Healthy Behaviors for Kids
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Healthy Behaviors for Kids

What every parent needs to know

Today, many American children have poor diets, lack of physical activity, and poor sleep which can contribute to a greater risk of developing serious chronic health conditions including asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems; type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, stress, low self-esteem, and depression are also linked poor self-care habits.

When children learn healthy habits early, they’re much more likely to embrace them and enjoy better health for a lifetime.

Here are a few actions you can take to establish healthy eating habits and relationships with food and activity for your child.

Model healthy eating

Children look to the adults in the world for cues on how to feel about everything—including food. Talk up how much you enjoy eating a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and dairy.

As far as beverages go, keep options limited to water, 100% juice, or plain low-fat milk.

I recommend not talking about foods as “good” or “bad” and encouraging your child to listen to their body and pay attention to hunger and full cues. Avoid talking about your own weight or body in front of your child.

Avoid using food as a reward or punishment

Using sweets and ‘bad’ food as a reward or punishment can be confusing and can quickly undermine established healthy eating habits. Telling children they earned something ‘bad’ for doing something good sends a mixed message and may cause them to relate unhealthy foods with certain moods. For example, giving cookies or chips as a reward may make them more appealing than healthier foods with nutritional value. Similarly, withholding the same foods as a means of punishment may make it more appealing.

Eat Together 

Involving children in the meal preparation is a great way to help them learn about ingredients, nutrition, and develop important skills. Children are also more likely to eat what they’ve had a hand in preparing, including vegetables. Plus, including children in the process increases their feelings of control and helps boost their self-esteem when their meal is enjoyed and appreciated by others.

Be active

Make movement a part of your and your child’s daily routine. Whether it’s racing to the mailbox, walking the dog, riding bikes, playing soccer in the yard, or washing the car, encourage your child to be active.

Establish good sleep habits

Numerous studies suggests that poor sleep habits—including not getting enough sleep—can lead to an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions and poor mental health. As for how much sleep children need, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

Age                  Recommended Hours of Sleep

1-2 years         11-14 hours per day (including naps)

3-5 years         10-13 hours per day (including naps)

6-12 years       9-12 hours per day

13-18 years     8-10 hours per day

To improve children’s sleep, consider turning off screens an hour before bed and removing them from children’s bedrooms.

Limit screen time

Limit the amount of time your child watches television, plays video games, or engages on the computer or their phone to 1 to 2 hours per day. Discourage snacking while watching TV or playing games as it’s easy to eat to being over-full when engaged in screens.

If you’re concerned about your child’s physical or mental health, please reach out to their healthcare provider.

Meghan Gunn, MD, FAAP is the Medical Director of SVMC Pediatrics.

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