The U.S. is experiencing a health and wellness epidemic — and unfortunately that means our kids are, too! New nutritional guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend children consume no more than 25 grams or six teaspoons of added sugar per day. For children under age two, the AHA recommends no added sugars at all. Only 33% of kids exercise daily and one in three U.S. children are overweight or obese.
These are troubling figures with dire consequences. Left unchecked, these unhealthy habits may set our children up for lifelong weight problems, poor heart health, and insulin resistance, as well as cavities and tooth decay. The good news is there are small adjustments you can make at home to teach your child healthy behaviors and make these behaviors into habits.
1. Normalize Visits To The Doctor And Dentist
Keep kids’ doctor and dentist appointments. If you take toddlers to see the doctor and/or dentist with relative frequency, they will become accustomed to the experience, saving you headaches later. Kids continue to reach developmental milestones, like walking, talking, and brain development, up until age five. For that reason, they need to see the doctor an absolute minimum of once per year until they are five. After age five, kids should go every few years, or when they are sick with severe symptoms, like especially high fevers. Considering a bad cold can develop anywhere from one to three days after coming into contact with the virus, this is especially important to keep in mind.
Establishing these habits young is important. Visiting the doctor regularly–or taking part in preventative care–can catch serious illnesses and conditions before they happen. Starting at age 65, a full 70% of Americans will need ongoing, long-term care. With preventative healthcare from a young age, U.S. men and women can stay healthier and more independent longer.
Similarly, regular dental care catches problems before they are severe. Unfortunately, 60% of kids ages five to 10 show signs of totally preventable tooth decay. Regular dental visits can help eliminate this decay or keep it to an absolute minimum.
Dentists may make additional suggestions, such as encouraging kids to brush their teeth more often (there are electric brushes that play songs for kids so they know how long to brush!), limiting sweets, or getting braces or Invisalign for your child. Most Invisalign aligners, for example, are temporary trays your child would wear most times — not while eating — and swap out every two weeks or so. Braces and Invisalign may enhance the appearance of teeth, but they also make them easier to clean, too. Fixing overbites, underbites, and crooked teeth gets rid of awkward or cramped spaces, helping kids brush and floss and remove all traces of foods and sweets that may result in tooth decay. Your child should go to their first orthodontic check-up at about seven years old. This will help ensure that you can correct any alignment issues early on and make their dental
2. Encourage Your Kids to Eat Healthy and Try New Foods
A healthy diet means a healthy child. Kids should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and it is best to limit sweets and candies to rare occasions only, making them a true “sometimes food.” Leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and protein are the best choices for your child. To keep children’s teeth cavity-free and their weight at a healthy level, avoid using candy, cake, and ice cream as frequent rewards. Instead, treat kids with stickers, marbles, and small toys. Of course, you can also use healthy snacks as rewards, such as mandarin orange slices.
This is also a great time to introduce kids to new foods. Experts recommend avoiding feeding kids too many white breads and starches as well as too many sweets. Keep plates colorful and make a point to give your child something new at least semi-regularly. According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, most young children will outgrow picky eating habits, but sticking to these tips can significantly speed up the process. With some persistence, your child may even be eating seafood! This is definitely an option to consider, given that 88% of people enjoy fish for its many health benefits.
3. Teach Kids Good Hygiene Now
Don’t wait to teach kids basic hygiene. Start young and teach kids to shower and/or bathe regularly, wash their hands after using the bathroom and before meals, cover their mouth when they cough and their nose when they sneeze, and to brush and floss every day. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) reports that nearly three-fourths of people believe imperfect teeth or an unattractive smile can negatively impact your career. Teach kids to brush, floss, and go to the dentist young, and they won’t have to worry.
4. Make Exercise Fun
Exercise should not feel like a chore or punishment, particularly to kids. Avoid promising kids they can play hours of their favorite video game if they go outside first. Make play and going outside the desirable thing to do. Play active video games, like games with dance mats, or help kids discover their favorite outdoor activity, whether that means tag, soccer, catch, hula hooping, or jumping rope.
5. Introduce Children To Mental And Emotional Wellness
Finally, make sure to introduce important ideas to your children young. One of those all-important ideas is that health is not just about your physical well-being. Doing this can range from getting off your phone and being present while you parent, normalizing and validating all emotions, including frustration, anger, and sadness, or even introducing kids to mindfulness and meditation practices. Not only can starting these practices now help children manage their relationship with themselves, but it can help them in their relationship with others. By 2022, the number of co-working spaces is projected to rise to over 6,200 in the United States. By the time your little one is old enough to start their career, that number will likely be even higher. Instilling healthy mental and emotional practices now can help them work with others better in the future.
For very young children, mindfulness experts recommend starting out by making it into a game. Place a teddy bear on a child’s stomach and have them lie down on the floor, noticing when the teddy bear moves up and back down again. This is teaching them to notice their breath, improve focus, and lower stress, but doing it in a sneaky way that doesn’t seem pushy or boring.
Form lifelong healthy habits by starting young! Small, simple actions performed over and over again help form habits for months and years to come, sometimes even well into adulthood. Break the steps above into smaller increments and small tasks for the best results.