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Keeping Your Kids Energized

Strategies for Focusing Children's Energy

There are many reasons kids may have low energy at school or on the field. They can be distracted, hungry, tired, not challenged or challenged too much in class, troubled by life issues at home, dealing with a class that may be suffering from a lack of variety or lack of physical activity, or they may simply crash at a certain time of day. We asked some experts for their recommendations on how to help kids tune in and catch the beat in the classroom, at home and on the field.

Manage Expectations

1. Observe your child. "Part of understanding a child can be to observe and come to know where their energy or enthusiasm seems most apparent," says Charlotte Tilson, a developmental clinical psychologist in San Francisco, Calif. "You can then build on your child's strengths and help him participate in areas in which his natural 'energy' is not high."

2. Share your expectations. "Set consistent routines and expectations for follow through at home, creating routines for school nights, bedtime and mornings," says Yu Linda Song, an educational consultant who works as a literacy coach and program evaluator in San Francisco, Calif. "Students who come to school with a sense of adult authority and limits fare well in school."

3. Enlist teachers' support. If you are concerned about your child's performance in school or at home, a teacher can help provide some insight and guidance and work with you to support your efforts at home.

4. Work with your child. "Build in time for your child to check his work with you," Song says. "And reward focused time with a compliment and a hug." After a significant task has been completed, work in a 15-minute active break – a seventh inning stretch, shooting some hoops, a five-song dance party or a five-point game of table football.

Eat Right

5. Skip the soda. Soft drinks are not a good choice because they contain refined sugar and additives and they replace foods that provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Offer children a glass of milk, which is rich in calcium and vitamins, or water.

6. Eat breakfast. Studies have shown that kids who skip breakfast show a decrease in test scores and basic cognitive functions.

7. Snack right. "Fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy are the best snacks you can give your kids," says Nancy Copperman, a registered dietitian at the Schneider Children's Hospital on Long Island, N.Y. "Cookies, crackers and other snacks should have less than 2 grams of saturated fat, less than 10 grams of sugars and 2 or more grams of fiber per listed serving size on the label."

8. Check for anemia. Fatigue, poor concentration, motor development delays and reduced work performance can all result from low levels of iron, a key oxygen-carrier in the body. Increasing a child's iron intake when he's been found mildly deficient in iron may have an almost immediate impact on concentration, motor skills and test scores.

9. Eat together. Studies have shown that families who eat meals together eat healthier as a whole, and that kids who eat even one meal a day with their families perform better at school.

Move That Body!

10. Take a mental break. "Physical activity can increase self-esteem and help kids handle stress, thus increasing their capacity for learning," says Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) in Reston, Va. "The integration of physical activity into the classroom can give kids the mental and physical break that they need."

11. Get kids moving. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has new guidelines for physical activity levels for children ages 5 to 12. Children should engage in 60 minutes to several hours of age-appropriate physical activity almost every day, broken into at least 15-minute sessions. Additionally, children should never be inactive for more than two hours at a time, especially during the day.

Don't Over-program

12. Extracurricular activities shouldn't interfere with school. "If the activities interfere with academic work, it's too much," Song says. A child should never come to school with the excuse that he could not do his work because he was at softball practice or ice skating.

13. Avoid burnout. "How many activities are too many depends on the age and personality of the child/adolescent," Burgeson says. If your child does not want to do some or all of the activities, or seems overtired, pare down. "Over-programming may result in 'burn out,' and being physically active is an important lifetime behavior."

14. Take cues from your kids. "My 7-year-old daughter has a busy schedule on Tuesdays," says Beth Freeberg, mother of two from Roslyn, N.Y. "She has art class after school, then she comes home, eats dinner and has a piano lesson. When I asked her how she would feel about changing her schedule, she admitted, 'Tuesdays are hard because I have so much to do.' She had never complained about it, but it turns out it was too much for her."

15. Keep in Touch. When you tap into what makes your children tick, you will begin to see where their interests lie and what brings them down. Many issues can be addressed in a parent-teacher conference or a parent-child heart-to-heart chat. And still others such as proper eating, sleeping and exercising habits can be developed over time. By making your home an active and well-structured environment, and living your life with the energy and enthusiasm you want your child to have, you'll see a difference in the energy level of your entire family.

Get up and Play!

It's easy for kids to get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Encourage your kids to get into these age-appropriate physical activities recommended by the American Dietetic Association:

Low energy – Hopscotch, tag, softball, golf, bowling, sledding, biking, horseshoes, fishing, badminton, archery.

Moderate energy – Volleyball, dancing, hunting, table tennis, walking a 15-minute mile.

Kick it up a notch! – Swimming, inline skating, downhill skiing, canoeing, cycling, walking 2.5 miles in 30 minutes.

Optimal energy – Soccer, running, basketball, racquetball, tennis, gymnastics, ice skating, cross-country skiing.

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