We all know what it’s like to go to work when we’re tired or not feeling well. The day is long, we don’t do as good a job as we usually do, and we’re sluggish and unenthusiastic. If that’s how it is for adults, think of how long and difficult the school day must be for children who aren’t feeling as well as they could be feeling.
It’s the start of a new year, which seems like a good time to see what steps can be taken to ensure children feel as good as they can, both physically and mentally, in 2024.
There are three areas that contribute to a child’s overall well-being: diet, fitness, and self-esteem, and making small changes in each of the three can create major changes in your child’s well-being.
The old saying, “You are what you eat,” is pretty much true. The food we eat fuels our bodies and our brains. We know the dangers of sugar, which include obesity and diabetes, but there is also the evidence that low blood sugar—which is caused by an abnormally large insulin release following the ingestion of a large amount of sugar—can cause bad behavior. Besides cutting down on sugar, it’s important that kids limit their intake of carbs and that they have all the vitamins and minerals they need.
Here are some suggestions to make a healthy diet a part of kids’ everyday lives:
- Picky Eaters – If your child doesn’t want to eat vegetables, don’t argue or force them. Instead, let them know that they won’t be getting seconds on that steak, and there won’t be anything else to eat until breakfast. Coercing children to eat or keeping them at the table until the plate is clean, will increase their resistance and catering to their whims will make their whims more numerous. If they don’t want to eat vegetables, let them know that’s not a problem, as long as they understand the next meal is 12 hours away.
- Occasional Desserts – If it looks like a sugary dessert is the reward for eating dinner, sugary desserts will take on a greater importance than healthy food. Serve desserts only a couple nights per week, and then serve something non-sugary such as yogurt or fruit.
- Routine – Dinner and snacks should be served at the same time each day. Snacks should be light and nutritious so as not to interfere with a child’s appetite at dinner. Once a balance is struck between the right size snack and the right size dinner portions, it’s important to keep both on schedule.
- Participation – Involve kids in shopping, meal planning, and cooking. They’ll be more interested in eating something they’ve helped create. If possible, take children to tour a local farm, or let them tend a garden of their own.
Today’s physically fit child will be tomorrow’s healthy adult. Physical activity develops healthy muscles, bones, and joints. Additionally, active children are less likely to become obese and they’re less likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Today’s world of video games, texting and social media lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle. Not that many years ago, a pleasant day would drive kids outside to play in parks or ride bikes. Almost every street saw kids outdoors. Today, it’s a rare sight and that has onerous consequences for today’s children as they enter adulthood.
Here are some ideas on how to keep kids active today and healthy tomorrow:
- Create a No-Tech Time – Set aside a certain amount of time each day that is tech free. No phones, no tablets, no games. Find outdoor activities that are good for parents and children, providing the activities are age appropriate. Go for a walk, take a bike ride, play catch, jump rope, swim … whatever you and your child can both enjoy.
- Find Their Interests – Maybe your child likes to dance or is interested in gymnastics or soccer or martial arts. Discover where your child’s interest lies and sign them up for classes. If possible, parents can join in.
- Lead by Example – If you come home from work and sit in front of the TV or tablet until it’s time for bed, your child isn’t going to see any reason not to do the same. Be a good example for your children. Take an after-dinner walk each evening and invite your child to accompany you.
Well-being is mental and emotional as well as physical. A child can eat well, be physically active, but if they’re being bullied at school, or they’re receiving failing grades, all is not well. Consequently, an important aspect of having a positive attitude is to teach children confidence and self-esteem.
Being confident and having self-esteem doesn’t mean being egotistical or narcissistic; those with good self-esteem understand and accept their limitations and are not ashamed of their shortcomings. They try their best at everything and aren’t envious of those who may be more successful in certain areas.
Here are a few tips to help your child gain self-esteem:
- Let Kids Make Mistakes – It’s natural for parents to want to jump in and prevent their children from making mistakes or save them from failure; however, making mistakes and failing are part of life. Instead, mistakes and failure create a teachable moment when parents can show children why they failed and how failure can be avoided next time.
- Praise Perseverance – It’s natural for kids to want to give up after a setback, but a valuable life skill is learned when children work through frustration and continue toward their goal. Teach kids that they will not succeed at everything all the time, but confidence and self-esteem are built by resilience and by knowing that, win or lose, a child has tried their best.
- Be Positive – It’s common for children to see the negative side of everyday situations. To avoid your child falling into this mindset, be a positive force in their life. Point out the good things in every situation. For example, if your child doesn’t make the baseball team, point out that this should not affect their love of the game. Many people love a sport without ever having played it. Then, discuss other options. Remind them that no one is good at everything, and there’s something out there at which they’ll be spectacularly successful.
As 2023 passes into history and your child gets one year closer to being an adult, you can make 2024 the year in which they prepare for a successful adulthood by helping them become healthier in every aspect of their young lives.