine teaches children how to constructively control themselves and master their environment.  It is the foundation of healthy life habits that will set your child up for success through college and beyond.

One of the cornerstones of routine is a regular bedtime. Having a set bedtime allows your child’s body to settle into its proper rhythm and allows sleep to come easily.  The nightly ritual that precedes bedtime — brushing teeth, getting into pajamas, and reading — is a sure way to eliminate power struggles between parent and child and allows your child to take charge of their own activities.

Routine is just as important, if not even more so, for teens.  As their workload and after-school activities increase, routine will help them stay focused and provides much needed structure to juggle all they need to. Set up a schedule to help them stay on target.  Include rise time, breakfast, school hours, after school activities, homework and bed time.

2. A Good Night’s Sleep

Getting the right amount of sleep is crucial for children of all ages.  All children need a minimum of 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night to perform their best.  Especially teens! (the “magic” number for teens, according to recent studies is 9 hours and 15 minutes)   Their bodies are going through tremendous changes, and restorative sleep is essential to their physical and emotional health.

My family learned this the hard when my oldest daughter was 14 and routinely slept 6 to 7 hours.  I did not know then, that even when she went to bed on time, she would toss and turn for hours unable to actually sleep.  This led to her becoming very sick and missing a significant amount of school.

Teens have always felt invincible and somewhat blessed with super powers that dispense them of this crucial need for sleep. Yet this is the time in their lives where sound sleep is the most important.  Disrespecting their needs for sleep now will lead to a lifetime of bad habits.

Sadly more teens are dealing with severe illness than ever before, and lack of sleep is a key contributor to this problem.

Having trouble falling asleep is not at all unusual for teens.  As the world around them quiets down the chatter inside their mind picks up. Anxiety and doubts kick in.  The crush they may have on a classmate, or some teen idol, becomes all consuming…

Knowing how to unwind and quiet his or her mind is the most important skill you can teach your child, whatever the age, but especially for a teen that is struggling with sleep..  A comforting bedtime ritual is essential in accomplishing this.  This ritual will vary with the age of your child but the routine of it is key.

Your child’s environment will play a big role in his ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.  The ideal setting is a complete blackout, with no distracting pets.  So keep the dog, cats, or hamster in another room. Now I’ll be honest, we don’t well with this in our family as we have cats and a bird that are in my daughters bedrooms.  This is one of those battles I’ve had to put aside, at least for the time being.

Keeping their cell phone with them when they go to bed, is an unhealthy trend with most teens today. Do not allow your child to keep his cell phone or laptop on or near the bed.  The cell under the pillow is an absolute no-no. This unhealthy habit makes it hard for your teen to disconnect. The incessant flow of incoming messages will prevent your teen from shutting down, or wake him just as he is about to fall into a deep slumber.

A new study sponsored by the mobile phone companies themselves, has shown that bedtime use of cell phones can lead to headaches, confusion and depression.  The radiation from the phone interferes with our ability to fall into a deep sleep and remain in that stage long enough for our bodies to complete the repair of daily damage.

Even if he uses his cell as his alarm clock, keep it on the night stand, or better yet, on his desk so he will have to get up to turn it off.  And make sure to also put the phone in “airplane mode”.

3. Water, water water!

I cannot stress enough the importance of drinking enough water! Sadly many children today still rely on juice and soda pop as their main source of fluid, but the water content in these beverages is just not enough.  Add to that the high sugar content and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The brain, which is about 85% water, needs water to function properly.  Water provides energy and allows for proper neurotransmission, the movement of signals from one part of the brain to the other.

How much water is enough? As a general rule half of your child’s body weight in ounces is the minimum amount he should be drinking every day.  So if he weighs 100 pounds he should be drinking 50 ounces, or seven glasses of water a day.  Again this is the minimum.  If your child is involved in any sport, this amount should go up to compensate for the additional water demands of his physical activity.  And for kids in hot climates like we have in Southern California, proper hydration is key to saying alert and ready to learn.

Here are a few simple ways that I use to make sure my girls get at least four glasses a day.

  1. Make sure they drink at least one glass of water first thing in the morning
  2. Pack a water bottle with their lunch — no juice
  3. Give them a glass of water when they come home from school
  4. Only serve water at dinner time.

If your kids have always enjoyed juice, then start by cutting the juice in half with water, then slowly decrease the amount of juice to one quarter.  This will ease the transition and keep them from feeling completely deprived. Allow one glass of juice a day, perhaps with snack, as a special treat. Adding a slice of lemon will make the water taste better and help to balance their blood PH which is essential for good health.

As for sodas, replace them with fresh squeezed juices cut with sparkling water.  Sparkling water has the added benefit of helping to eliminate toxins from the blood.

It’s easy to lose count of how many glasses they drink, and kids often believe they drink more than they actually do, so keep a chart and make it fun.  With young kids you can use stickers as a fun visual reminder of their accomplishment.

4. Breakfast of Champions

You’ve heard this a thousand times before, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  And it is!  A healthy breakfast  sets your child up for success all day.

Do not skip breakfast, no matter what. If you have time for a sit-down breakfast, try scrambled eggs with veggies, and a serving of fresh fruit.  Make sure your meal is balanced and includes a good source of protein.  Quinoa is a great substitute for oatmeal or cream of wheat as it contains 7 grams of protein per serving.

If you’re short on time prepare a smoothie to drink on the road.  My girls and I have a 45 minute commute every morning so they enjoy a green protein smoothie in the car.  A green protein smoothie is a fabulous way to start the day.  Greens have countless health benefits, and are a great source of even and sustained energy. Greens also help with mental clarity.

Though your child may prefer a big bowl of coco puffs or lucky charms, sugary cereals are not a good choice.  The sugar buzz they start the day with leads to a massive crash at just about the time they settle at their desk and begin their first lesson. Sugar also gets used by quickly and leads to sugar cravings all day, which in turn lead to brain fog, lack of focus and uneven energy.  So you’re better off avoiding those sugar laden cereal, or keep those as a treats for the weekend.

If your child likes bagels for breakfast, one half is more than enough.  Add some cream cheese and salmon with a slice of tomato and cucumber, or a tablespoon of almond or cashew butter.  Avoid adding butter and jam (more sugar)

5. Healthy Lunch

That mid-day pick me up should be just that, a pick-me-up.  So load up your child’s lunch box with delicious foods that will provide him with clean, sustained energy.

Fresh greens, lean protein and fruit are the best choice. Keep fruit to a small amount though.  If your child won’t eat anything but pizza, make it at home and include green veggies such as zucchini or spinach.  Celery with nut butter and dried cranberries is a great snack, which contains healthy fats that won’t slow your child down.

Remember that digestion will kick in about 20 minutes after your child’s meal and if he’s eaten heavy, sugar laden foods, he is going crash.

You’ll find lots of wonderful lunchbox ideas and recipes here

As with all the wisdom we try to pass on to our kids, the best way to teach is of course to lead by example.

My daughters are the first to tell me I’m slipping. If for example, I remind them to get their much needed sleep and they know I haven’t been so good about it myself, they’re going to have a nice rebutal.

The reality is that these five habits are good life habits no matter what, and moms need to adhere to them as much as our kids to. I may slip once in a while, but I do my best to practice what I preach.
I know I’m a much happier and fun mom, with energy to spare, when I respect those five simple rules.  And you will be too!

What is the most important you have for teaching your child healthy life habits?

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  1. Great article Val! I grew up with my grandparents not letting me leave for school until I had eaten a very complete breakfast–it’s so important to get that healthy head start! I love that you pointed that out along with lunch, water, sleep, and routine–all super vital to our children and us supermoms too 😉


    • Wise grandparents! And yes, Supermom, all these tips are equally valuable for us 🙂 At the top of our list should be a healthy, protein rich breakfast so we don’t run out of steam half way through our morning.

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