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Parenting Healthy Children
Everyone knows that parenting is a very challenging job yet the rewards are endless. Among the challenges is raising healthy kids. A healthy child isn’t simply physically fit; rather it is a combination of physical and emotional health that makes for a balanced human.
Guidelines for Parenting Healthy Kids:
Set up and maintain routines- This should start when a child is an infant and continue up to and including the teenage years. Every child and young adult craves routines and appreciates them even in unspoken ways. Routines come in a wide variety starting with consistent napping and bedtime rituals. If a child gets used to the same routine such as an age appropriate bedtime coupled with a nightly order of business this routine is predictable and thereby contributes to emotional balance.
Bedtime routines should include reading in some form or another. Studies indicate that a child who is exposed to a wide variety of words from infancy tend to score higher on standardized assessments than those who have been exposed to fewer quality words. Reading 15 to 20 minutes before tucking a child into bed provides much needed exposure to words (either spoken or read) but it also provides parents and caregivers the opportunity to connect with a child in many ways. Carve out an area in the bedroom that is exclusively for reading- a “book nook” can be as simple as a few pillows and blankets and a basket of books on the floor at the foot of the bed or as elaborate as the imagination can conceive. By having a dedicated space that parents and kids can curl up together in, the book nook can provide both the human touch and the spoken word that pays rich dividends in the future.
Nurture the idea of reading before bedtime even in the teen age years. By continuing the habit of reading before bedtime a parent and teen can both read the same book and discuss it or they can even continue to conduct a shared reading of the same book. Kids are kids and even older teens like to hearken back to the days that seem simpler to them and this includes reading together with mom or dad. The trick is for mom and dad to make this a priority and insist that at least one or two nights each week be spent reading together as a family. It may seem hokey, but this is also a very good way to monitor some of what a teenager is reading and also open up lines of communication between parent and teen. Admittedly this routine gets to be pretty difficult when the high school homework load and other teen activities beg for the same precious time slots but the payoff for both parent and teen is worth the extra effort.
The Value of Family Dinner
The Importance of Family Meal Times
Current research suggests that not only are family meal times an opportunity for many things such as encouraging healthy eating habits, establishment of family unity and traditions but it also decreases the chances that kids will become drug users. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University children and teens who have frequent family dinners ( five to seven dinners together each week) are at a 70% lower risk of substance abuse and one third less likely to try alcohol.
Additionally, compared to children and teens who have fewer than three family dinners together per week, kids whose families share dinner together are likelier to get better grades in school and are less likely to have friends who drink alcohol and use marijuana.
Dinner time rituals
Be sure to have a set routine that centers on opening and maintaining communication. One technique is to conduct “Wow’s and Pow’s” This is a simple way for every family member to share something that was good about their day (a “Wow”) and something that didn’t go so well (a “Pow”). It’s important that parents also share their wow’s and pow’s as this provides a role modeling opportunity as well as to let kids know a bit more about what their parents daily experiences are all about. It is amazing what a few rituals can do for establishing traditions and for cementing open lines of communication that are essential when kids face difficult situations. If there is a solid foundation of open, honest and healthy communication between parent and kids then when the tough stuff arises, the likelihood of successfully working things out increase.
Limit Screen Time
In today’s technology driven society, it is imperative that parents set firm guidelines and model a reasonable amount of “screen time”. This includes the volume of television, video games, computer time and texting that occurs each day. By limiting the amount of screen time that a child is exposed to, it can provide opportunities to have interaction with living humans in the same household rather than merely with a screen.
- Ban cell phones and texting at the dinner table. This is important in order to establish and maintain the dinner time routines mentioned above. This also includes the parents! Set a bowl on a counter and have everyone “park their phones” in the dish and let calls roll to voice mail and texts go unanswered during dinner time. The world will indeed continue to spin even if someone must wait for a response. Guarding meal time needs to be a priority as this sends a message to kids that family time is important and it also teaches everyone some self control.
- Keep televisions and computers out of kid’s bedrooms. Bedrooms are for sleeping in and for reading (in a book nook) and not for engaging in screen time. Not only does providing a TV or computer the opportunity for kids to remove themselves from the family but it can also rob kids of restful sleep. Televisions and computers should be shut down at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping in order to provide a good night’s sleep. Kids are still growing and need restful sleep. Screen time right before bedtime can rob kids of peaceful sleep and it also can deprive kids the reading time that enhances learning.
- Remember the bowl used to “park” cell phones during dinner time? It is also suggested that parents have a bowl for their kids’ cell phones and place it next to their own (the parents)bed. The rationale is that many time kids are communicating with their friends up to and including the wee hours of the night without their parents’ knowledge. By setting kids cell phones in a bowl in the parents’ bedroom, kids are not tempted to answer a text or take a call well after bedtime. This also allows parents the opportunity to monitor who attempts to contact their child and to set guidelines and limits as to when communication is permitted. It may seem harsh but parents need to set and hold to firm guidelines in order to raise healthy kids.
Other Places to Foster Communication
Establishing and maintaining communication between parents and children doesn’t have to be limited to bedtime and meal time. In our very mobile society with kids having several commitments outside of the home and the need to be driven to the commitments, many of the best conversations can occur when parents and kids are driving together in the car. Be sure to capitalize on the car time by turning off the music and other forms of technology and use the time to converse as the distractions are limited, and the opportunity to communicate is rich.Raising both emotionally and physically healthy children takes vigilance and continual effort, but by following the guidelines mentioned above parents will find the efforts pay off in the long run.