7 ways to maximize your child’s health

When discussing the health of our children, the big picture perspective is hugely important. We often (I included) get side-tracked or preoccupied with specific symptoms or worrisome habits in our children. We want to know why those pesky ear infections keep coming back or why our kindergartner can’t seem to sit still for more than 3 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, symptoms are important to recognize and investigate; but we also must take a step back from time to time and look at the big picture. From how much sleep your child gets to how much time she spends looking at screens (TV, computer, iPads, iPhones, etc), the big picture matters.

It matters a whole lot.

So, here are my 7 tips to maximize your child’s health:

1. Family Dinner: I’m a huge fan of the family dinner, for so many reasons. It’s the time of day everyone can slow down, sit together, and enjoy a meal. Realistically, I know that weeknights are rushed. From work to baseball games, swimming lessons, and dance classes…getting home in time to prepare a family meal and eat together can be challenging. So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be dinner. Any meal you can all gather for is great.

Use this time to talk, discuss playground politics, what art projects were made that day, and tell your kids about your day too! Got toddlers? I love this post about toddlers and mealtimes. I remember the days when the kids just had to eat by 5 pm…or else! Thank goodness, I’ve got some leeway now and I can usually hold everyone off until about 6.

Making family meals a ritual will increase connectedness to your kids. Sure, it may feel like pulling teeth sometimes just to get them to talk about their day; but don’t give up. Kids, teens, and adults alike will thrive on this family time. Plus, this is the opportunity to talk about and model healthy eating. Discuss with your children the value of eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Make any screens absolutely off limits at the dinner table.

2.  Get outside: Get the family outside everyday. Kids need and thrive in nature. They also need one hour of heart-pumping physical activity per day. So, grab those bikes and helmets and just go. Being outdoors is really therapeutic. For everyone. So whether it’s an after dinner walk or a mid-day park session, make it a priority. I can’t tell you how much the outdoors has saved my sanity when I had a fussy baby, whiny toddler, or when I myself was particularly grumpy. An instant mood lifter indeed.

3.  Don’t smoke: Exposure to second-hand smoke has real health consequences for children. From recurrent ear infections to triggering asthma attacks, second-hand smoke is neither good for you or your kids.

4. Vaccinate: Receiving the recommended vaccines for your children is the cornerstone of preventative health in pediatrics. With recent Measles and Whooping Cough outbreaks, we know how important vaccines are in preventing potentially serious diseases. Make sure your child is up-to-date and that includes your teens and yourself. It’s so important to discuss any concerns or questions you  may have with your child’s doctor. Work together and keep the lines of communication open. I love this Q&A regarding the current vaccine schedule and timing of vaccines.

5. Limit screen time: Television isn’t the only screen we have to monitor these days. It is extremely important to keep total screen time to less than 2 hours per day for your children. Do your best to have a no screen policy for the under two set. Know where your teens are online, because they are online…so you should be too. See this recent study on background TV and aim to just keep it off when no one is watching.

Have a “no screens” in the bedroom or at the dinner table rule. This includes phones, iPads, and handheld gaming devices.

Our family is definitely struggling with trying to find that balance. We all love our different media. I often set timers to remind everyone when it’s time to move on to another activity. Plus, we’re going Screen Free next week. Hold me.

6. Sleep matters: If you are able to put one thing at the top of your parenting to-do list, this should be it…get your kids to bed on time and make sure they’re getting the rest they need. Of course, this goes for us parents too. Sleep deprivation has long lasting and detrimental health effects on children and adults alike. From decreased attention to weight gain, getting the right quality and quantity of sleep matters. See this post on the interlink between sleep disruption and ADHD.

So please, create consistent and calming nap and bedtime routines…from babyhood through teenhood. These good sleep habits will have huge positive impacts on your child’s physical and emotional health.

7. Time for you: No doubt you’ve heard this countless times before…but make time for you. Whether it’s 20 minutes on the elliptical or a 20 minute coffee break with a good book or a good friend, your health matters too. Find something everyday that brings you joy and satisfaction and make it a habit. Your family will be gifted with a happier and well-rested Mama.

So, there you have it…my big picture of children’s health. Things you don’t need a prescription for; but if you can incorporate them into your daily routine, they will pay off big time. And, don’t worry…some days I only accomplish 50% of this list, some days I reach 100%. Remember, it’s all about the big picture.

Like tonight, our family dinner is a no-go since the hubs is traveling and Big Brother has evening baseball practice. It’s okay…there’s always tomorrow.

I take comfort in knowing that today I’m doing my best and…there’s always tomorrow.

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5 Responses to 7 ways to maximize your child’s health
  1. Craig Canapari MD
    April 24, 2012 | 1:07 pm

    Melissa– thanks as always for your insightful posts, and for linking back to me! In my practice I tend to deal more more illness than wellness, but these tools are so important for children and families. I find that minimizing screen time and increasing outdoor time are critical in helping children with behavioral issues.

  2. Katherine
    April 24, 2012 | 2:55 pm

    This is awesome. It encompasses so many of the things that we try to do for our kids. Family dinner is a huge deal in our house. Actually, now I’m inspired to do a post about our family dinners.

  3. Adriel
    April 24, 2012 | 5:38 pm

    Love every word of this. You know how I like big picture ANYTHING! :) Parenting is no exception. So important.

    #7 is what I struggle with most. I do take some me-time, but it’s generally or blogging and writing. I love it, and it’s life-giving for me, but I realize that I also need some non-screentime-me-time 😉 every day. Just 20 min reading a book (like you mentioned) before bed works perfectly!! Some days I make it happen, other days not. I’m working on it though!

  4. Jessica
    April 25, 2012 | 5:53 pm

    Great post, and I agree with all you’ve said. The screen time one is a big one in our house. I find that the more we are away from computers and TVs and other electronic devices, the more we remember to be creative, to connect, to be present.

  5. Stefanie
    May 1, 2012 | 12:18 pm

    This was a great post! Thank you for sharing. I completely agree with everything you wrote!