It’s that time of year again where your kids are heading back to school or are already in school. Besides learning the regular course curriculum, one of the most important topics to teach kids is how to maintain their health at the same time they are balancing important responsibilities – like school! We know this can be tough. After all, Dr. Bailey has raised her two children and knows many of the challenges busy parents face trying to build a strong “self-care muscle” for kids as a foundation for the rest of their lives. She often says:
A strong foundation of good self-care choices is an important legacy we parents can leave our children.
Here are a few ways to make healthy habits for kids not just a chore, but somewhat fun too!
1. Encourage Exercise during Normal Activities
There is no need to argue whether obesity is a growing concern in the United States, especially since the numbers doubled for children and quadrupled for adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, technology has only encouraged more sitting and less activity with the advent of iPads and video game consoles. However, there are a few ways to get your kids more interested in activity and to have a bit of fun. Here are some recommendations:
- Study Dance Breaks: It may sound a bit silly, but a 10-minute dance break during assignments helps break up monotonous desk time and teaches kids to introduce exercise during long sitting breaks. Play their favorite song or share a few of your favorites along with silly moves, and you might even have a bit of fun as well!
- Perform Actions while Reading: When reading a story to your children, try having them walk around the room while listening and then, perform particular action verbs such as “jump, skip, or roll.” Having them act out a particular scene in the story, like searching for a lost dog or driving down a racetrack, is beneficial as well. Get creative!
- Weekly Step Charts: Kids love charts and earning stickers for rewards. Between Fitbits and cell phones, you can track how much activity a kid has from day to day. By tallying daily step counts and comparing weekly totals, you can make it into a fun contest to get kids to want to be more active. The reward should be to perform a fun physical activity of their choice. Fitbits are also an opportunity to teach your kids about other aspects of health, such as heart rate or sleep time, thus making them more involved in thinking about their health patterns.
2. Do Not Reward Kids with Food or Treats
This is a tough one, since the allure of candy or ice cream really helps in a pinch when a kid is misbehaving. The problem with food rewards is your children may start to associate emotions and accomplishments with food. This is why the CDC recommends to reward with a physical activity, which helps build a child’s ability for self-care.
3. Get Your Kids Involved in Meal Planning
After a long day at work or of managing your children all day, meal planning may seem easier on your own. However, consider meal planning as a time for developing better nutritional habits. Check out the tips on MyPlate, a government nutritional guide for kids on how to design a proper meal for a child. Also, consider implementing a few of these tips:
- Play Top Chef: This is a semi-sneaky way to meal plan, by making your kid feel like they are the true grand chefs. Just set out a few ingredients (ideally healthy ones) you were planning to use for dinner and then ask your kids what you should make for dinner with them. You might be surprised by the tasty concoctions they plan.
- Use Colorful Plates or Tupperware: Kids get strongly attached to things, and most toddlers have a favorite “sippy cup.” Place fruits and veggies on more colorful items so kids form positive associations. Even create your own “Myplate” with food stickers so kids learn what foods satisfy which categories and choose items for each section.
- Provide Choices between Two Veggies or Fruits: As a nursing student, I found kids almost always give into a choosing between two things. As much as kids want independence, they need structure as well, thus the brilliance in providing them with a “choice.” This may be helpful if your kids have a tendency to refuse foods, but remember, it is still important never to force a food on a child. Allow the option for them to deny both choices, but inform them that it is all they will be served for the time being. Over time, your children will start to understand how food will only be available at particular times, which may encourage them to eat more of the food in their meals or declare their favorite vegetables.
By starting healthy eating habits young, kids may automatically grab for fruit and veggies even during holidays and other food gatherings.
4. The “Wash Your Hands before Eating” Mantra
Kids get their hands into everything – and often, it’s everything to our dismay. Food-borne illnesses are common among children because they have a tendency to not wash their hands frequently. Also, since most kids’ hands touch their mouths when eating, it is even more imperative to establish this habit. Click here for Dr. Bailey’s tips on how to wash your hands properly and Parenting magazine’s tips for making hand washing routine for kids. Consider having your kids carry antibacterial hand sanitizer just in case no washrooms are accessible during a field trip. (Some even come with decorative clips.)
5. Include Sunscreen in the Morning Routine for Kids
Routines work wonders for children, and often help make mornings and evenings less hectic. If you already have a morning bathroom routine set, add sunscreen application as a last step. Sun UV ray damage starts young and has a lasting impact on skin health later in life. It is essential to get sunscreen habits started early and to teach kids other methods to reduce sun impact, such as wearing hats, playing in the shade, and covering exposed skin with clothing. Get them excited and curious using UV Ray Detecto Rings to see when they are exposed to UV Rays (this occurs even in the shade!).
But, try to stress there is no need to avoid physical activity in the sun due to potential harm; explain how sunscreen acts as a suit of armor against the sun making their skin safe and protected. Dr. Bailey recommends Suntegrity Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen as a great sunscreen designed for children’s sensitive skin. Also, Dr. Bailey previously wrote a wonderful blog post on how to get your teens serious about sun protection. Now, you have a full toolbox for all your children, no matter their age.
Last Thoughts for Teaching Kids Healthy Habits
Teaching kids healthy habits provides immeasurable long-term benefits. Not only will it maintain their current health, but it will also have them more involved in their health for their future. As a bonus, consider this an opportunity to fine-tune some of your own healthy habits. After all, you are your kids’ best role model for living a fun healthy life!
Photo Thanks and Gratitude to: © Ian Lishman/Juice Images/Corbis and © Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis
Angela is a nursing student that is just one test away from getting her RN license! In her previous life, she was a chemical engineer, and (like Dr. Bailey) is a bit of a nerd when it comes to science. She has been part of the Dr. Bailey Skin Care Team for the past two years and is very passionate about the field of dermatology and skin care. Currently she works on a Burn ICU learning how to treat severe trauma to the skin. If she manages to take a break from her hectic school/work schedule, she enjoys knitting fancy scarves and hats for her friends, camping or backpacking in the great outdoors, and finding new local restaurants and microbrews to satisfy her inner “foodie.”