As a parent, you have the power to sow the seeds of good habits that will shape your children into healthy, well-rounded individuals. Each choice made, from prioritizing nutritious ingredients to creating emotional resilience, to determining how much technology to allow, forms a foundation that will define their future. By being a strong example for your children, you can guide them toward a healthy and balanced life.
Proper nutrition is fundamental to healthy development. Providing children with well-balanced, nourishing meals does more than satisfy hunger; it plays a pivotal role in their growth, enhances their well-being, and contributes to healthy cognitive functioning.
To best meet the needs of your growing child, you’ll want to minimize the intake of heavily processed foods and stock your pantry with nutritious, whole foods and unprocessed alternatives. This not only supports their physical well-being but also acts as a preventive measure against the development of childhood obesity.
When choosing produce, it’s best to opt for organic or biodynamic sources. Seek out seasonal offerings at your local farmers’ market or organic grocer, as fresh local foods contain the greatest concentration of nutrients. Choose fresh carrots and celery rather than processed chips or bagged snacks for school lunches, with the goal of reducing the consumption of processed food in your child’s diet.
Talking about school lunches, you’ll want to avoid pre-packaged meals (you know the ones with slices of lunch meat, cheese, and crackers…) They are loaded with salt, preservatives, and other chemicals that can potentially hinder your child’s development. These foods also generally lack the essential vitamins and nutrients found in whole foods.
We recommend enjoying a wide variety of whole foods to obtain needed vitamins and minerals, and don’t forget to hydrate. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and sugary drinks and serve them in glass; not plastic. Consider serving more broths and soups. To ensure your children get all of the needed nutrients as they grow and develop, it may be helpful to add a multivitamin/ multimineral supplement to their morning meal.
One other thing to consider when choosing the best foods for your family is that allergies and hypersensitivities are on the rise among children. It’s important to identify potential immune triggers, and LRA testing can provide needed answers. Once test results are obtained, you can tailor meal plans that prioritize the foods unlikely to induce allergies or hypersensitivities.
Engaging your children in activities outside of the classroom provides a wide range of benefits that will contribute greatly to their overall health, allowing them to develop physical health, mental well-being, and social skills.
Active play and organized sports instill discipline, teamwork, and goal-setting, while simultaneously promoting cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and coordination. When younger, let them tumble, leap, and move around. When older, encourage your child to explore a large range of activities that get them moving. This will help them to discover their personal inclinations and hopefully create an affinity for physical activity as they continue to age.
Aside from physical activities, it is also helpful to explore activities that will improve time management skills, boost self-esteem, and enhance concentration — all skills that can translate to improved academic performance. Examples include school cubs (debate club, robotics team, chess club) social clubs (scouting, 4H), and volunteering for community projects.
Make sure you’re setting a positive example for your child. When you have free time together, explore new activities that take you out of the house and away from screens. Engage in more productive and engaging activities that stimulate brain function and promote an active lifestyle.
Prioritizing Mental Health
“Screens” and technology are pervasive in 21st century living, and have been shown to interfere with proper brain development and affect mental health. It’s best to limit screen time and expose children to a variety of “old-school” activities like coloring, pretend play, dress-up, nature walks, etc. But it’s also important to observe and recognize any mental health challenges your child may be dealing with. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism are common, and early detection and intervention can help provide needed support.
For more information on mental health disorders in children, visit these resources:
As your children grow, work to foster a safe space where they are comfortable expressing feelings and any challenges they may be facing. This provides a safe haven where they can come to you without fear of judgment and encourages a proactive approach towards addressing emotional challenges.
Schools play a pivotal role as well. Seeking help through educational institutions not only offers professional guidance for your child but also further normalizes discussions surrounding mental health. Given that children spend a significant portion of their time at school, it naturally becomes a primary source of tools and resources to assist in navigating mental well-being. It’s important to be actively involved in their school activities and to stay informed about available resources.
Balancing Screen Time
Excessive screen time can lead to health concerns, including eye strain and disrupted sleep patterns. Establishing screen-free zones, particularly during mealtimes and before bed, enhances social interaction and improves sleep. Get involved by implementing screen time rules and monitoring content consumption. Encourage alternative activities like reading, playing sports, and exploring the outdoors to support cognitive and physical development. Striving for balance is ideal.
Take Time for Mindfulness
Mindfulness provides children with valuable tools to manage their emotions, navigate challenges, and create a deeper connection with themselves and the world around them. By learning mindfulness practices, children can develop skills that promote emotional well-being, improve focus and concentration, and enhance their overall resilience. In this video, Kira Willey demonstrates fast, simple child-friendly mindfulness techniques that alleviate stress, enhance school performance, and assist in managing behavior and emotions.
Spending time outside and connecting with nature helps kids feel present and curious. Creative expression through coloring or other activities, lets them express themselves in meaningful ways. Teaching mindfulness offers children lifelong skills for handling challenges and embracing joy.
Why it Matters
The choices made in a child’s early years have long-lasting effects. By instilling healthy habits during childhood, you can set them up for a long, healthy life. The foundation of balanced nutrition, physical activity, mental wellness, and mindful screen time paves the way for physical growth, cognitive development, and emotional resilience.