Start when they are young! Helping kids live a healthy lifestyle is something parents, teachers and other adults in a child’s life need to model and practice consistently. Children will develop healthy habits just as easily as they will develop unhealthy habits IF the healthy habits are implemented early.
According to the CDC, the obesity rate among children has tripled since the 1970’s and it’s not difficult to determine the factors that contribute to this. Obesity is just one measure that points to risk of a score of health problems for children as they grow. With technological entertainment literally at children’s finger tips and processed snacks, drive-through meals and sugary drinks so frequently consumed it’s easy to see the lifestyle we provide children has an effect on their health and wellbeing.
Helping kids live a healthy lifestyle requires instilling healthy habits.
By introducing children from the start to the practice of choosing whole foods and limiting screen time, we can help them develop a brighter future where they’re not held back by unhealthy habits.
Here’s what the Childhood Specialists Recommend:
Active and Interactive Play is Essential.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent clinical research study, children NEED to play for optimal brain functioning and overall wellbeing and pediatricians are now being called to promote play as the essential component of a child’s healthy development. We play therapists have known this all along and now there is hard science to prove it. The kind of play needed is the kind children naturally engage in, not the kind had with video games or electronic devices.
Parents are Key to Healthy Nutritional Habits.
According to a study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, parents are the #1 influencer of how children eat; therefore, parents have a big responsibility for helping their children live a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition experts recommend parents introduce children to a variety of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and serve fruit infused water (you can even buy water online) instead of juices and sodas.
Snacks should be apple slices, grapes and carrot sticks instead of crackers, cookies and other processed foods. Parents will do well to prepare meals at home more often instead of relying on drive-through pick ups. And teaching children how to use the kitchen is a great idea. Teach kids how to prepare certain foods and then teach them how to cook them along with lessons on safety in the kitchen.
Emotional Health for Kids Counts.
The adults in a child’s life also influence the child’s ability to have a healthy relationship with his emotions. Identifying, expressing and managing emotions is a skill you can practice and teach to your child. According to Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising and Emotionally Intelligent child (affiliate link) says that all feelings have purpose and that children who are taught through emotion coaching to express and manage big emotions effectively are overall healthier and higher achieving as they grow and develop.
Children Need to Move!
“A very strong predictor of academic achievement was how early kids were moving, exploring their world. . .When kids can explore their surroundings, all of a sudden, things change,” said Sian Beilock, PhD, President of Barnard College and former professor of psychology and kinesiology at University of Chicago.
Researchers show that children learn concepts through acting out and moving their bodies. Not only is physical movement essential for physical health but it also needs to be a part of a child’s every day most of the day. If a child is in front of a screen playing video games, she is not getting the benefits of healthy movement.
Children Need Time in Nature.
Research studies show that being outdoors in nature helps children to better manage and navigate stressful events, improve focus and ability to learn and builds self confidence. Once again, too much time in front of screens is preventing many children from getting enough time outdoors. (If you’re a therapist, get my FREE play therapy training about bringing Nature into the play room here!)
Children Need to Feel Connected.
“When your kids feel connected to you, there is less need to act out. You are in tune with them. They know you are in their corner and on their side. They feel loved and don’t need to beg for more attention, response or emotion,” says Parenting Coach and Therapist, Nicole Schwarz, LMFT. Attachment based schools of thought teach that children need from the very beginning to be seen, heard, touched, responded to in a way that helps them to develop a sense of security that their needs will be met and they are not alone. The adults in children’s lives can connect with kids by making eye contact while listening intently to what they are sharing, by extending affection and comfort regularly. Children also need to have experiences of feeling connected with peers so encouraging interactive play with other kids is also key.
Helping kids have a healthy lifestyle requires dedicated efforts to build the daily experiences around choices and habits that can become automatic when practiced regularly. Incorporating the above tips and tools into your interactions with your child will create a way of life that will benefit your child for a lifetime.