We all want our kids to be grow healthy and happy. One thing parents can agree on, however, is that you can’t control your children’s behaviors for the rest of their lives. Instead, it is much more effective to help your kids learn healthy habits that they will continue to practice — even when they continue to grow and your role as a parent changes.
Obviously, it’s the right and privilege of every parent to define what’s healthy and guide their children as they grow. But there are certain things that are medically and universally established as healthy habits. Parents can’t go wrong instilling the following habits in our kids.
Get enough sleep
Growing bodies need regular sleep! The medical community recommends that children get 8 to 11 hours of sleep per night in order to be well rested and maintain energy throughout the day. Support your children in lifestyle choices that will ensure they get the sleep they need. For younger kids this is likely to involve a set bed time. For older kids you may need to cut off access to TV, computers, or cell phones at a certain time so that they don’t have an incentive to stay up until all hours of the night.
Eat whole foods
Give your kids this test – can they name all the ingredients of every food on their plate? The more often they answer yes, the better. Ideally kids should be eating a well-balanced meal filled with whole foods. They should be able to identify the fruits, vegetables, and proteins that they are eating as part of a healthy meal. What to do with foods that aren’t whole (processed candy, for example)? Children can still indulge in an occasional treat, but moderation is key. When kids understand that it’s all about “how you feel,” they’ll naturally gravitate toward healthier foods and away from processed sugar and junk foods. The health benefits of this dietary approach are well-established.
The benefits of daily exercise start well before adulthood. On average, experts recommend that kids should participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. This might mean playing soccer after school, swimming in the pool, or taking a family walk after dinner. Regular physical activity will not only help children avoid obesity, but it can also be a great way for kids to destress and can even enhance creativity.
Build healthy relationships
Your kid’s health not only refers to physical wellbeing, but also mental wellbeing. High self-esteem and healthy relationships are important. Have regular conversations with your children about their friends. Help kids recognize if a relationship is unhealthy or if someone makes them feel bad or insecure. While you want your kids to be able to come to you if they have problems, you also want to teach them how to be thoughtful about who they spend their time with.
Take care of health problems
Any child who is old enough to be left on his or her own without any adult supervision should know what to do in the case of an injury, accident, or emergency. Help kids process through what types of accidents would constitute an emergency and a phone call to 911, and what problems could be dealt with in a less immediate matter. Teach kids how to assess their own symptoms for an ailment and know when to say that they likely need to visit urgent care or a physician.