4 basics of raising a healthy child

Your child’s personality plays a big role in how they approach life. Don’t get bogged down in the details. We’ve got four basics that can help improve children’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

1. Focus on diet

Food that is highly processed or high in salt, sugar or unhealthy fat can interfere with your child's mood and energy levels. Similarly, children who don't eat regularly are more likely to have mood swings and crankiness.

According to recent studies, the rate of childhood obesity is increasing in both boys and girls. This is due in no small part to food marketing that targets your children.

It's up to caregivers and other people to take a stand, says Jacques Rousseau, a lecturer in critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town: "We can't control everything our children do, but we can control some of it. And we can remind ourselves that most of the time, it's not the increasingly overweight children that are buying food. It's us."

So be mindful about what food you have available in the house and make sure your child eats healthy, nutritious food regularly throughout the day.

2. Build good sleep habits

Crankiness isn't the worst thing about children who don't get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is very harmful. Not only can it slow normal development and contribute to obesity, but it can also lead to behavioural problems that last for years.

So just how much sleep do children need to function well? Probably more than you think. If you include naps, babies need 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day, toddlers 11 to 14 hours, pre-schoolers 10 to 13 hours, primary school children 9 to 12 hours, and teens 8 to 10 hours a day.

Children thrive if they get consistently good sleep by following a bedtime routine each night. Think about the before-bed wind down at home: is it calm, consistent and non-negotiable, or does the routine need some work?

3. Make time for play

Imaginatively play and being active are important parts of childhood. It’s important to make time for this as demanding school routines and extramural activities can cut into children’s play time. It can be tricky to limit time playing computer games and TV time, but playing outside is part of growing up healthy.

Children are much happier if play is part of their day, and if they get enough exercise. It isn't necessary for them to compete in a school sport (although these are great opportunities), as long as they're keeping physically active by playing games or having an energetic hobby that suits their abilities and interests.

Rather than overloading your children with too many extracurricular activities, make a point of fostering their creativity and imagination through outdoor play, storytelling, building, art and crafts, and free time.

4. Be available

Being available to your child is a lot easier said than done. The stresses and responsibilities of the day may leave parents feeling like they have little energy left for anything else. Putting in the effort to be emotionally available to your child has huge benefits.

It allows your child to express their emotions in front of you and feel validated when they're insecure, comforted when they're anxious, and lovingly challenged when they need to accept hard truths. All this helps them develop a stable self-identity, resilience in the face of difficulty, and ultimately maturity and independence as they grow up.

If something is troubling your child, your presence and attention is often all that's needed to calm them down, so take the effort to listen and spend quiet one-on-one time together. Following these basics can be invaluable in building a solid foundation for your child's health and wellbeing.

The information is this article is intended for general purposes only. If you have any concerns about your health or the health of your child, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.

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