Moms and dads are artists, and raising children is artwork.The moment our babies are born, we envision an ideal childhood for them, as happy and healthy as it can possibly be. Then we juggle, struggle, teach, reach, plan, and pray, trying to make that vision a reality.
Here are some general rules to guide you towards achieving your vision for your child.
Nutrition is a big part of physical health. Even though it’s difficult for time-pressed families, it’s important to serve as much wholesome food as possible.
It’s easy to bring home dinner in a microwaveable box, but it’s also fairly easy, and much healthier, to bring it home in a bag. Supermarkets have come a long way, and most now provide a range of pre-washed salads, pre-chopped vegetables, and pre-prepared fruit.
Follow the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of your family’s diet should consist of grains, vegetables, and fruits; only 20 percent should come from milk, eggs, and meat. An easy way to get that 80 percent is by offering a salad or chopped veggies as an appetizer, and a piece of fruit right after the main course.
Eat three meals a day, breakfast being the most essential for productivity at school and at work. Avoid snacking, because it’s not nutritionally necessary and is in fact mostly a habit.
Other ways to maintain overall physical health include getting enough sleep, setting aside time to exercise, making sure that everyone in the family uses safety gear for playing sports or riding bikes, and proper childproofing inside the home (including making sure your kids are safe when on the Internet).
Emotion in Motion
One of the most important components of emotional health is self-esteem.
The ability to recognize feelings of well-being begins very early – even a four-month-old baby who rolls over for the first time and hears his parents cheering him on begins to recognize and respond to encouragement.
Parents, be good role models by accepting the things you cannot change about yourself. If you don’t fret about the size of your nose, your child won’t fixate on having to wear glasses.
Love your child unconditionally, but realistically. Setting the bar too high can chip away at self-esteem. Praise not only the outcome, but the effort – and keep it real. If your child received a poor grade, make a plan together to help him or her try a little harder next time rather than chastising her or him. This way, it won’t feel like the end of the world.
Discipline your children. Discipline does not mean punishment; it means teaching your kids right from wrong. Discipline turns respectful children into respectable, respectful adults. It teaches ground rules, fair play, and the consequences of actions.
Try to find time to have a daily conversation with your kids about what’s going on in their worlds. Some parents make it a routine part of dinner; others say that their kids tend to chat the most while driving in the car. Whenever and wherever you find that opening, dive right in.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times when your child feels like it is indeed the end of his or her world. That’s why I believe spirituality is another important aspect of raising healthy children.
Faith, Hope, and Love
Spiritual health is something we tend to put to the side, but having some kind of higher power to believe in gives children a way to cope when things go wrong. Sometimes life is simply out of our control, but believing in a higher power gives them hope.
Teaching faith is a tough job for anybody, especially when we can’t explain why something bad has happened, but want to tell kids that there must be a reason for it even if we may never know what the reason is. “Just have faith” is a seed that can be planted by encouraging prayer, reflection, and/or meditation, and/or by attending a house of worship.
Clearly, raising healthy children is not only about the children. It’s a family matter. What do you and your partner see when you look in the mirror? She’s a role model. He’s a good example. And those are your kids looking back at you.
Healthy Child Checklist
• Higher power
“Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting”
By John Gottman, Ph.D.