By: Crystal Wu

It can’t be denied that children today are faced with an increasing number of potential health risks. According to a study conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, the top 10 health concerns for children in 2017 included unhealthy eating, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise–problems that could in fact be avoided by paying more attention to the daily habits of your little ones. To prevent such troubles from knocking on your door, it becomes crucial for parents to develop good habits together with their children.

Below, we explore the healthy habits you and your family can establish and learn tips for incorporating these habits into your daily routine.

Food, Cooking and Dining

Include Children in Weekly Menu and Grocery Shopping Decisions

Even from birth, parents can expose their babies to the grocery store by bringing them along on shopping trips and allowing them to touch and smell a variety of produce. As kids get older, parents can encourage kids to pick what they want to eat for the week and assist with grocery shopping. For example, if they want pasta night, ask them to pick one or two veggies at the store to mix into the sauce. Because they had a say into what is going on their plate, chances are higher that they’ll eat what they chose.

Prepare Meals Together

Give your children a chance to help prepare a meal with you. Assign simple, age-appropriate tasks to avoid safety problems. They get to learn more about food, ingredients, and nutritional balance during the process, and they are more likely to eat what they have made.

Eat and Chew Thoroughly

The health benefits of slow eating have been emphasized by a number of studies. Not only can eating and chewing thoroughly aid in digestion and hydration, they give your body a chance to recognize fullness and signal your brain that you have had enough. Help your child cultivate this good habit by pausing frequently during mealtimes and not forcing them to finish the food on their plate when they say they are full.

Fruit and Veggies Everyday

Ensure your child has a balanced diet by offering fruits and vegetables at every meal. Produce contains fiber, minerals, and vitamins that promote health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least half the plate of each meal should be filled with fruits and vegetables.

Snacks Aren’t the Best Rewards

When kids finish their homework on time, help with chores or treat others nicely, it is common for parents to encourage them with a scoop of ice cream or a piece of chocolate. It’s not wrong to reward them for a job well done, but parents should aim to choose rewards that are not food, such as an extra story at bed time, a trip to a local park or family movie night.

Physical Activity

The 30-Minute Rule

You and your kids should participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activities per day together that you all enjoy. This is not for weight management but to improve your heart health and stamina. It’s okay if you can’t find a complete half hour to exercise, as shorter time periods can add up. Keep in mind that most forms of play count as movement, as well.

Walk, Walk, Walk!

Walking is in fact one of the most enjoyable family activities. It doesn’t make you tired or sweaty, and it even allows you to understand more about your kids by having a chat with them during the walk. Starting today, plan a family walk after dinner.

Active Weekends

We all agree that weekends should be relaxing, but this doesn’t mean you should let your kids watch TV at home for the entire day. Go outside with them and get sporty by doing activities such as hiking, biking or simply going to a playground. Remember: the best way to help children make the habit of physical activity is to let them know how fun it can be.

Chores with Kids

If you are too busy with chores on weekends to bring your kids outside, why not invite them to do chores with you? Active chores such as walking the dog or doing the laundry could be done together with your little ones. This is a wonderful chance for the whole family to move around and teach them how crucial it is to keep the house clean.

Hygiene

Dental Health

Even if your kids are so little that you must brush their teeth for them, start making them aware of the use of toothpaste at an earlier stage. Parents can introduce non-fluoride toothpaste with the arrival of their baby’s first tooth and incorporate brushing as part of the bedtime routine. While you’re at it, take time to teach your kids how to floss as well. According to the American Dental Association, flossing plays an important role in tooth and gum health, and not doing so could lead to diseases or cavities.

Handwashing

To prevent your children from consuming germs and bacteria, always remind them to wash their hands (or wash their hands for them if they can’t reach the sink alone). It’s not just after bathroom visits, but also before meals and after playing outside. If you think your kids may forget to use hand soap, give them a series of simple steps to memorize and follow. You might even consider printing and posting instructions by the sink. A fun way to remember to wash hands for the recommended length of time is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song while you lather and rinse.

No Nail Biting

We know that bitten nails look ugly, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of bacteria and viruses are hidden under your fingernails, and some of them could get people sick while others simply harm your teeth.

Cover your mouth

It’s quite common for little kids to fall ill, especially when they first start daycare, return to school from break or during the winter months. However, we don’t want our children to be the ones infecting others with their cold. This is why we always have to remind them to cover their nose and mouth with their sleeves or elbow when they cough or sneeze.

Technology and Sleep

How are technology and sleep habits related? Studies show that technology use within two hours of going to sleep negatively impacts a child’s sleep patterns. And it’s not only their cartoons you have to worry about—if you’re guilty of looking at your phone while putting your child to sleep, the blue light will make it harder for them to settle for the night. Follow these habits to ensure a healthy and restful night’s sleep for everyone:

Time Limitations

When you notice your child asking for more and more time with video games, TV shows or smartphone apps, it’s time to limit their usage. A recent study found that children from age eight to 18 spend an average of seven hours per day looking at a screen and the American Heart Association recommends cutting that number to two hours. For younger children, age two to five, the recommended maximum is one hour. Whatever you decide for your family, make it a firm cut off and do not give into persuasion. Addiction to these tech goods could result in bad eyesight, poor sleep habits and other serious health problems.

Explore Different Avenues for Entertainment and Expression

When you enact time limits on technology, make sure you explore alternative options to provide entertainment and an avenue for your child to express themselves. Whether that’s music, writing, reading, board games or art, carving out one or two hours of non-technology activities per day will serve to fulfill the role that technology may have in your child’s life.

Sleep Routine

Sleep well, grow well. To ensure that your kids always have a good night’s sleep, you have to keep an eye on their sleep routines. From the first day your child arrives in your home, establish a bed time routine and stick with it. For newborns, this can include bath time, diaper and pajama change, a bottle, story time and then putting them in their crib. Sticking to the schedule every day helps to establish healthy sleep habits and minimizes fuss when it’s bedtime. As role models, parents also shouldn’t stay up too late, or else your children may try to imitate your daily schedule!

Helping your children establish healthy habits is undoubtedly something urgent, and the “it’s never too late” slogan doesn’t work here. As studies have shown, habits that are developed before age nine follow them until they graduate high school, and therefore you should get started during your children’s early years.

Instead of just telling them to do this and that, show them how you will do it and let them learn by trying. Be patient and continue to remind them if they accidentally forget any step. Keep in mind that when they gradually grow into teens and adults, the healthy habits you established as a family in childhood will help them cope with the challenges they encounter.