The hours between the end of the school day and bedtime are a golden opportunity for parents to help their children develop safe and healthful habits that will last a lifetime.
Following are free, simple ways to incorporate messages about eating well, staying safe and avoiding injuries while children complete homework, participate in team sports or recreational activities, and relax with friends.
Many children engage in team sports or participate in extracurricular clubs after school. Others go home and spend time alone until their parents are finished working. Regardless of how a child spends the hours after school, personal safety is important and should be a topic of conversation between parents and children.
Consider how your child will spend his or her after-school hours and collaborate to develop a list of relevant safety tactics. For example, if your child plays a sport, discuss ways to avoid injury and make sure he or she always wears appropriate safety gear.
For students who arrive home before their parents, set ground rules, such as go straight home and check in via phone call or text once they arrive. Remind children not to open the door to strangers or answer calls from numbers they can’t identify. Safekids.org offers a wealth of safety tips that can be applied to virtually every child’s after-school situation.
Snacking is a healthful habit when done smartly. Teach children to reach for a sensible and filling snack to keep their minds alert for homework and their bodies fueled for after-school activities. Encourage children to use portion control and choose nutritious snacks like fresh fruits and vegetables or fat-free options like pretzels.
Portion-controlled, pre-packaged choices are convenient and healthful options for after-school snacking. Ample research – and common experience – indicates that chewing on something crunchy stimulates the brain. Try a low-fat combination of pretzels with apple slices or carrot sticks, which are more stimulating to a child’s brain than something sweet and fatty.
Follow a schedule
Naturally, all children want to work some fun into their day, whether it’s before or after homework is complete. Because most children thrive with guidance and structure, talk to your child about creating a schedule or to-do list for after-school time. Make sure that it includes a combination of fun activities, snack time and homework. Keep in mind that every child is different – some children need to run around before starting homework, while others do best when saving the fun time for last.
Limit screen time
Once children have completed their homework and engaged in a little physical activity, many may prefer to spend hours online, playing video games or watching TV. Finding a balance can be tough.
Many parents take a “homework first” approach, requiring that children complete school assignments before they’re allowed the treat of screen time. Consider parental-control software to set limits on when children can use the computer and to restrict when and where they can venture online.
Urge children to use technology in a manner that stimulates their brains, such as reading a book on a tablet, working on a brain puzzle on the computer or practicing keyboard or typing skills. Many schools provide lists of fun websites students can access at home or in the library to reinforce skills taught in school.