Summer time got me thinking about children. With school ending the calender fills up as we seek activities to keep our kids happily busy during their break from regular class.
Sorting through the various options I began wondering about how to define “Healthy” in children.
Is health merely the absence of disease or more?
Health in my opinion implies balanced physical, mental, and emotional states. I further believe health implies a general sense of wellbeing, stable energy, quality sleep, and a absence of ailments which limit growth, exploration, curiosity and learning.
Read on to explore the pillars of health for children and ways to encourage “Health.”
Pillars of Health
Physical health goes hand in hand with general health. Humans were built to move. Purposefully developing strength, stamina, flexibility, and mobility improve our general wellbeing. In my clinical experience, healthy kids are physically active, perform better in school, have greater emotional stability and get sick less often.
I’ve written extensively on the hazards of modern diet here, here, and here. The field of nutragenomics has exploded in recent years. The link between food and genetic expression is very strong. Eat highly processed, sugar, chemical, preservative laden foods and you will express diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. Childhood obsesity is triggered by food choices and poor choices rob health. For optimal physical health, emphasizing fresh vegetable, fruit, nut, protein, and quality fat intake remains the best option. Soda, candy, sweets, pastries, cereals, crackers, chips, fruit juice and artificial sweetners are absolute health destroyers…best avoided to improve the health of kids.
Regular daily movement whether simply active outdoor play or organized sport provides time for kids to blow off steam, develop coordination, strength and stamina. Increasing bloodflow and increasing breathing improves brain function, improves cognitive ability, and diminishes nervous behavior. Don’t skimp here. Activities to consider include: running, cycling, hiking, swimming, martial arts (Karate, Yoga, Tai chi, etc), or organized sports. All research points to the necessity of physical activity to maintain proper immune function, weight, and mood. Children learn what they are taught. Teach them physical activity is important on a DAILY basis.
Sleep and rest allow the body to repair, grow, and renew. Chaotic, excessively busy lives can rob the child of enough rest to properly develop. Make sure to schedule down time. Encourage sleep schedules and avoid pushing too hard without appropriate sleep periods. Most kids benefit from 8-10 hours of sleep per day. Health declines with consistently less rest than the average.
The mind drives the body and serves as an interface with the spirit. I eluded to healthy brain function requiring physical activity but the mind has other needs as well.
From research we know the child’s mind is a fertile place. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Children are like sponges.” The mind has the greatest “plasticity” (Development / learning ability) from birth through early the 20’s. The implication? Encourage learning now! Their minds crave and accept new information that helps them understand their world, develop important life skills, and discover their strengths. Many parents are guilty of accepting “School” as the only arena for learning. Additionally, we sometimes forget that the academics of science, math, reading, and writing represent only a small part of a child’s education. Learning can include travel, language, cooking, finance, interpersonal and personal development strategies. Others skills can include crafts, hobbies, business, or entreprenurial concepts. Health requires a sound mind. Invest appropriately.
Goal Setting/Personal Development:
Without a map or a destination most never accomplish what they want. Sadly many adults lead restless, troubled lives because of lack of purpose, focus, or plans for their time on earth. I believe children should explore themselves, envision and discover things they find interesting. Children should be taught the rudimentary principles of goal-setting. Goal-setting leads to organized plans, coherent activities, and a sense of accomplishment when properly used. More on goal setting here.
Modern life has numerous distractions. I have written extensively on the health hazards of unrestricted media. This can mean excessive television, internet, social media or cell phone activities. See here for more on media fasting for mental health.
Kids crave our attention and approval. Meals together and sharing daily activities build a strong familial bond. Consistent family time, builds trust and security in the child. Emotionally healthy children enjoy close communication with their family.
Our children look to us to help develop their values and guiding morality. Whether through specific spiritual / religious training or by seeking “Teachables moments” children look to others to help them develop a sense of right and wrong. To help prevent unnecessary stress, children require guidance to help them navigate socially as well as develop their own sense of worth. Spend the time. Have the difficult conversations.
The world is often a negative place. Kids need injections of positivity for optimal emotional health. Mistakes and shortcomings happen. Dissappointments and setbacks occur. Win or lose, children need consistent, positive messaging to help them develop healthy emotional lives. Affirmations of love, attention to needs, careful listening, and receptive attitudes do wonders for emotional health.
Healthy kid grow from nurturing the physical, mental and spiritual/emotional aspects of development.
Kids want you to guide them.
Kids need to know they are loved.
Kids are sponges. (For good or bad!)
Kids need consistency