Parenting just may be the hardest job on the planet. As we raise our kids, we juggle work, relationships, our home and hobbies. 

Most parents have the same important goal: we want to have happy and healthy children. Yet, doing so can feel overwhelming. The good news is that you’re not alone. 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.

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2. Prioritize sleep

Kids are growing quickly, so both their brains and bodies need a lot of sleep. If they get even 30 to 60 minutes less sleep than recommended, kids can struggle with basic tasks and mood. So what’s that magic number per day? It depends on their 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!

Kids 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 and sign them up for sports or dance activities. Maybe you can run around the yard or local playground with them. “Getting their energy out” actually has many benefits to both physical and mental health. This can include lower disease risk, higher life expectancy and improved self-confidence.

4. Set limits with screen time

Screens are part of childhood, whether it’s TVs, smartphones or tablets. Just don’t let them be too large a part. Too much screen time can hurt children’s brains by affecting the way they think and function.  Screens can harm your child’s ability to focus, concentrate and communicate, which can set them up for failure. To limit time spent on screens, create a family media plan with time limits and rules.

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5. Read to your children

There is no easier, quicker way to promote lifelong learning and listening in our kids than reading. Reading builds kids’ vocabularies, strengthens attention and sparks curiosity. It can improve their memories and motivate them to learn new facts about their interests. Even older children benefit from hearing adults read to them. 

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, they should have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words. Where can they learn all these words and what they mean? By hearing those words at home!

The more parents talk to their children, the faster their vocabularies grow, and the higher their IQ test scores are at age 3 and later. You can expand their vocabulary by explaining daily tasks. Talk about activities, identify objects and help them build connections.

7. Make memories

Children 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. Even going to the grocery store can be a lesson in foods, colors and textures. If you have the means, take trips to learn about how other people live. You can also make simple crafts, play board games and experiment in the kitchen. Or maybe welcome friends at home and snuggle before bed. Be together and be social. This can help your child learn to love life.

8. Get involved in the things that matter

Empathy is a skill that can be taught. Think about how you and your family can get involved in your community. Teach kids the importance of not only doing things for themselves but for others too. Take them out to enjoy nature or go camping. It’s easy to forget to enjoy time in nature, but it plays an important part in understanding our world, and it’s great for mental health. Also, encourage your kids to learn a hobby like art or music. Dance or martial arts can also teach them discipline and about being mindful. 

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. Emotional intelligence plays a role in our relationships, health and quality of 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 they’re responding to a situation. Help them acknowledge their feelings and brainstorm ways to feel better. Try opening up about some of your daily challenges so kids can see how you successfully manage emotions.

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10. Model what matters

Kids are always paying attention. They notice your behaviors, listen to your words and model your choices. As a parent, it’s important to speak respectfully to and about people. You can also model good social skills. Talk to your kids about their day. When you do so, practice active listening so they learn how to do the same! 

Other ideas include helping 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 and achieve balance. Speak clearly and always shoot for a positive attitude. As parents, we still make mistakes, but we can promise to learn from them. 

Finally, don’t get too caught up in the “happiness trap” of raising kids. Sadness, frustration and disappointment are part of life. Never letting kids fail can actually stunt their growth. When they’re wrong, take time to explain why. Set them up for healthy choices and pay attention to them every single day.

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Updated on June 7, 2022

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