We all had that vision in our heads of what we wanted to be like when we became parents. Daydreams of tea parties, walks in the parks, picnics, and watching your kid score the winning goal at soccer.
Then we had kids and we realized we live on coffee, not tea – the walk in the park is nonexistent because we’re all too busy for such frivolousness – picnics only happen when we have non-stop activities and we’re forced to pack a dinner, open the hatchback and eat in the back of the car – and you realize your kid is not good at soccer and it’s painful to watch.
Okay, so having kids is not about watching their angelic faces at night as they sleep, but deep down we all want the best for our kids and most of us wouldn’t change a thing, regardless of how crazy and dysfunctional it seems.
Today’s kids, and parents for that matter, are busier than ever and life gets hectic. However, there is one thing that we all want – happy and healthy kids.
While I don’t feel super successful all the time and there are setbacks, I don’t feel like I’m failing at teaching my kids to be healthy. I’m giving them the tools while they’re young, so when they get older and I’m not around, maybe they’ll make good choices 75%…okay 50% of the time. It’s a start.
- They Sleep: During the school year, we are strict about bedtimes on school nights. Early to rise, early to bed. That’s just the way it is. A sleepy kid does not thrive in school, a sleepy kid does not make good choices, a sleepy kid is more likely to get sick. I do not like sick kids. I make them sleep. Younger kids require more sleep than older kids. Get to know your kids and how much sleep they need.
- They Choose Water: From an early age, we have taught the importance of drinking water. We don’t keep soda in the house and we rarely have juice. What has this done? I have a 10 year old who can’t stand the taste of soda and chooses water about 75% of the time, I’ll take it. Take comfort in the fact that while kids may choose juice while they are younger, if you continue to offer and stress the importance of water, they will get it and they will learn to make good choices.
- They Eat Fruits and Vegetables: This should not be a huge shocker, but it’s a biggie. The toddler years can be the most challenging with this one, but rest assured, this too shall pass. Parents set the example on this one. If parents eat it, eventually kids will take up the same habit. Resist the urge to pick the onions out of your salad or the raw tomatoes off your sandwich. Little eyes are watching, observing and will pick up on your behavior. Find out what they love and encourage them to eat what they love and keep an open mind to what they don’t. Not all kids will love all fruits and vegetables and that’s okay.
- They Go Outside: Sunshine is amazing, mud puddles are amazing, rain is amazing, snow is amazing. For adults, these things are not always amazing, but for kids, they are. Let them outside to explore, be alone, walk, sing, splash, build igloos or just be. Let their minds drift off into another world. This is where they learn to be who they are. It also gets them a healthy dose of vitamin D and I wouldn’t be a good dietitian if I didn’t tout the wonders of vitamin D. Children spend too much time indoors and we could all use a little more vitamin D. Disclaimer: Don’t spend too much time out in the sun unprotected, healthy kids also wear skin protection to prevent sunburns.
- They Stay Active or Creative: This one also shouldn’t be surprising. Kids who are regularly active or involved in regular physical activity are less likely to become overweight or obese. That also means they are less likely to get the chronic diseases that come along with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. If kids are involved in organized physical activity and sports, it also brings on the added benefit to learning good sportsmanship and the ability to model good behavior. Let’s face it though, not all kids are interested in sports or organized physical activity. Finding a way to be creative that also gets kids moving, such as building forts or obstacle courses, building sand castles, gardening, or playing musical instruments.
- They Listen to Their Bodies: As adults, it can be very difficult to practice self control and listen to our hunger cues. If it’s hard for us, just think how hard it is for a child. This may be the hardest habit for a young child to keep. Most babies and even toddlers stop eating when they are full. At some point, kids shift from having 1 cookie for dessert to eating their entire bag of Halloween candy. Stressing the importance of stopping when they’re full and eating when they’re hungry is a habit they will take with them until they are older.
- They Limit Their Sweets: Now, kids will be kids and if your kids are like mine, they love some sugar. Let’s face it, we all love sugar. Limiting sugar when kids are little is the job of the parent. Setting this groundwork will carry them on to school years and beyond. For older kids, having a conversation about which foods are “sometimes foods” is part of the parenting process. They may not always make the decision you would want for them, but reinforcement works -don’t give up.
There you have it. Now, this is not an exact science, just as children are not merely little adults. Work with them, teach them, be a role model for health. If we all do that, we will build a healthier generation.