Back to School: Maximize Your Child’s Brain Health with Functional Medicine
Heading back to school is often an exciting time for kids and families, but new changes in classroom settings, uncertainties in routine, and stress can also make this time a difficult one.
What can you do to make sure your little ones have every opportunity they need to learn efficiently and thrive throughout the school year? The key is focusing on creating an ideal environment for learning and focus–both mentally and physically–for optimal brain health.
These integrative medicine strategies will help you optimize brain health inside the classroom and out.
Holistic Lifestyle Strategies for Brain Health
Nutrition and Brain Health
The brain requires specific nutrients for optimal function, and any nutrient deficiency can hinder optimal learning and brain function. There are several main nutrients linked to better learning. Here are a few:
- Omega-3 fats, which modulate inflammation and promote healthy neural communication
- Vitamin D to promote normal neurodevelopment and immune function
- Magnesium is required for energy production and focus
- Methylation factors like B6, folate, and B12 help carry oxygen to the brain and create new brain cells.
You can find these important nutrients in foods like dark leafy greens, deeply-colored fruits and vegetables, berries, fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel, and nuts and seeds (1).
Sleep for Better Learning and Cognition.
Without adequate, consistent sleep, we can expect problems like hormone imbalance, mood swings, brain fog, weight gain, and poor concentration, and children are affected by these imbalances as well (2).
For better sleep, stick to a consistent routine for both adults and children. Leaving devices outside the bedroom is a tremendous help, as is daily exercise and exposure to natural sunlight during the day. These activities promote a normal circadian rhythm and may make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Physical Activity for Improved Learning
Regular physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, transporting valuable nutrients and oxygen the brain needs to communicate. If you find yourself stuck on a difficult task, or if your little ones just can’t concentrate, take a quick movement break to refocus.
This is especially helpful for children who struggle with ADHD, as regular movement can help promote attention and focus.
Cognitive and Academic Performance
Understanding Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses.
It’s vital to discover if your strategies align with your kids’ unique learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.
Kids pay more attention to academic tasks when we can balance their cognitive development, education, and chemistry by optimizing inputs and removing bad influences, such as:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Toxic burden
- Poor gut function
- And all the environmental stressors kids encounter today
At CentreSpringMD we do this using our unique Brain Boost program. With Brain Boost we’re able to use integrative, health-focused solutions for optimal cognition and better brain health.
Children with optimized brain health often:
- Pay attention better.
- Process information more quickly
- Retain information.
- Learn and remember more.
- Have more cognitive flexibility, which supports the ability to shift attention from one activity to another.
Click here to learn how your children can thrive with an individualized plan.
Watch out for the Summer Slide
It’s important to keep in mind that the beginning of each school year–whether home-schooling or in the classroom–may signal that your child is learning at a different pace than his or her peers.
And while it’s expected to lose a certain amount of knowledge over summer break, referred to as the Summer Slide, parents have the option of complimentary Gibson testing (if age appropriate) when you schedule any pediatric appointment at CentreSpringMD.
Gibson testing is a test of cognitive skills, and is one of the most comprehensive, multi-lingual learning skills assessment tools in the world. It measures the 7 core cognitive skills which are the foundation for thinking and learning.
It’s perfect for the parent of a struggling student, and also an adult seeking help for themself.
Improve memory, attention, and focus today with Brain Boost and Gibson testing.
Building Trust with Mental Health
Frequently, learning can become frustrating if a child is struggling to grasp concepts. This can cause worry, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.
It’s especially important to maintain an open line of communication through which your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings.
Many children who participate in the Brain Boost program also see a drastic improvement in academic performance, happiness, and overall quality of life after receiving their personalized recommendations.
Build Learning Confidence.
One clever shift you can make at home to build confidence in your child’s learning ability is by focusing on the process instead of the outcome.
For example, when your child comes to you with an achievement or creative solution to a problem he solved, you might say, “Wow! What a great idea!”
Instead, try taking it one step further by asking, “Good job! And what made you think to come up with that?”
This prioritizes the importance of hard work and persistence, over reward and praise (3).
Children thrive with adequate structure. Their brains find security in knowing what to expect daily, and this helps them learn more effectively. As much as possible, stick to daily routines with schedules for waking, eating, and sleeping, as well as time for learning.
If your children are participating in online or virtual learning, it can be helpful to post your daily schedule where they can see it–similar to what they would see in a classroom–with color-coordinated blocks for study time, and different activities such as mealtimes and playtime.
Most importantly, don’t forget to schedule frequent breaks for both your children and yourself, especially if you’re home-schooling this fall.
Holistic Methods to Improve Attention and Focus
Kids who struggle to maintain attention and focus don’t have to also struggle with schoolwork and learning. The real win for kids with ADHD, or who just have trouble paying attention, is learning to work with their brains, instead of against them.
If you or your kids have a hard time paying attention, try:
- Frequent movement breaks
- “Wiggle seats”, or fidget spinners
- Dividing tasks into smaller chunks to prevent overwhelm
- Sticking to a schedule
- Limiting sugary snacks
- Balancing screentime with other activities
- Spending more time outdoors
Learn about the 3-step process you can use to manage ADHD at school and at home.
Health Issues That Can Affect Learning
Frequently, other health issues can complicate your children’s ability to learn effectively, as well as affect the overall health of their brain. If your children experience any of the following, contact a CentreSpringMD provider for integrative treatment solutions.
Anxiety and depression are both on the rise in teens and young adults, and symptoms often get dismissed as being part of a “phase”. Stereotypes of a “difficult teen” may actually be masking deeper issues, and this can significantly harm your children’s opportunity for a fulfilling, healthy adolescence.
Neuroinflammation causes symptoms of ADHD, inattention, and immune reactivity. Inflammation is primarily created within the gut, but it can also have an impact in the brain. Neuroinflammation is the cause of an increasing number of pediatric conditions, such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety (4).
Hormone imbalance, such as PCOS are increasing in young girls, and these types of conditions can significantly interfere with quality of life and healthy learning. Hormone imbalance can disrupt attention, cause brain fog, and cause rapid mood swings.
It’s vital you speak with a CentreSpringMD provider if your child is struggling with any of the above symptoms. Integrative treatments are available, but it’s imperative to intervene as early as possible.
Staying Well and Boosting the Immune System
With the start of any school year, it’s crucial to evaluate your kids’ hygiene routines, and make sure they understand the importance of simple basics to staying well. Here are key strategies:
- Sleeping allows the brain to perform vital “cleanup” processes crucial for memory and proper immune function
- Too much screen time can worsen the body’s stress response which decreases immune response.
- Stress increases the release of cortisol, which slows immune function and can make children more susceptible to illness
- Kids’ immune systems need vital nutrients like zinc, vitamins C & C, and B vitamins. You can also support optimal immune function with nutrient-rich herbs like astragalus or umcka. Defender is one of our favorites for simple and efficient immune support.
It’s never too early to have simple conversations about staying well and minimizing germs. Creating healthy habits early will make kids more likely to follow them as they get older as well.
Integrative Medicine for Optimizing Learning
It’s no coincidence that much of what creates a healthy body also creates a healthy brain for our little ones. An optimally functioning brain is capable of providing your child limitless opportunities for growth, happiness, and a lifetime of fulfillment.
If you want to help your child reach his or her cognitive, emotional, and academic potential, learn more about our unique Brain Boost program.