Parenting just may be the hardest job on the planet. As we raise our kids, we juggle work, relationships, our home, and hobbies. Most of us moms have the same important goal: we want to have happy and healthy children.
Late April brings Every Kid Healthy™ Week, which celebrates health and wellness of our most valuable resources, children. Here are 10 tips for raising a healthier, happier child.
1. Encourage healthy eating
Remember, what we get out of our kids depends on what we put into our kids! They need the right balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat. Think: colorful plates full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit sugar (especially sugary drinks like juice and soda), and go for low-fat dairy products. Portion out foods so they understand quality and quantity matter.
Set a good example with healthy eating habits and get them involved in the kitchen. A positive, lifelong relationship with food begins in childhood!
2. Prioritize sleep
Kids are growing quickly, so both their brains and bodies need lots of sleep. If they get even 30 to 60 minutes less sleep than recommended, kids will struggle with basic tasks and mood. So what’s that magic number per day? It depends on the age*:
- Infants: 12-15 hours
- Toddlers: 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10-13 hours
- School age (6-13 years old): 9-11 hours
- Teens (14-17 years old): 8-10 hours
For most young children, this means a bedtime between 7-8 p.m. is best. Work on a sleep routine and try to stick with it. You’ll have a happier household if everyone is rested.
3. They’ve got to move it, move it!
Both the CDC and American Heart Association agree: Children need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. Come up with a plan together about how to reach this one-hour daily goal of physical activity. Take walks or bike rides, go swimming, sign them up for sports or dance activities. Maybe you can run around the yard or local playground with them. “Getting their sillies out” actually has many benefits to both physical and mental health. These benefits of lower disease risk, higher life expectancy and improved self-confidence can be achieved from the start. Don’t wait!
4. Set limits with screen time
TVs, Smartphones, tablets: screens are part of childhood. Just don’t let them be too large a part. Research shows that too much screen time can hurt our children’s brains. The way our kids think and function can be impaired if screens become the source of reality over real-life experiences. The American Academy of Pediatrics says screens should basically be avoided before age 2 (after 15 months, some parents may watch with toddlers for limited times), and kids from 2 to 5 should watch only up to 1 hour per day. These must be high-quality programs or apps. For children older than 5, create a family media plan with time limits and rules.
Don’t let pop culture fool you: screens can be downright dangerous for kids! They’ll harm your child’s ability to focus, concentrate, give attention, and communicate**–which can set them up for failure.
5. Read to your children
Books pave the way to success. There is no easier, quicker way to promote lifelong learning and listening in our kids than reading. But according to a national survey, only 42 percent of children younger than 9 are being read aloud to every day; only 30 percent are read aloud to for at least 15 minutes.*** What a missed opportunity!
Read to your kids to build their vocabularies, strengthen attention, and spark curiosity. Reading will improve their memories and motivate them to learn new facts about interests. Even older children benefit from hearing adults read to them. Parents can support their kids by showing them that is the path to achievement!
6. Fill your home with words
Reading is just the beginning of creating a home full of language. By the time your kid is off to Kindergarten, he should have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words! Where will he learn all these words and what they mean? By hearing those words at home, of course!
A study found that the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s IQ test scores were at age 3 and later.**** “Talkative” parents say 45 million words over the first 4 years, but uncommunicative types say only 13 million. That’s a 30-million-word gap! So, engage your kids by explaining daily tasks: talk about activities, identify objects, make connections so kids listen and understand.
What’s more, this builds a foundation for talking and listening as kids age. Connecting with one another is the core of any parent-child relationship.
7. Make memories
Children aren’t fancy: they want to have fun and make memories. The heart of any meaningful experience is feeling connected. By giving your child full attention, you can make even the simplest activities feel like adventures. Get out in nature to climb trees and jump in puddles. Encourage them to test their limits and ask questions. Even going to the grocery store can be a lesson in foods, colors and textures: make it fun! If you have the means, take trips to learn about how other people live.
But you don’t need lots of money or crazy plans. Do simple crafts, play board games, experiment in the kitchen, welcome friends at home, snuggle before bed. Be together and be social as you experience life’s beauty. Your kid will learn to love life.
8. Get involved in the things that matter
A recent survey found that of 18-25 year olds, 64 percent say getting rich is the most important goal in life.***** Only 12 percent of young adults say that helping people in need is important. Think about how you and your family can get involved in your community. Empathy must be taught: a generous action leads to a generous and compassionate outlook.
Teach kids the importance of not only doing for self, but doing for others. Shared responsibility often begins at home with chores. Giving back to the family—and the world at large—encourages awareness and better judgement. This just might spark the change to a more loving self and planet!
9. Make space for emotions
We spend so much time focusing on our kids’ school work and activities, we sometimes forget their emotions. Kids must name and understand their feelings to make good choices and have positive experiences. Research shows that emotional intelligence predicts over 54 percent of the variation in success in relationships, effectiveness, health, quality of a person’s life.******
We can create a safe place for kids to express feelings with active listening. Start by naming your child’s emotions with reassurance when she’s responding to a situation. She can acknowledge that label, and brainstorm ways to feel better. This sets the stage for problem-solving throughout life. Try opening up about your daily challenges so kids can see how you manage emotions for success.
10. Model what matters
Kids are always paying attention. They notice your behaviors, listen to your words, and model your choices. Do you practice what you preach? Speak respectfully to and about people. Help someone who’s having a bad day. Take pride in your appearance and care for your things. Work hard and challenge yourself to do better. Create boundaries, achieve balance, speak clearly, and always shoot for a positive attitude. “Do as I do” is the most effective teaching method of all. As parents we still make mistakes, but we can promise to learn from them. Lead by example, and the results will blow you away!
Finally, don’t get too caught up in the “happiness trap” of raising kids: sadness, frustration and disappointment are part of life. Overindulging kids or never letting them fail will actually stunt their growth. When they’re wrong, take time to explain why. Set them up for healthy choices. Pay attention to them every single day. Let them be who they are becoming.
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