3rd grade physical health tips: Here's how to help your child

Here's how to help develop your third-grader's physical health.
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By Aisha Labi

Want to support your third-grader's physical health? Here are some tips that experts suggest.

Physical activity

Activity at school

Find out how much physical activity your child is getting each day at school and what sorts of activities they are doing in gym class or at recess. This will give you a better understanding of their overall level of physical activity.

Physical education

School districts vary widely in the amount of physical education they offer, so it’s especially important for parents to encourage physical activity and model good behavior. Organize family activities that incorporate physical activity, such as walks and bike rides. Outdoor chores such as raking leaves or shoveling are a good way to squeeze exercise into a busy weekend.

Toys that require movement

Encourage physical activity by giving your child toys that require movement, such as a kite, scooter, or jump rope.

Age-appropriate lessons

Explore age-appropriate lessons and sports for your third-grader. These might include gymnastics, ballet classes, soccer, or little league. As their gross motor skills become more refined, your child may express an interest in sports that even a year ago were too difficult for her. Expose their to as many options for physical activities and sports as possible. Community organizations like the local YMCA often offer affordable and kid-friendly yoga or Tae Kwon Do classes.

Not active enough

If you are concerned that your child is not active enough, try to find ways to make physical activity more enjoyable for her. For example, inviting friends over to play outside might motivate her. Or having you offer to kick a ball or play catch with them could spark their interest.

Natural athletic ability

It is around this age that some children start to demonstrate natural athletic ability and inclination, while others begin to resist physical activity and to think of themselves as “not sporty.” Even if your child doesn’t seem to take to sports naturally, encourage your child to try out different activities and to find one that suits her. Some children resist team sports but can excel at individual sports like tennis or track. Make sure you let your daughter sample a variety of sports to find their interest, and think of non-traditional sports, like fencing or archery that might appeal to her. Reward and encourage persistence, so that even if she is not a “natural athlete” she learns to enjoy participating and pushing themselves to improve.

In front of the television

Limit the amount of time your third-grader spends in front of the television or computer monitor. Children who spend a majority of their time engaged in sedentary activities have been found to have poor motor coordination skills. Limit the amount of time that your child remains inactive to no more than an hour at a time.

Safety

Emphasize safety to your child. Teach them to be vigilant when crossing the street and to play safely around cars. Show them how important it is to play safely with other children and on playground equipment, for example by avoiding falling on their neck and head.

Hygiene

Overview

By the time they reach third grade, many children are almost ready to take full responsibility for their personal hygiene. However, parents should remain involved and supervise bathing or showering to the extent that they feel is necessary. It’s normal for your child to become more modest at around this age and to resist intrusion into their bathroom routine, so strike a balance between respecting their privacy and making sure that their body is being cleaned effectively.

Bathe

The precise age at which children are ready to bathe or shower on their own varies from child to child. Often, children will indicate that they are ready for more privacy and would prefer to start washing themselves, but the transition is usually gradual and parents will still need to weigh in with advice or to check that everything has been properly cleansed. Some children, especially girls with long hair, might still require help with shampooing or rinsing out conditioner even after they have mastered washing the rest of their body. As children start bathing on their own, be patient as they learn the ropes and allocate extra time if necessary.

Hair washing

Most children do not need to wash their hair every day. How often your child’s hair needs to be washed will depend on a number of factors, including hair length, whether your child is taking part in sports, and whether the hair is curly or straight.

Deodorant

Although many children do not need to use deodorant before puberty, some may have a strong enough body odor that they should start applying deodorant sooner. Especially if your child is taking part in sports and sweats a lot they may need to start wearing deodorant regularly. Let your nose be your guide.

Washing hands

Make sure that your child understands the importance of washing hands and the connection between cleanliness and staying healthy. Don’t rely too much on hand sanitizers and instead make sure your child knows how to wash their hands effectively with soap and water. Teach your child to wash their hands:

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before eating
  • Before and after handling or preparing food
  • After coming in from outside
  • After blowing their nose or sneezing
  • Before and after visiting sick friends or relatives
  • After touching cats, dogs, and other animals
  • After touching garbage

Sneezing and coughing

Teach your child to sneeze or cough, not into their hand, but into the crook of their arm.

Picking nose

Teach your child not to pick their nose or bite their nails.

Private parts

Teach your child not to scratch their private parts in public.

Oral hygiene

Overview

Your child should see a dentist for regular checkups, just as they see their pediatrician regularly. Discuss your child’s oral hygiene with their dentist and ask about measures such as fluoride supplements and dental sealants, which protect their teeth against cavities and decay.

Maintain good habits

By the end of third grade, your child might have lost most or all of their baby teeth so maintaining good oral hygiene habits is more important than ever. Tooth decay and cavities are entirely preventable yet remain widespread and affect children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated dental problems can become infected, causing pain and problems with eating, speaking, and learning.

Brush teeth twice a day

Your child should be brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and after eating, if possible.

Brushing teeth

Although your third-grader should be brushing their teeth on their own by now, they may still need help to make sure that their teeth are thoroughly cleaned.

Flossing

Flossing may still be a challenge and should be supervised until your child’s manual dexterity is advanced enough to make sure they are doing a thorough job.

Injures a tooth

See a dentist immediately if your child injures a tooth. Dental injuries are common among children through age 14, and if left untreated can result in severe complications.

Fluoride

Find out if the water where you live has added fluoride and, if it is not, ask your dentist about strategies for protecting your child’s teeth. Use a fluoride toothpaste.

Nutrition

Sugary or sticky foods

Limit your child’s consumption of sugary or sticky foods, which are the main culprits in tooth decay. Teach them to use their tongue to clean off their teeth immediately after they have eaten foods that stick to their teeth.

Juice consumption

Limit juice consumption to mealtimes and dilute sweet juices with water to cut down on their sugar content.

Soft drinks and sodas

Avoid or severely restrict consumption of soft drinks and sodas.

Sleep

Consistent schedule

Children are the most rested when they have a consistent sleep schedule. Experts caution that a change to their normal sleep schedule on the weekends can actually make it harder for your child to get out of bed when Monday rolls back around. To minimize this grogginess, allow your child to go to bed no more than an hour later than their normal weekday bedtime and sleep in no more than two hours past their usual wake time.

Calm household environment

Keep the evening household environment as calm as possible. As it gets closer to bedtime, have your child participate in quiet, passive activities, like reading a book, instead of active play, which can overexcite them and make it harder to fall asleep. Also avoid watching television shows or movies that may contain violence right before bedtime since they may frighten your child.

Electronic curfew

Establish an electronic curfew at least 30 minutes prior to your child’s bedtime. Have them store all electronic devices, like video games and tablets, in places outside of their room and avoid putting a television or computer in their bedroom. This will ensure that they can prepare for sleep without electronic temptations. Model the behavior that you want to see in your child by also turning off your cell phone and other technological devices.

Not getting enough sleep

If you notice that your child consistently needs assistance waking up, is tired and grumpy, is regularly falling asleep in the car or at school and/or is constantly misbehaving during the day, they are most likely not getting enough sleep. Consider adjusting their bedtime earlier by incrementally changing it by 15 minutes until you notice improvements in their mood and functioning during the day.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can prevent your child from falling asleep. Five hours before their bedtime, avoid feeding your child soda, tea, or other caffeinated beverages.

Sleepovers

Your child may ask to invite friends over for a sleepover. Despite their name, sleepovers seldom include a lot of restful sleep. To help minimize the disruptive effect of having friends spend the night, experts suggest scheduling these events on Friday evenings. This allows them two days to recover and enables your third-grader to go to school on Monday refreshed. If that is not feasible, allow your child to sleep in past their normal wake time after a sleepover and encourage them to go to bed earlier the next evening.

Consistent messages

It is important to send consistent messages about the importance of sleep. Try praising your child after a good night’s sleep. Avoid using an early bedtime as a punishment or a late bedtime as a reward.

To learn more, check out our third grade physical activity recommendations and physical development pages.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates and Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.