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When the exams are around the corner – entire families of those taking the exams are stressed.
Even the parents of the most relaxed children are treading on eggshells around their children. And every parent is looking for an opportunity to do something to help their exam going child. Sadly however – most parents have no idea what to do.
If you are a parent - the simplest way in which you can help your child while you wait for the nail biting race to the finish line – is to help your children with food.
1. Provide a balanced diet
To work effectively – the brain needs food. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, are all essential to keep the brain functioning well. As stress gets the better of children – the first thing they do is skip meals and survive on junk. It may be difficult to convince children to eat regular meals as they study – but parents can make an attempt to include all the elements of a balanced diet into the food that their child eats through the day with some innovatively cooked snacks
It is important to focus on nutrients because a diet that lacks essential nutrients can compromise concentration.
2. Focus on frequent small meals
While all the elements of a balanced diet are required to keep the brain and body going – it is important to remember that having the regular three or four square meals while studying long hours can be counterproductive. Heavy meals can be sleep inducing and so frequent small healthy meals packaged as snacks - is what you should ideally give your child.
Eating too much or too little can interfere with the ability to focus. A heavy meal may make one feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs
3. Discourage an overdose of sugar in the form of sweets or beverages
The brain runs on sugar. It is the brains most preferred fuel source and so some amount of craving for sweet things is normal in a child who is spending several long hours exercising his/her brain cells. However an excess of sugar can actually impair the functioning of the brain and cause both brain and body to slow down. So keep a watch on how much sugar your child takes in.
4. Ensure that there is an adequate supply of antioxidants
If your child insists on sweets, try chocolate or cocoa based sweets, which keep the brain in great functioning condition when they are consumed in moderate amounts, because of their antioxidant properties. Nuts and dry fruits are full of antioxidants and very good for the brain too
5. Do not offer too much caffeine
It is tempting to offer caffeine in the form of tea coffee and other energy drinks to keep the mind alert. However too much caffeine can actually have the reverse effect and make your child jittery and uncomfortable
6. Provide a healthy breakfast
There is a long gap between dinner and breakfast and since the brain needs food before it can function effectively - breakfast is a non-negotiable. If your child refuses a regular breakfast – package it innovatively into small tasty snacks. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat breakfast tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods that top the brain-fuel list include high-fibre whole grains, dairy, and fruits.
Overeating at breakfast however – is not a good idea because high-calorie breakfasts induce sleep and sluggishness
7. Discourage experiments with memory enhancing medicines
As the exams approach – the “I am forgetting everything” feeling can grip students. And their panic about forgetting can overwhelm parents as well.
I have often encountered parents looking around for memory enhancing drugs to help their children at such times.
It is important to remember that while a lot of claims have been made about the memory boosting properties of a lot of drugs – a great deal of research is still required in most cases to prove their efficacy and ensure their safety and absence of side effects. In such a scenario – it is best to exercise extreme caution before experimenting with medications or supplements.
8. Ensure that your child drinks enough water
Both the brain and the body function best when they are well hydrated. It is important to drink water.
Juices, tea, coffee and other beverages cannot take over the function of water.
Frequent sips from a bottle strategically placed on the study table can make a lot of difference to the functioning of the brain.
A healthy body and mind are extremely important for success in exams and you can contribute to your child’s success by feeding him/her right.
This post was first published in Times of India, 19th February, 2016.