Raising a healthy child.
At first glance, it sounds so simple. I mean, we have been raising kids for thousands of years. We must have a pretty good idea of what we are doing by now, right?
Well, maybe not.
Over the last few years, the health of our children has been declining at an alarming pace. Rates of childhood obesity across the globe have reached an all-time high, while childhood activity levels are still decreasing rapidly.
It is abundantly clear that modern society is not designed to raise healthy children – which is why the responsibility sits with you.
Establishing good routines
When it comes to raising a happy child (and of course, raising a healthy child) routines are king.
Don’t get me wrong – I realize that this may sound rather simple, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
See, implementing a solid daily routine can have two very key benefits for your children. Firstly, developing a daily family routine will give your child a sense of safety, consistency, and security at home. Secondly, it will set them up with good habits for the rest of their life.
This means setting up normal mealtimes, normal wake times, and normal bedtimes. It also means that you need to outline your daily expectations clearly and concisely, to provide your kids with a sense of certainty.
It may be hard to believe, but there is a large body of evidence clearly demonstrating that having these consistent routines can improve nearly every facet of your child’s health (Kitsaras, 2018; Marsh, 2019).
Eating fruits and vegetables at every meal (including breakfast)
One of the key components that come with raising healthy children is raising healthy eaters.
It just makes sense.
We know that those children who eat a diet full of junk foods, soft drink, and processed carbohydrates, are going to be at an increased risk of:
- Becoming overweight or obese
- Developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Displaying poor cognitive function
- Having poor mental health
Moreover, to make matters worse, we also know that children who eat worse during childhood are more likely to eat poorly as an adult – which means what your kids eat now will dictate what they eat for the rest of their lives (Ambrosini, 2014).
Which is why healthy eating for kids is so damn important.
And it starts with fruits and vegetables (Dhandevi, 2015).
Fruits and vegetables are full to the brim with important vitamins and minerals that aid in your child’s physical and mental development. Moreover, they are also much less energy-dense than most other foods, which means that eating a lot of them will have positive implications for weight management.
So make sure you include a serve of fruit or vegetables in every single one of your child’s meals – not only will it benefit their health in the short term, but it will set a foundation of healthy eating habits that will last them the rest of their lives.
Importance of organic food especially on children
While we are on the topic of diet, I very quickly wanted to touch on the importance of organic food.
Organic food is that which has not been treated with any nasty chemicals (think herbicides and pesticides) during growth or production. Some people also like to consider free-range and grass-fed animal products to be ‘organic’ when compared to grain-fed and caged alternatives, as well as those animals treated with antibiotics during growth.
There is a reason to believe that the consumption of inorganic foods can have negative implications on cognitive function and may even impair natural growth and development (Mie, 2017).
While the research in this area is somewhat sparse, there is enough reason to believe that organic foods are going to offer your children the best chance of success.
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Healthy kid recommendations
In conjunction with diet, there are several different things that you can do to make sure your kids are as healthy as humanly possible.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into some of the most important health kid recommendations.
Did you know that US government has some very clear exercise recommendations for kids?
Well, they do.
The American physical activity guidelines clearly state that children should get in 60 minutes or more of physical activity every single day (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).
Within this, it is strongly recommended that the bulk of that 60 minutes is comprised of either moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity – while ensuring that for at least 3 days per week it is vigorous.
It is also recommended that children perform some physical activity that places a priority on the strengthening of muscle and bone on at least 3 days of the week.
This means that exercise should be an integral component of your daily routine.
Sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for your body. It is when your body recovers from exercise. It is also when memory and learning is consolidated in the brain (Matricciani, 2013).
In short, sleep is essential for your child’s growth and development – and fortunately, like exercise, there are some very clear recommended amounts of sleep for kids:
- Infants aged 4 to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Kids aged 1 to 2 years should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children aged 3 to 5 years should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children aged 6 to 12 years should sleep 9 to 12 hours per night
- Adolescents aged 13 to 18 years should sleep 8 to 10 hours per night
These recommendations should give you some very clear insight into what times you need to set the bedtime and wake time for your kid’s daily routines.
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The importance of downtime
Something that is often overlooked is the importance of downtime for kids.
As parents, we often feel the need to structure every aspect of our children’s lives – we fill it with study, sports, and a host of extracurricular activities.
And this is great – but what we need to remember is that they also need downtime (Barker, 2014).
See, periods of unstructured play where a child is left to their own devices are integral for developing creative thinking, imagination, and higher-order cognitive function.
In fact, there is research to suggest that those children who have periods of unstructured play embedded within their daily routines tend to display better cognitive function than those who only have structured play (such as the activities listed above).
However, I should note that the type of play is still important. Ideally, you want them playing outside, making up games, reading, or being creative.
Which leads us to our next pint quite nicely…
What screen time does to your brain
See, one of the things you want to avoid when it comes to downtime is screen time.
Too much time in front of the TV, laptop, or phone, has been shown to have a detrimental effect on child health. These effects can include (Stiglic, 2019):
- Less physical activity and poor fitness
- Increased risk of behavior problems
- Heightened incidence of depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and inattention
- Poorer self-esteem, lower well-being, and poorer psychosocial health,
- Increased risk of metabolic syndrome
- Worse cognitive development
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty learning
Very simply try and limit your kid’s screen time to around an hour per day.
Importance of risky play
Closely related to downtime is the concept of risky play.
Over the last decade or so, we have started to place a huge emphasis on safety. While this has come with some obvious positives, many would argue that we have taken it one step too far – wrapping our children in cotton wool so thick that they are unable to truly experience the world around them.
See, exposure to risk is a very important thing.
It teaches a child to recognize potential dangers, evaluate challenges, and decide on a resulting course of action. In this manner, exposure to risk teaches a child how to think critically and navigate the world around them.
Risky play can be defined as a thrilling and exciting play that may include the possibility of injury.
This means playing at height, at speed, near dangerous elements (such as water or fire), rough and tumble play (AKA play fighting), or where there is the potential risk of getting lost, are all types of risky play.
And the kicker?
They have all shown been shown to improve cognitive and physical development, while also having the capacity to improve health (Brussoni, 2015).
So, in short – encourage risky and unstructured play.
Benefits of getting outdoors every day on health
Last but not least, I wanted to focus on the benefits of going outside (Herrington, 2015).
In conjunction with all this play, there is an additional benefit for getting your kids outside in nature, and ultimately exploring the world around them.
Exposure to nature has been shown to cause a marked improvement in mental health. Moreover, unstructured play in nature will expose your child to a myriad of environmental surfaces that they must navigate successfully – thus enhancing their motor development.
With this in mind, if you make sure some of the activity you encourage is outdoors, then you are heading in the right direction.
Parent’s role – It’s a family affair
What about the parent’s role in a kid’s health?
There is a whole lot of research clearly demonstrating that if you (AKA the parent) display healthy lifestyle choices, then you can guarantee that your children are going to do the same (Davison, 2017).
While this may seem obvious at first glance, it does not make it any less important.
If you eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, then these foods are going to be considered normal by your children. Additionally, if you rarely eat unhealthy snacks, then this food is going to appear abnormal in comparison.
The same can be said of exercise, screen time, and sleep.
As a result, you can simply help your child develop healthy habits by role modeling those habits and normalizing healthy behaviors.
Do as I do is just as important as do as I say – in fact, it may even be more important.
In today’s society raising healthy kids is often easier said than done.
In fact, it requires a lot of time and even more effort.
However, using the tips outlined in this article you can start to make some real health change in your child, setting them up for a lifetime of success in the process.
Kitsaras, George, et al. “Bedtime routines child wellbeing & development.” BMC public health 18.1 (2018): 386.
Marsh, Samantha, et al. “Promotion of Family Routines and Positive Parent-Child Interactions for Obesity Prevention: Protocol for the 3 Pillars Study Randomized Controlled Trial.” JMIR research protocols 8.4 (2019): e12792.
Ambrosini, Gina L. “Childhood dietary patterns and later obesity: a review of the evidence.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 73.1 (2014): 137-146.
Dhandevi, P. E. M., and Rajesh Jeewon. “Fruit and vegetable intake: benefits and progress of nutrition education interventions-narrative review article.” Iranian journal of public health 44.10 (2015): 1309.
Mie, Axel, et al. “Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review.” Environmental Health 16.1 (2017): 111.
US Department of Health and Human Services. “2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.” http://www. health. gov/paguidelines/ (2008).
Matricciani, Lisa, et al. “Children’s sleep needs: is there sufficient evidence to recommend optimal sleep for children?.” Sleep 36.4 (2013): 527-534.
Barker, Jane E., et al. “Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.” Frontiers in psychology 5 (2014): 593.
Stiglic, Neza, and Russell M. Viner. “Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: a systematic review of reviews.” BMJ open 9.1 (2019): e023191.
Brussoni, Mariana, et al. “What is the relationship between risky outdoor play and health in children? A systematic review.” International journal of environmental research and public health 12.6 (2015): 6423-6454.
Herrington, Susan, and Mariana Brussoni. “Beyond physical activity: the importance of play and nature-based play spaces for children’s health and development.” Current obesity reports 4.4 (2015): 477-483.
Davison, Brittany, et al. “The association between parent diet quality and child dietary patterns in nine-to eleven-year-old children from Dunedin, New Zealand.” Nutrients 9.5 (2017): 483.