Saturday, April 25 was Healthy Kids Day. As the school year winds down and summer approaches, it is important to put the lessons of the past year into practice. So what does this mean? Healthy kids don’t happen for just one day. Here are seven ways to make sure your kids are healthy and happy all year long.
1. Celebrate World Immunization Week
April 24 through 30 is World Immunization Week, a great time to talk to your doctor about your kids’ immunizations. Immunizations are a crucial preventative measure to protect the health of children and adults, saving an estimated two to three million lives annually. Because of the Affordable Care Act, vaccinations are free and don’t even require a co-pay. Many parents have been hesitant to vaccinate due to press coverage of a false connection between autism and vaccines, but that myth has been thoroughly de-bunked. Share your concerns with your doctor to get the facts, then protect your children.
2. Reduce stress
Stress? What stress could kids possibly have? Turns out that childhood can be a very stressful time. The emphasis on academic acceleration, the glut of media coverage of violent and traumatic events, and endemic overscheduling all contribute to childhood stress. This childhood stress can be very dangerous, long-term.
A study from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory looked at adolescent mice to see how chronic stress affected them as they grew. Adolescent mice who were subjected to different, chronic stressors became more aggressive and anxious. While some mice demonstrated the ability to “bounce back” from early stress, the findings do connect early stress with neurobiological changes to the neuroendocrine system, especially in the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which regulates hormones like cortisol.
You can help your kids de-stress by doing any of the following:
- Allowing time for unscheduled free play
- Teaching deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help with anxiety
- Modeling taking time off
- Teaching problem-solving skills
- Using positive language
- And twelve other ways to address stress
3. Play more
If you are of a certain age, you may remember summer as a time when you left the house on your bike after breakfast and didn’t come home until you heard the call for dinner, ringing down the block. The time in between may have been spent exploring the neighborhood, playing kickball with friends, making up games, or building tree forts.
These days, parents may have a hard time giving their kids this much freedom, but it is still important to allow them to spend ample time in the summer just playing. Summer camps and family vacations are important, but play helps kids develop the kind of creative, imaginative thinking that keeps the brain cells firing. It gets kids off the couch, into the world, and interacting with their friends.
4. Eat healthy
A healthy diet filled with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of water cannot be emphasized enough, especially when it comes to growing healthy kids. We often set aside nutrition in the winter in favor of convenience, but the easy bounty of summer produce can turn that all around.
Make a family outing and go pick your own fruits and vegetables. Visit a farmer’s market and plan your dinner based on what you find there (and cook as a family!). Take the time to educate yourself on what it means to eat well, then share that with your kids. You don’t have to be an expert cook, just willing to make changes in your diet to help your kids develop healthy habits.
5. Limit screens
Although there is emerging research that shows that there are some benefits to video games, the news is still bleak for TV and other forms of passive media consumption. Increased screen time is linked with decreased activity, which is linked to obesity and a host of other health problems. Children ages two to five are now spending around 32 hours a week in front of a screen, and this has huge implications on mental, emotional, physical, and social health. Take the time to make informed decisions about television, including how much they can watch and how often.
6. Teach safety
Safety these days goes far beyond “stranger danger.” With the ubiquity of the internet comes new challenges, including online bullying. Bullying has ramifications that stretch far beyond childhood, and it is important to teach your child to stay safe both in real life and online. Part of limiting screen time is also monitoring what is happening online. Make sure you have the passwords and screen names for any social media your kids use, and check them periodically. As kids get older, they may protest, but stand firm. You can help them learn to deflect and report bullies and still respect their privacy.
And if you find out your child has been bullying someone? Don’t turn a blind eye or deny it. Emphasize that they made a mistake and they can grow from it. The consequences of bullying last nearly a lifetime. Help them learn to be conscious, considerate citizens online.
7. Keep learning
Prevent “summer slide” by incorporating learning activities and fun into everyday tasks. Summer slide is the loss of academic skills and understanding that can occur over the period of time that kids are on summer vacation. Preventing it is as easy as reading a book under a tree every day, baking cookies and talking about the measurements, or writing a letter to Grandma. Using shaving cream and a baking tray, younger children can practice writing letters and numbers, and older children can create stories from their summer experiences.
Healthy kids are happy kids; what is your favorite way to promote both in the summer?
Image by epSos .de via Flickr