These are unprecedented times. Some schools are asking parents to think of a stoplight or traffic light before sending children back for in-person instruction. In this situation, green indicates no symptoms, yellow denotes low-risk symptoms, like a runny nose only (a symptom typically associated with seasonal allergies) or symptoms that resolve themselves in 24 hours or less, and red light symptoms include a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, fever, and chills. Kids who get the green light attend school as usual, children with low-risk or yellow light symptoms should stay home for a day or two for observation, and students with red light symptoms should get tested for COVID-19.

Thankfully, after the pandemic, childcare will be much more straightforward. Still, even the best parents sometimes overlook things or do not have all the information they need to adequately improve their kids’ health.

Follow the tips below to keep kids healthy now and in years to come.

Know The Basics

Start with the basics. How often should kids exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? That depends on their age.

  • Children ages three to five years old. “Aim for at least three hours a day of activity of all intensities: light, moderate, and vigorous,” MedStar Health writes. To keep bones strong, encourage preschool children to skip, jump, and hop.
  • Kids, preteens, and teens ages six to 17-years-old. For children ages six to 17, at least one hour of moderate or vigorous activity per day is ideal. Taking part in muscle-strengthening activities at least two or more times per week is important for children’s and adolescents’ health as well. Swimming, walking, and mowing the lawn are examples of moderate activity, while running, soccer, jumping rope, and shoveling constitute vigorous activity. To work their muscles safely and in an age-appropriate way, have kids do sit-ups, push-ups, or play tug-of-war.

Limit Children’s Screen Time

In 2019, Internet users searched Google 5.8 billion times. Make sure your kids aren’t the ones making these searches — or at least make certain to limit children’s screen time per day. What are the recommendations from nation-wide healthcare providers? The answers will shock many parents.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the majority of kids — ages two to 17 should have no more than two hours of screen time per day. That includes smartphones, tablets, TV, video games, and computers. For infants and toddlers under two, the AAP suggests zero screen time if at all possible.

Use these tips to keep screen time within reason:

  • Set a good example. If you are constantly glued to your phone, asking your children not to use theirs may easily fall on deaf ears. Model a healthy relationship with technology whenever possible. Try to keep smartphones off the dinner table, and stay off your phone when you talk to your kids about their day.
  • Exercise and get the whole family involved. Again, act as a healthy role model. Don’t just send kids outside. Go outside with them! Go on a family bike ride or play a game of frisbee.
  • If you must use screens, be active while using them. Getting kids to exercise and move around under their terms is better than not getting them to exercise at all. Play games like Nintendo’s Arms or Playstation’s Knockout League for a good upper-body workout, get moving with video games that challenge you to dance along, like Just Dance and Dance Central, or get outside with kids while playing along on their screens with interactive games, like Pokemon Go.

Try A Change Of Scene

Sometimes a bit of novelty is all it takes to renew children’s interest in staying active. If kids are tired of kicking the ball around the yard, try mixing things up with a change of scene.

A family hike can work wonders. Hiking for just one mile may burn up to 500 calories. If your children are new to hiking, make sure to pick trails with plenty of unique features they can look forward to. Hike to a waterfall, lake, or mountain peak, and point out any areas of interest along the way. Get kids interested in hiking young, and reinforce the habit with plenty of positive reinforcement.

Don’t Underestimate The Importance Of Dental Health

Few adults realize how closely dental health is tied to overall well-being. That’s true for people of all ages, including very young children. Keeping kids active won’t be enough if you neglect their dental and oral health.

The importance of dental health cannot be understated. Untreated cavities may result in infections as well as “problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning,” the CDC writes. Cavities and dental problems are predictors of poor attendance at school and academic problems. Plus, cavities in baby teeth can lead to tooth decay and dental problems down the line — in adult teeth. Poor dental and oral hygiene as an adolescent or adult can lead to systemic problems, like heart attacks and stroke.

Even so, nearly half or 40% of kids have cavities before entering kindergarten. At four- or five-years-old, their teeth and gums are already unhealthy. It is clear that the message is not getting through. To protect your children’s teeth and gums, do the following:

  • Start when they’re young! When should you start caring for your children’s teeth and gums? Right away! Use a soft, clean cloth to wipe infants’ gums twice a day. When their teeth come in, use a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently brush them twice daily.
  • Establish a toothbrushing routine. As soon as kids are able to brush their teeth on their own, work it into their routine. Make it a habit, and make it fun. Purchase a toothbrush with their favorite movie character. Some varieties even play music for about two minutes — the length of time kids should be brushing.
  • Limit sugar. Be particularly careful about sticky, sugary foods, like chewy candies, caramel, gum, and dried fruits that cling to teeth and have the potential to cause lasting damage.

Keeping your kids healthy is a full-time job — and a multi-faceted one, too. First, keep kids active. Know the recommended amounts of exercise, keep kids’ screen time to a minimum, and get children moving in new and exciting ways, like taking a family hike. Tie it all together by being proactive about kids’ health appointments. Remember, that includes regular trips to the dentist!