Edward-Elmhurst Health asked in its Healthy Driven Blog, “Did you know the habits your kids are forming now will affect their health later in life?”
“Not only is it extremely important for kids to get all the vitamins, nutrients and physical activity they need to stay healthy, but habits formed early in life — both good and bad — can last a lifetime,” says Thomas McInerny, MD, FAAP, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Bad habits can have unhealthy consequences, such as obesity, which currently affects more than one in three children in the United States. Kids who are obese are 70 percent more likely to become obese adults, increasing the risk for health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Your child can learn healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits. It starts with you. Kids see and hear everything. Your child is learning by watching you. Be a positive role model. Send the message that good health is important to your whole family.
The AAP also offers some tips for parents to help your kids establish healthy habits. Make these part of your family’s daily routine:
Eat healthily. It is possible, even with picky eaters. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, in reasonably-sized portions. Encourage lots of water and limit sugars. Skip the soda! Learn how to read food labels together. Also, create a routine of regular meal times. Always eat at the table, and avoid distractions (like TV) at mealtime. Research shows kids who share a family meal are more well-adjusted and less likely to be obese, so eat a meal together as a family at least 3-4 times a week.
Be active each day, and make it fun. Encourage at least an hour of physical activity daily. Try different activities until your child finds something they enjoy (e.g., sports, karate, swimming, gymnastics, dance, etc.). Get moving as a family by walking, biking, playing tag, jumping rope, or swimming together.
Read every day. Developing strong reading skills is essential to your child’s success in school and at work as an adult. Make reading a part of your child’s everyday routine, such as at bedtime. Choose books your kids like so that they learn to enjoy reading. Check out 7 children’s books with 7 life lessons.
Limit screen time. Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, computer, iPad or tablet, cell phone or other electronic devices, to no more than 1-2 hours daily. These habits can increase the risk of obesity. Keep your child from becoming a media-addicted zombie.
Sleep well. Quality sleep will help your child fight off illness and stay healthy. You can help your child develop good sleep habits by creating a regular sleep routine, including a regular bedtime. Keep the TV out of your child’s bedroom. Learn how to get your kids to bed at a decent hour.
Encourage friendships. Friendships are very important to the healthy development of children. Playing with friends teaches kids valuable social skills such as cooperation, communication and problem-solving. Encourage your kids to have a variety of friends.
Talk about what to avoid. Teach your kids to wash their hands before eating. Talk to your kids about avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Get tips for talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol. Talk about safe driving.
As you approach the new year ahead, resolve to create healthy habits for your entire family. Make time to talk with your child and do things together. Most of all, make it a habit to tell your kids you love them each day.