What Parents Can Do to Help Kids’ Health
As a parent your kids’ health is of paramount importance, isn’t it? After all, children who do not eat well, are too thin, too fat, inactive or fall sick frequently are every parent’s bugbear. They cause increased stress levels in parents, may result in doctor visits, missed school days (perhaps even workdays for parents), require more care and more time to take care of and more. In younger children, ill health can impact physical, mental and psychological development as well as leading to long-term problems.
What Parents Can Do to Help Kids’ Health
Babies are born helpless and totally dependent on their parents. As they grow up, while they may have some time away from you once they start schooling, they are still dependent in many ways – shelter, food, education, finance, emotional comfort, safety and other things. At the end of the day, their health is your responsibility.
You have to make sure that their needs are met on different levels. It is best to inculcate healthy habits in them when they are young so that these stay with them for the rest of their lives. If older children follow an unhealthy lifestyle, you can gently nudge them back to the extent that you have any hold over them. Once they are independent, all you can offer is advice and support.
Healthy Eating Tips
As many parents say, some infants are fussy eaters and it is difficult to feed them. When these habits persist through childhood, it can create a big problem. It is very essential for children to eat right from a young age so it is important that a parent creates and sticks to a routine and schedule at a young age. As kids grow older it is vital that
- Meal times are largely fixed – this helps with discipline and both parents and children know that meal times should be sacrosanct.
- The family eats together – this helps with family bonding, exchange of ideas and stronger relationships.
- Make sure that food is nutritious – unless there are time constraints or other factors, try and cook food fresh as this is the most nutrient rich and plays a vital role in raising healthy kids. Pizzas, burgers and junk and fast foods are best kept to a minimum.
- Offer lots of vegetables and fruits – cooked or raw vegetables should form an important part of the meal. Instead of stodgy pies and sugar-rich cakes, offer fresh fruits, raw or cooked as part of a dessert. Include lots of colored fruits and vegetables in their diet.
- Include whole grains in the meal – if serving bread make sure that it is whole grain bread. If it is pasta opt for whole wheat or other whole grain pasta. If rice, choose brown rice over white.
- Avoid added sugar in foods – you can use natural sugar substitutes for sweetness (dates, molasses, honey, maple syrup, applesauce and others, but these are also high in calories so restrict the amount used). Artificial sugar substitutes are best not given to kids.
- Calcium is important – if your kids do not have milk, yogurt, cheese and other calcium-rich foods, make sure that they take a calcium supplement on doctor’s recommendation. This is all the more important if any child is lactose intolerant.
- Hydration – drinking a sufficient amount of water is important at all times and in all weather conditions. Plain water should be favored instead of juices, beverages, and sodas.
It is also essential that weight problems are controlled. Both underweight and overweight kids need to be looked into. A highly underweight child may be suffering from anorexia or an eating disorder or have an underlying medical condition that needs to be checked out. Obesity in kids is a growing epidemic, leading to long-term health problems.
At different times in their lives, children may go off certain foods like eggs, dairy, meats or others. You will simply have to work around their dietary preferences. If you and your family are following any dietary practices (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, keto, etc) you can bring up your children the same way as long as they are getting a healthy diet that is suitable for their age group.
Do keep in mind that if you eat everything and eat healthily, your kids are more likely to follow your example. If you are a fussy eater, your kids will pick up on your habits. For the same reason do not keep too much ready to eat and junk food in your kitchen – sodas, wafers or crisps, high-fat cookies, doughnuts, sugar-laden cereals and others. Instead of stock up on nuts, seeds, trail mix and dry fruits for kids to munch on when hunger strikes and there is still time for a meal.
Healthy Fitness Tips
With increased exposure to screens from a young age, children spend a great deal of time watching television, using a computer, an iPad or even smartphones. You should restrict viewing time as much as possible in favor of other physical activities.
In fact, aim for half an hour to one hour of physical activity a day, particularly if your kid is not participating in any sporting activity in school. Encourage them to go out and play, go for walks, biking and play some outdoor games even if it as simple as kicking a ball around. Swimming and tennis are other great activities, weather permitting.
If you have a dog, you can encourage your child to take it for walks or runs. During weekends or holidays, encourage more physical activities. A biking or trekking holiday with kids can teach the kids a great deal apart from helping with physical fitness.
When your children are small, make sure that they get all their vaccinations and shots as needed. During flu season, you may want them to have flu shots as well. Check with your health practitioner regarding the shots needed, including booster shots at various ages. If their immunity is low, they are increasingly likely to fall sick often and take time getting well, that is why it is important to inculcate healthy habits regarding food and fitness from a young age.
Make sure that your kids get into the habit of washing hands more often, before and after meals, after playing, after coming home from outside, after using the toilet. Washing hands helps in keeping germs at bay.
The kids should also get into the habit of brushing their teeth for the proper amount of time regularly as oral health is tied to overall health. This will also help maintain tooth health and prevent cavities.
Sleep and Rest
From a young age, it is best to establish a sleeping routine, depending on your personal preferences and your lifestyle. The time varies and can range from 7.30 and 10 p.m. at least on school nights. Once your children start going to school, they need to be able to get up on time to be ready for school, eat breakfast and get their bag ready if they have not done it the night before.
In order to study well and concentrate, they need to get an adequate amount of sleep (between 9 and 12 hours) in so that they wake up refreshed and ready to face the day. Sleep deprivation or shortened sleep time can result in a lack of concentration, memory problems and inconsistent performance in school.
Ensure that when the children are in bed, they are off the screen as well, including phones and computers and for this reason avoid putting a television in the bedroom. No matter what the age, kids do need a winding down time and a restful environment to encourage sleep.
Children have a right to education and this is what actually empowers them and finally makes them independent. Education is a necessity for the mental and intellectual health of the child. So make sure that you enroll your kid in a school at the appropriate age. And before the child goes to school, you should teach him or her various educational things at home – most children learn their ABCs and develop some basic knowledge in their early years from their parents. School helps mold a child and teaches him or her teamwork, critical thinking and helps develop interests.
When the child goes to school you should also make sure that he or she fares well in educational and other activities, whether it is sports, cultural, social or anything else. Most schools also offer some insights into volunteer work. Sending your kid on school trips where feasible also helps develop his or her personality.
Some children may require extra attention to complete school work or need more help if they are behind in any subject. Make sure you check the homework and that the kid gets extra or remedial help if needed.
You are also responsible for your child’s safety so you have to explain about good touch, bad touch at a young age, not talking to strangers and being aware of surroundings and other things. At the age-appropriate time, you should also talk to your kid about reproduction and sex. Your child’s health is tied to his or her safety at all times.
Apart from the physical health of the kid, you are also responsible for the emotional and psychological health. When you invest in your kid’s development in all these aspects, you are also investing in his future and ensuring his well being. This will enable him to stand on his own feet at a later stage.
As children grow up, health check-ups may be largely ignored by parents, unless the child is sick or there is a medical problem. Even if your child is otherwise healthy, growing well and seems to be fine, you should take him or her for an annual checkup. Make sure that you are up to date with the vaccinations and booster shots as new ones come into the market and medical guidelines are issued.
Don’t forget routine eye and dental check-ups. If one of the parents has a vision problem (usually myopia), it is all the more important that the child’s eyes are regularly checked. Even otherwise, considering that children are more than ever exposed to screen time it is best that they go for regular eye tests.
The importance of dental care cannot be over-emphasized as oral problems have been linked to many health issues. Make sure that the kids brush in the correct way at least twice a day and floss at least once a day to ensure a cavity free mouth. When they have all their teeth in, you may check whether or not they need braces and get the work done at an age-appropriate time if required.
Setting an Example
From a young age, children learn by imitating their parents. So you need to set a good example and be a role model for your children in all aspects, whether it is diet or physical fitness or anything else. If they see you eat everything, they will also be more likely to follow your example.
If you make sure that you exercise routinely, you will have more credibility when you tell your kids to do the same. However, if you lounge in front of the television for hours, you really cannot expect your children to follow your rules regarding time spent in front of the television. The same goes for all aspects of your life. Today’s children are not going to listen to “Do as I say, not do as I do”!
When your children are largely healthy, barring the occasional health problems, you are also less stressed out. As long as you stay on top of their physical, mental, psychological and emotional health, ensure that they eat right, are physically fit, or take the right steps to solve any problem as it arises, you and your kids will be in a happy space.
Till your child grows up and is completely independent, he or she is going to be dependent on you, though the degree of dependency will vary and depend on the kid’s age and other circumstances. From the time of birth and in the growing years you need to fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your abilities to see that the child grows up to be a healthy individual, able to care of himself or herself.