4 Ways to Raise Healthy Children

woman-reading-to-childWe all want our kids to grow into healthy adults. Virginia Dolan, MD, a pediatrician with Memorial Physician Services-Koke Mill and Memorial Center for Healthy Families, spoke recently on radio station WTAX about four areas to target for optimal health for your kids.

Sleep: Most young people need nine to 11 hours of sleep by the time they’re in kindergarten, but it’s also important to ensure that your children get restful sleep. Sleep has a significant effect on health. Children who lack sleep are sick more often, their school grades are often affected, and they’re more likely to be impulsive. Establish a five- to 10-minute bedtime routine for your kids that helps them be calm and ready for sleep. And avoid screen time—TV, iPads and so on—for about 90 minutes prior to bedtime.

Eating Patterns: Parents are in charge of what to eat, when to eat and where to eat. Your kids are in charge of how much to eat. After-school snacks are fine; think of them as part of a meal. And if your child eats after school and skips dinner, save all or part of their dinner and use it for tomorrow’s after-school snack. As a rule of thumb, it’s helpful to have less in the pantry, where many unhealthy snacks lurk, and more food stocked in your fridge, like fruits and veggies. Except for kids 2 and younger, kids shouldn’t eat for 90 minutes before they sleep. It’s difficult to sleep well when their bodies are digesting food.

Bowel Habits: Once our kids are old enough to use the bathroom by themselves, we are reluctant to discuss their bowel habits. However, parents must remember that kids don’t know what normal bowel movements are so they don’t know if something might be wrong. And if the bowels are backed up, the rest of the body doesn’t work well. Many kids will avoid the school restroom all day, so make sure they get a good breakfast and have enough time in the morning to use the bathroom before school. For younger kids, it’s worth rewarding them for sitting on the toilet after breakfast and dinner. Set a timer for 10 minutes, don’t pressure them to go, and let them relax and see if nature takes its course.

Coping Skills: Young children have a lot to learn, and it’s stressful trying to deal with all of it. A temper tantrum is a child’s first response when they try to cope but it’s not going their way. As parents, we need to teach kids how to calm themselves. Find out what helps them calm down. It could be physical activity, music, art, deep breathing, prayer, meditation or laughter. The best way to teach your children about how to handle stress is to model it in your own life. Your kids are watching your behavior. When you keep calm in stressful situations, they mimic your behavior.