Raising Happy Healthy Kids
Some Simple Tips for Parents
The hardest and most rewarding job any person can ever have is to raise children. It is a never- ending series of daunting tasks with no standard operating procedures, no reliable handbook and no training. It requires a never-ending series of snap decisions without being able to see the results until years down the road. Frustration, anger, joy, stress, anxiety, fear, excitement, love and every other emotion possible are experienced.
All good parents want the same thing for their children — the best! The best health, the best happiness, the best education, the best opportunities, the best job, the best of everything. Not necessarily that your child is 'The Best', but rather the best they can be! Some children are pushed to be The Best and when they cannot be, they are left feeling like a disappointment and failure.
Parents need to remember that children hear and see everything. No matter what you say, kids see what you do and how you act. You are their primary role model (like it or not) and they will copy you. Your habits (both good and bad) will appear, sometimes immediately and sometimes more slowly. Remember that there are always choices and good choices add up over time. Good health comes from good choices, bad health … well you know.
If you want your children to eat healthy, the first step is to eat healthy yourself. There is a zero percent chance that your children will have a healthy diet if they grow up seeing their parents eating a steady diet of high fat and processed fast foods. You and their teachers can tell them to eat healthy until the cows come home. It will be for nothing when they see you eating a steady diet of pizza, burgers and fries. You need to be a model of good behaviour by eating a steady diet of homemade healthy dishes rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, high in fibre and protein. Show them when given the choice between junk food and healthy food, you happily choose and enjoy the apple, rather than forcing yourself to eat it. They’ll see that healthy eating is a way of life, not a chore. After a while, they will make the same choices in life.
Be constant and consistent; meal after meal, snack after snack, decision after decision. They need to see consistency. Make bad choices (we all make them) the exception, not the rule. Whenever possible, eat as a family. Research has shown that families that take the time to enjoy each other’s company over a meal, without distractions (computers, phones, television) tend to be healthier. Let your children have a say from the get go. Work with them on weekly school lunch menus and have them help prepare and pack parts of it. When planning family dinners, let them work with you to pick some of the dishes. Having them work with you to prepare healthy meals gets them more interested in what they eat and teaches them a life skill, how to cook. This will let you help “steer” them while ensuring they get some say in what they eat.
Another pillar of good health is exercise. Regular exercise improves muscle tone, prevents many degenerative diseases, combats stress, improves mood and has many other benefits. Ideally, parents would like their kids to be in top physical shape, easily able to tackle any physical challenge. The better physical health they are in, the less likely they will be to experience health issues and pain.
Before the 1980’s, kids spent more time 'playing'. They would play physically (sports, running around, bicycling, being outside, skipping, etc.) or they could have fun inside building, drawing, etc. All of these activities help build imagination and when done with others, improve social skills and problem solving. Even the dreaded “boredom” had benefits. In times of boredom, imagination runs wild, improving abstract thinking and problem solving.
In the 1980’s the scene changed. This was the era where video game consoles and VCRs erupted and almost every home had at least one. Kids could now sit down any time, day or night and enjoy passive entertainment! Activity rates declined and obesity rates skyrocketed. Since then, the situation has only worsened. Home computers, the internet, cell phones and tablets have all made it far too easy for kids to zone out anywhere they are without any physical activity.
Boredom has all but been eliminated. Most children don’t know what boredom is because they are shuffled (usually by car) from program to program, staring at screens of some sort in the between times. Experts worry that this lack of boredom and handling it is causing children to lose abstract thinking ability and leading to a lack of creativity. Children “learn” that to prevent boredom, they need technology. On mass, this reduction in creativity may lead to a future drop in the pace of medical, technological and societal advancement. Without new ideas, we get stuck where we are and in what we have.
Setting the example works here as well. What do you do when you have “nothing” to do? Do you sit in front of a screen (television, computer, tablet or cellphone)? Do you talk or play with your kids? With an hour of time to kill, what would be your first “go to” activity? Physical or sedentary, alone or with others? Model healthy options: play, talk, go for a walk, read together or anything else that involves your kids without any technological interruptions. Try a simple test. No matter what your age, next time you have some time, break out some bubble wands, head outside and as a group spend 15 minutes making, chasing and playing with bubbles. You may be surprised at how much fun you have and how much your stress gets reduced. We tried this at work and the results were amazing!
As parents, our choices influence our kids. We impact virtually every facet of their lives and mould their future behaviours and health. Your children try to emulate you and are always looking for your approval. They copy what you do and want to be like you! By consciously making healthier choices to improve their lives, we will also be improving our own, enabling us to witness how our choices made a difference in their lives. Well done!
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.