Teach your children well

By Edward (Ted) Chaplain, M.D., family medicine and obstetrics, Providence Medical Group-The Plaza

The best gifts we give our children are not the things we buy them for the holidays, but the things we teach them every day. Dolls and action figures are soon forgotten, but the health habits that we teach our children form the foundation for their well-being for life.

Kids learn more than we’d ever expect from our daily examples. Everything we say and do, every move we make and every bite we eat teaches them something. As we round the bend of another year on the calendar, let’s resolve to teach them well.

Teach them to play it safe.
Show them how fun it is to be active.
Set a healthy example at mealtime.
Make sure they never become smokers.

Teach them to play it safe.

Accidents are the No. 1 cause of death and disability in children ages 2 and older. While parents can’t protect kids from every bump and bruise, we can teach them how to reduce their risks of accidents, injuries and other mishaps. Check this list to make sure you’re covering the safety essentials with them:

  • Use car seats correctly when driving with infants and toddlers, and make sure all other passengers – including you – always buckle up.
  • Make sure your toddlers know your name, phone number and address in case they get lost, and how to dial 911 in case of an emergency.
  • Teach youngsters about stranger danger.
  • Make sure your kids wear helmets when riding bikes, scooters and skateboards – and wear one yourself. The same goes for skiing and snowboarding. Learn more about safety on the slopes.
  • Teach kids the rules for street safety – and follow the rules yourself.
  • Drive safely, and teach your teens to be safe drivers.
  • Learn more about kids and safety.

Show them how fun it is to be active.

For optimal health, kids need to run, jump, skip, hop, lift, climb and be active in other ways for at least 60 minutes a day, starting at age 6. Physical activity helps them build strong bones and muscles, boosts their immune systems, improves academic performance, reduces stress and depression, keeps weight in check and improves their overall health. Not only that, but when kids grow up with physical activity as part of their daily lives, they’re much more likely to stay active – and healthy – into adulthood. Show them how fun it is to live an active life:

  • Be a good role model by making regular exercise a priority for yourself. Don’t use kids as an excuse not to exercise – instead, make them the reason why you need to stay active.
  • Challenge the whole family to an activity goal, such as walking 500 miles in a year, with a reward at the end for achieving it together. Encourage each other and track your progress daily. Next year, raise the goal.
  • Instigate short, fun activity bursts throughout the day: a quick walk together, a 15-minute jump-rope challenge, a spontaneous “silly dance” contest.
  • Remind your kids that they are waterproof – they won’t melt if it’s sprinkling a little outside.
  • Sign up the whole family for weekend activities, such as organized hikes and bike rides. Here are some great ideas to help you get active as a family in all kinds of weather.
  • Recognize that TVs, computers and video games are the enemy of activity. I recommend limiting screen time to less than an hour a day, establishing a weekly screen-free day, and using screen time for education as well as entertainment.
  • Get more ideas here.

Set a healthy example at mealtime.

Teaching our children to make healthy food choices can help them avoid obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other serious health problems that can start in childhood and continue throughout their lives. We set them up to succeed or fail by the choices we make available to them. Keeping donuts next to the fruit bowl, for example, is counterproductive. But if we make all the options winning choices, our kids can’t lose. Get your kids off to a great start in life by making it easy for them to make healthy choices:

  • Your children’s food choices start in your cart. Shop smart by staying away from the aisles of chips, sweets and sodas, and fill your cart with healthy foods.
  • Stock healthy snacks where kids can easily reach them – keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, cut-up vegetable sticks in the fridge, and whole-grain crackers in the cupboard.
  • Kids can be picky about vegetables, but chances are, they like at least one. Offer that one, plus another one, at each meal, and keep trying new ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your family’s diet.
  • Don’t keep sugary fruit drinks or sodas in the house. Kids – and adults – should get most of their calories from food, not sweetened drinks.
  • In the cloudy Northwest, kids need to get most of their vitamin D from food. Low-fat milk and fortified cereals (as long as they are low in sugar and high in fiber) are good choices for supplying D.
  • Learn more great ways to help your children learn healthy eating habits.

Make sure they never become smokers.

Remember, we are our children’s primary teachers. If we smoke, they are much more likely to become smokers, as well. If you missed last month’s article on how to make sure your kids never become smokers, read it here.

That’s a lot to think about, and there’s more, to be sure. It’s a big responsibility, this parenting stuff. We can’t just go to the mall and buy our children a healthy future. But we can take them out for a walk, give them nutritious food choices and show them, through our daily examples, how to live an active, healthy life. That’s a gift they’ll appreciate for life.

About Dr. Chaplain

Edward (Ted) Chaplain, M.D., provides family medicine and obstetrics care at Providence Medical Group-The Plaza.

Watch his video bio

Is there a children’s health issue you’d like to understand better? Bookmark our online library for clear information on building a child’s self-esteem, helping children with stress, protecting children from infections, helping kids avoid drugs and alcohol, and many other issues related to healthy habits for kids.