Want to support your seventh-grader's physical health? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
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. According to a recent Institute of Medicine report, even the best physical education curriculum fails to provide the necessary 60 minutes of recommended activity a day.
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.
Explore organized sports
Explore lessons and organized sports for your seventh-grader. These might include gymnastics or ballet classes or soccer or little league. As they grow and their physical abilities progress, they may express an interest in sports that even a year ago were too difficult for her. Expose them 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, for example.
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 them. Or suggesting that you exercise or do yoga together might spark their interest.
One reason that children are less physically active than in previous generations is that fewer and fewer children walk or bike to school. If doing so is a safe alternative for your seventh-grader, encourage the practice.
Try different activities
Even if your child doesn’t seem to take to sports naturally, encourage them to try out different activities and to find one that suits them. Some children resist team sports but can excel at individual sports like tennis or track. Make sure you let them sample a variety of sports to find their interest, and think of non-traditional sports, like fencing or archery, that might appeal to them. Reward and encourage persistence, so that even if they are not a “natural athlete” they learn to enjoy participating and pushing themselves to improve.
Exercise & academics
The link between physical activity and improved academic performance is becoming increasingly clear. According to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, children perform cognitive tasks better after participating in a session of physical activity. The report also notes that “frequent bouts of physical activity throughout the day yield short-term benefits for mental and cognitive health.” Encourage your child to take play actively or exercise before doing their homework or studying and to take short active breaks from sedentary activities. For example, if they are getting bogged down on some especially homework difficult problems, suggest that your child clear their head by walking the dog or kicking a ball outside.
Exercise & self-esteem
Exercise and regular activity help children feel comfortable with their bodies, which becomes especially important with the advent of puberty and its accompanying changes. Make sure your child knows about the changes that will take place in their body when they go through puberty — things like sweating more, developing stronger body odor, growing pubic hair, and having acne.
Limit the amount of time your child 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 they remain inactive to no more than an hour at a time.
By the time they reach seventh grade children should be able to take full responsibility for their personal hygiene. Talk to them about the body changes that accompany puberty, such as menstruation, an increase in body odor, the growth of pubic hair, and the development of acne.
Make sure that your adolescent understands that their personal hygiene routine will have to be more rigorous than it was when they were younger. Showering or bathing daily with attention to the underarms, groin, backside, and feet is more important than ever.
Discuss with your adolescent whether they should be washing their hair every day. As their hair becomes greasier with the onset of puberty, they may need to do so.
Talk to your daughter about good menstrual hygiene and make sure she has all the supplies she needs. Explain the difference between sanitary pads and tampons, and make sure that she understands that menstruation does not need to limit her ability to be physically active.
Talk to your child about shaving when you start to see facial hair or hair on their legs, and give them the necessary equipment to start doing so.
Body image issues increase sharply during adolescence. Use your child’s physical development to guide you through what subjects you should be addressing. If acne is a persistent problem, for example, consider seeking advice from a dermatologist.
Make sure that the information you’re passing on to your tween is current. Some of the hygiene advice you may have been given when you were younger, about things such as shaving or menstrual hygiene, may no longer apply.
Learning to handle their changing hygiene needs can be a challenge for some adolescents. Don’t be too hard on your seventh-grader if they are struggling or resistant. Make sure they understand how important hygiene is and that it is their responsibility alone to take care of their body and keep it clean.
Your seventh-grader should see a dentist for regular checkups, just as they see a pediatrician regularly. Discuss their oral hygiene with their dentist and ask about measures such as fluoride supplements and dental sealants, which protect your child’s teeth against cavities and decay.
By the end of seventh grade your child will have lost all or most of their baby teeth and 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.
Your child should be brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and after eating, if possible.
Your child should be flossing every day.
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.
If your child plays a contact sport, they should wear a mouth guard to protect against dental injury and concussion.
If a child’s permanent tooth becomes dislodged due to an injury, place the tooth in a container of milk and seek dental advice as soon as possible. Permanent teeth can sometimes be re-implanted successfully.
See if your tween is budgeting enough time for sleep during the week by having them record the time they go to bed and wake up every day in a sleep journal. Use the information to map out their typical weekly schedule, incorporating time for meals, extracurricular activities and homework. If their bedtime is consistently getting pushed back, they are probably over scheduled. Encourage them to cut back on the number of their commitments and establish realistic expectations for the amount of sleep they should be getting each evening.
Help your child maintain a regular study schedule so that they aren't cramming the night before a major test. Studying for at least 10 to 15 minutes every night will ensure that they can get plenty of rest prior to an important exam.
Does your child have a lot of homework? Encourage them to complete the homework that requires a computer earlier in the evening. This way your child avoids exposure to the stimulating lights of the computer during the time right before bed.
Though it is recommend that children keep a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week, for some families this is unrealistic. Encourage your child to get to bed within an hour of their normal bedtime and wake up no later than two hours after their normal wake time. By establishing clear expectations for your child on the weekends, you will make the rest of their week easier by avoiding an uneven sleep schedule.
Check your child’s bedroom to see if it is a dark, calm, and quiet environment. When you turn off the lights, there should be no illumination. Remove the television, computer, and other electronics from the bedroom since they emit a blue light that disrupts your child’s sleep cycle.
Establish an electronic curfew for the entire family at least 30 minutes prior to your tween going to bed. Model the behavior that you want to see in them by also turning off your cell phone and other technological devices.
Caffeine can affect the quality of your child’s sleep. Encourage them to cut down on their consumption by reducing the number of energy drinks, sweetened teas, and sodas in the home, and limit their consumption, particularly in the hours after school.
To learn more, check out our seventh grade physical health guide page.
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.