1 Walk or cycle to school
Build physical activity into children's daily routine to meet the 60 minutes recommended by the National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland. It has to be safe, of course, and accompanying younger children to school helps parents to stay active too.
2 Sit at the table for family meals
Have at least one meal every day where everybody sits around the table together, advises Joanna Fortune, a child and family psychotherapist with Solamh-Parent Child Relationship Clinic in Dublin. Take turns to share what was the best bit of your day and what was the bit you wished went differently, or would like to change. This builds open lines of communication between parents and children from the age of three right up to teenage years.
3 Turn off before you turn in
Poor concentration and daytime sleepiness in school can be prevented by turning off all smart phones, iPads and computer games a few hours before bedtime. "Anything that is a hand-held device tends to be quite stimulating and then it is really difficult to get children to wind down," says Fortune. Children up to the age of six or seven should ideally be getting 12 hours' sleep a night while older children need nine hours, she adds.
4 Play dates are not compulsory
Play dates can be a great opportunity for children to learn to socialise and play together, particularly for only children and young children whose siblings are much older. However, while play dates are an important part of life, they may not be everyone's cup of tea, Fortune says.
“People go one way or the other and generally if you are pro them there is an expectation that the other parent will reciprocate at some point and have your child over. But you are either in on that or you are not. Don’t put yourself or your child in a situation that doesn’t feel good for you and really is causing you more stress than anything else,” she advises.
5 Encourage independence
Appropriate risk-taking is an important developmental part of adolescence. Fortune suggests this may mean parents sending younger children on an errand to the local shop by themselves. As teens get older, that trust might grow to allowing them to go to the local shopping centre for the day and trusting they will call to be picked up, and that for the six hours they are away from you they will be okay.
“That is often a huge step for the parent but it is really important for encouraging independence and the ultimate aim of parenting is that you raise an independent and secure young adult,” she says. “The important thing is that they know they can come to you and say ‘I want to talk to you about drinking, sex’ or whatever.”
6 Know that best is good enough
Schoolchildren today are under immense pressure, both from within themselves and the results-focused education system. Fortune advises that one of the most important things a parent can do is to instil in their child that they simply want them to do their best.
“Be really honest with yourself about that, good enough is exactly that, it is good enough . . . if you raise your child to know, ‘I believe you will always do the best that you can, and nothing can make me prouder that that, whatever that is’, then that is the way to do it,” she says.
7 Quality time at weekends
Have a movie night, go for a family outing to the park or the National Museum. Families need to spend time together, but you can be clever with it. For example, Fortune says, if you have an errand on a Saturday, bring one of the kids for some one-to-one time. Don't treat your children as a group – remember that each child needs a little individual attention.
8 Don't get hung up on lunch
While September can represent 'a nightmare in a lunchbox' for some parents, dietitian Sarah Keogh, of the Early Feeding Clinic in Dublin and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, says parents should try not to get too hung up on the lunchbox, as it is only five out of 21 meals a child will eat in a week. "If you are giving them a good breakfast and they are eating a good dinner I wouldn't get too hung up over lunch," she says. An ideal lunchbox should contain a piece of fruit or vegetable, some protein and calcium, which can be found in hard cheeses, yoghurt or milk.
9 Be ready for head lice
The dreaded letter from the school won't be long in coming. Lice are spread by head-to-head contact while at school and are more common in those aged between four and 11.
“A head-lice infestation is not the result of dirty hair or poor hygiene. Head lice can affect all types of hair irrespective of its condition and length,” the HSE says. It advises that head lice can be “effectively treated using medicated lotions or by wet combing, using a specially designed head lice comb”. See hse.ie
10 Look after eyes, ears and teeth
Children need to be able to see the whiteboard, hear the teacher and focus undistracted by dental pain. Get their eyes checked and if ear infections or swimmers' ear are problems, see the GP before school starts.
Children are entitled to three free dental check-ups from the public health dentist while they are in primary school. Dublin dentist and president of the Irish Dental Association Sean Malone recommends parents check with the HSE to ensure that this is happening. He advises that ideally children should have a dental check-up at least once a year while children at a high risk of developing dental problems should be seen three times a year.
One golden rule to keep teeth healthy is to limit consumption of sugary snacks, he says. “It is not how much you eat, it is the frequency of intake that is the most important thing.”