You could probably safely say that there has never been more scientific and health related information available to parents and caregivers. That’s the good news! On the other hand, too much information can leave some parents overwhelmed and nervous about the choices they make for their children.
How do you raise a healthy child? There is no one formula that has all the ingredients, but there are common sense, well researched and medically documented actions you can take to give your child a good start on a healthy life.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Just like adults, children need a certain amount of sleep to function well and be healthy. Children who do not get enough sleep have trouble focusing in school and are more prone to depression. The National Sleep Foundation’s website has a guide for how much sleep each stage of growth requires.
2. Make sure your child is current on all of his or her vaccinations and receives an annual flu shot. Vaccinations provide immunity against a particular disease. Vaccines stimulate the immune system to react as if there were a real infection. It fends off the “infection” and remembers the organism so that it can fight it quickly should it enter the body later. The AAP recommends that kids get combination vaccines (rather than single vaccines) whenever possible. Many vaccines are offered in combination to help reduce the number of shots a child receives.
3. Make sure your child has scheduled dental visits and regular eye exams. Consider taking your child to a dentist who specializes in treating kids. Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the wide range of issues associated with kids’ dental health. Dental care should begin before your baby’s first tooth appears, and continue throughout life. Eye exams can catch early signs of disease as well as serious or common sight problems. Healthy eyes and vision are a critical part of kids’ development.
4. Encourage frequent hand washing. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of colds, and germs, is to teach your child to wash his or her hands frequently. Using regular soap instead of an anti-bacterial soap is also recommended. Wash long enough to sing Happy Birthday – all the way through-twice.
5. Say yes to exercise and no to the remote control and computer screen. Kids need exercise. They need to move and play and have fun. While a certain amount of television and computer is fine, too much can contribute to obesity and lethargy. Unstructured play helps children learn critical thinking skills as well as creativity. Structured sports can help teach teamwork and leadership. Walking and running can help build strong bones. Exercising together as a family is a great way to spend time together.
6. Make sure your child has a sensible diet. Creating a home where healthy eating is appreciated and encouraged is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure the health of your child. To start, make smart food choices, and help your child develop a positive relationship with healthy food. Your children will learn their food smarts from your example. Promote drinking water and low-fat milk instead of sugar and caffeine based drinks.
7. Properly clean and bandage cuts and scrapes. Staph infections can develop from minor scrapes and cuts. Know when your child last had a tetanus shot. If your child has not had a tetanus vaccination within the past five years, or if you are unsure when your child’s last tetanus shot was given, call your physician.
8. Make sure your child uses the proper safety equipment. When playing sports, make sure your child wears approved safety equipment. When riding a bicycle, all children should wear a helmet. Also, all equipment should be properly maintained to ensure its effectiveness. Protective equipment should be approved by the organizations that govern each of the sports.
9. Use approved car seats, booster seats and buckle up. Using a car seat is the best protection you can give your baby when traveling by car. The best car seat is not always the most expensive one; it’s the one that best fits a child’s weight, size, and age, as well as your vehicle. The AAP states that kids should use a booster seat until the car’s lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly, which is typically when they’ve reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years old. Once a child is big enough to use a seat belt, the lap belt should rest low, on top of the thighs, and the shoulder belt should lie comfortably across the middle of the chest.
10. Know the signs that your child is being bullied. Bullying has serious and lasting effects, from depression and anxiety to even thoughts of suicide. The Mayo Clinic website has a list of warning signs to look for and how you can your child if he or she is being bullied, or is someone who does the bullying.
These are 10 tips to help guide you in making good health related decisions for your child. There is no “one size fits all” set of rules, but these suggestions are a place to build on your expertise as a parent or caregiver.