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

Here's how to help develop your first-grader's physical health.

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By Aisha Labi

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

Physical activity

School activity

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.

Family activities

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. Even outdoor activities such as raking leaves count.

Lessons in sport

Explore age-appropriate lessons and sports for your first-grader. These might include gymnastics or ballet classes or soccer lessons.

Friendly activity

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

Screen time

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 your child remains inactive to no more than an hour at a time.

Child 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

Personal hygiene

By the time they reach first grade, most children are taking a much more active role in their personal hygiene. However, parents should remain involved and supervise bath time to ensure that everything is being cleaned effectively.

Bathing or showering alone

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 for bath time.

Washing hair

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, your child’s activity level, and whether the hair is curly or straight.

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.

Hygiene vs. health

Make sure your child understands the connection between good hygiene and good health. Explain the importance of not sharing drinking containers and straws, for example, with other kids at school.

Oral hygiene

Regular checkups

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

Dental habits

Maintaining good oral hygiene habits is important at this age, even if your child still has only baby teeth. 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 causing problems with eating, speaking, and learning. Good dental hygiene is more essential than ever now that your child’s permanent teeth will soon be coming in.

Teeth brushing

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

Help your child

Although your child should be brushing their teeth on their own by now, your child will still need help to make sure that their teeth are thoroughly cleaned. Parents should continue to be responsible for overseeing brushing and flossing before bedtime.

Flossing

Children should start flossing on a daily basis once their teeth fit closely together. They will usually need some help with this until then are seven years old or even older.

Tooth injuries

See a dentist immediately if your child injures a tooth. Dental injuries are common among children through age 14, affecting one in 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 but only in small, pea-sized amounts.

Nutrition

Sugary foods

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

Limit juice

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 sleep

Consistency is the key to your child’s sleep success. Ensure that your child gets to bed and wakes up around the same time on weekdays and weekends. Your child may try to sleep in on the weekends, which is likely a sign that they are not getting enough sleep. Experts recommend that their bedtime on the weekends be within an hour of their weekday bedtime and that your child should sleep for about the same amount of total time.

Nightly routine

Establish a relaxing nightly routine for your child before bed. This could include tidying up their toys, reading bedtime stories, taking a warm bath, and brushing their teeth.

Flexibility

Your child may try to extend their nightly routine in order to delay bedtime. Experts say you can incorporate some flexibility into their routine by allowing them to pick a bedtime story or a cheery song, but it is important to establish boundaries by limiting the number of choices. To be effective, this routine should last no longer than 30 minutes. Try to leave their bedroom prior to them falling asleep.

Play space

Encourage your first grader to play with their toys on the floor of their bedroom or in another room, reserving their bed solely for sleeping. By limiting the other activities that take place on their bed, they will begin to associate the bed with sleep time.

Electronic curfew

Make a family rule to turn off the television and other electronic devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Extended screen usage, especially right before bed, is often associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, and nightmares. Experts recommend removing the television from your child’s bedroom to ensure that it is a quiet and dark environment.

Rewarding sleep

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 bed time as a punishment or a late bed time as a reward. To create a positive message around sleep, you can make a sticker board and reward their with a star for every night your child gets to bed on time.

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. Caffeine has also been found to stimulate urination and can contribute to bedwetting.

To learn more, check out our first 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.