Back To School Checklist

Blair Cuneo, PA-C

While the family is enjoying the downtime from school break, the upcoming school year is in the back of my mind. I’m slowly starting to make lists for updating lunch boxes, checking clothing sizes, gathering school supply items, all the while wondering what the next grade level will be like for my kids. 

“Preparation clears a pathway for success.”  ~ Ron Kaufman

As a pediatric functional medicine provider, I recognize that each child has unique needs to optimize their mental and physical wellness. However, there are several general recommendations from which many children and families can benefit.

Specific to academic performance, here are some fundamentals for your “Back to School” checklist:

– Honor the importance of sleep for body and brain.

Lack of sleep impacts production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, crucial for its role in attention and focus. School aged children should be getting 10-12 hours of restorative sleep. Restless sleep, teeth grinding, snoring, and waking up tired after adequate hours, are all signs that the sleeping hours are not “quality”. Without quality sleep, the body has not had the restorative opportunity to repair, heal and learn.

– Check in on screen time.

Prolonged screen time is associated with increased difficulty in attention, focus, emotional regulation and anxiety. Take into account screen time needed for school and set boundaries for when and what type of screen time is allowed in the home.

– Clean up the pantry, stock the fridge.

Artificial foods and dyes have a direct, negative relationship to behavioral health and cognitive performance. When hungry, go the fridge first, aim for rainbow whole foods, read labels and avoid eating what you can’t pronounce.

Many patients and families notice improvement in mood, energy, digestion, pain and school performance by integrating the above considerations.  If needed, there are more areas to investigate with a pediatric functional medicine provider.

In the functional medicine approach, we evaluate metabolic, nutritional, environmental and genetic contributors to your child’s symptoms or medical conditions. We want to understand “root cause” and not rely solely on band-aids to suppress or mitigate symptoms. We want to support the body and mind in need, while also shifting towards fundamental healing and prevention.

Some major contributors to impaired school performance include nutrient needs, like zinc and magnesium. If nutritional needs are found, we can directly support, but let’s also consider why the needs are there! Is the diet lacking? Does the digestive system have trouble absorbing nutrients adequately?

Speaking of the digestive system, the gut-brain axis is a recognized, bidirectional communication mechanism between the gut and brain. The gut microbiota affect the production and breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and GABA. These neurotransmitters are responsible for mood and academic performance. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter for attention and focus.

When the body is under stress, dopamine production is hindered. Areas of stress include poor sleep, inflammatory foods/chemicals, food sensitivities, nutritional needs, yeast overgrowth, inflammatory bacteria.

Objective testing can be helpful in creating a personalized plan for our young patients. Less guessing, with more targeted interventions and support, can help you and your child experience enjoyment and success in their academic programs.

Call Carolina Total Wellness to schedule with our pediatric functional medicine provider.

Your Partner In Health!

Blair Cuneo, PA-C

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