This is one of the question that every parent keeps asking themselves over and over. We want our children to be happy, healthy and well-off. We want to protect them from all the harm and keep away from evil. Sometimes we want it so hard that we forget about what is vital to actually keep the child happy and healthy: a common sense. In this post you can read a number of tips on how to keep a child healthy.
A healthy diet and the right ingredients
According to the saying, “you are what you eat”. If you want your children to be in good health, you need to provide them with food that gives them all the necessary nutrients and as little harmful substances as possible. It is not advisable to follow a very restrictive diet, since children develop and grow. Their brains and bodies need all the building materials they can get. They need proteins and their easiest source is meat and legumes. They also need ‘good’ sugars that you can find e.g. in whole grain products, as well as ‘good’ fats such as oils rich in omega-3 acids, e.g. from fish, linseed or colza. And of course everyone needs vitamins, which can be found in fruit and vegetables.
There’s a lot of substances used in foods nowadays that we should avoid in children’s diet. ‘Bad’ sugars, such as refined white sugar or fructose syrup hinder brain development and contribute to obesity. ‘Bad’ fats such as trans fats are responsible for a number of heart and blood system illnesses. Trans fats are mainly produced industrially and can be found in some bread spreads, packed baked goods or fried fast foods. Last, but not least, we all should avoid highly-processed foods, especially the ones which have a lot of preservatives and other chemical substances.
We must adjust the diet to the age and needs of every child. Babies and toddlers are best-off when they are breastfed and this is supported by the World Health Organization – you can read about it here. Remember, that what children learn and what habits they acquire at this stage, will stay with them till adulthood. Teaching them these habits is the best way to keep children healthy.
Physical activity to keep the child healthy
Young children develop through physical activity. Not only their body becomes more fit this way, but actually their brains develop only when the child is on the move. This is why modern educational programs for kids include more and more activities which contain physical exercise. Toddlers actually don’t acquire new skills if they don’t practice everything with their body – be that hands, articulatory tract or the whole body. They have a natural need to move all the time.
If a schoolchild or a teen doesn’t have a habit for physical activity, it is vital to encourage them to. The best teacher is a parent’s example, so the best way to achieve that would be doing some fun physical activities together, e.g. going on bike rides or playing beach volleyball or other games.
What it most detrimental is giving your consent for your child skipping PE lessons (sitting on the bench because the child is ‘feeling unwell’). This way you show them physical activity is redundant (and that you will help them with doing things that are illegal). One of my PE teachers told us that the main aim of teaching PE at schools is not producing champions, but creating habits of exercising. These habits benefit everyone who has them. Students don’t get marks for achieving a certain level of physical fitness, but for improving it over their initial level.
Cut down exposure to screens
TVs, computer screens and smartphones are in every home nowadays. We, adults, spend sooo much time looking at them that it is only natural that children (who learn mostly through imitation) want to use them, too. What is more, the flickering screens have a hypnotizing effect on children’s brains. This is why some kids don’t hear us when watching TV. They aren’t pretending, they actually don’t hear anything apart from the TV. This is why it is extremely easy for a child to get addicted to screens.
Apart from the hypnotic effect, the flickering of the screens (it is there even if we don’t see it) greatly hinders brain development. It may also cause episodes of hyperactivity. The child’s brain gets used to the overstimulation (by the flickering). Later, when they come back to reality, the brain wants to get more impulses from the outside, so the child becomes hyperactive.
It is always a good idea to restrict the time you allow the child to use devices with screens. If their reaction is too violent, it means you did the right thing. It might mean that the child either was addicted or the addiction began to develop. Of course they won’t be happy anyway, but there’s a difference between an angry reaction and a furious one. Getting mad and slamming the door is nothing compared to raging and throwing things or oneself on the floor. You’ll know whether they’re overreacting or not.
Developing good habits
The best way to teach a child a habit is to be a good model of that habit yourself. When you eat healthy food and do some sports, your kid will see that you feel better this way. This will be one of the reasons they will want to do the same. What is more, the earlier you begin to work on their habits, the easier it will be. It takes less effort to teach a baby to eat vegetables than to force a teen to change their diet. It is just like with creating the habit for reading books, which I described in the post on reading to children here.
All in all, there are 4 things with the most impact on your child’s general health. These are the right food, a lot of exercise, as little exposure to screens as possible and your own example. You can read more about a healthy lifestyle with more in-depth explanation and examples on “Go Green Mamas!” blog here.
I hope this helps. If you have any other ideas on how to keep your child healthy, please, share them in the comments. Remember that this way you’re helping other parents, too.