As we enter the new year, filled with hopes and dreams, there’s nothing higher on our wish list than the well-being of our children. A mom, after reading a classic parenting advice book filled with theory, strategies, and algorithms, confided that she was overwhelmed. “Aren’t there any simple steps that I can follow to be a better Mom?” In fact, there are. Although the formula for good health is not easy (and good luck can never be overestimated), there are a number of basic, simple tasks which may go a long way! I propose five easy steps for your children to follow for a healthier and happier year:
1. Wash Your Hands
Not long along, impetigo (little sores under the nose) was the worry of the nursery school crowd. The last two years certainly frightened us with stories of “flesh-eating bacteria” and community acquired MRSA. Colds, flu, upper respiratory, and nasty stomach viruses—just to name a few contagious germs—spread by the hand to mouth route. For the most part, these kinds of illnesses are preventable by simple hand washing. It is by far the most important method that can be used to prevent transmission of infectious agents. Liquid soap in pump dispensers is fine, although environmentally, I recommend a basic, non-scented (non-scented = less skin allergies) bar soap. Don’t use “antibacterial” soaps—not only are they not any more effective than “regular” soap, but they may risk the creation of “super-bugs.” Advise your children to use warm water and rub hands together making a lather for twenty seconds. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice to make it fun.
Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands, but be mindful to not let children access the gel alone as it can be dangerous. See: Danger with Sanitizer Gel Use.
2. Don’t Talk to Strangers
Preventing child abduction and exposure to violence is a critical responsibility. But it’s a tricky dance to teach children about personal safety without causing unwarranted fear. Here are a few simple rules:
- Children should know their name, address, and phone number (with area code) so, if lost, they can be reunited with their family. Older children should know parents’ work numbers.
- Away from home, older children should always be with a friend, always tell an adult where they will be, and always say “no” if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.
- Parents need to supervise children who use the Internet. Although still relatively uncommon, the practice of pedophiles and child molesters approaching children on the Internet is occurring more frequently. For more information see: Internet Safety.
- Exception to the rule: children need to know that appropriate strangers, such as police officers or store clerks, are a resource to turn to, especially if they are lost or need help.
3. Turn off the TV
Too much of anything can be toxic and nothing is more true than TV overuse. Here are a few suggestions to help in your quest:
- Monitor and limit (one to two hours per day, max) what your children see and hear on television, in movies, and in music. Remember, no TV for children under two.
- Talk with your children about “content.”
- Screen out sexually exploitative, violent Web sites, music, and video. Be informed of what your children see or hear when visiting friends. If you feel that a movie or TV program is inappropriate, redirect them to more suitable programming.
With all this free time, what’s a kid to do? My prescription is to READ! READ! READ!
- Read to your child every day. Reading helps develop and nurture healthy brains, showing the importance of communication and motivating kids to become readers. It also provides a context to discuss issues and learn what is on your child’s mind. Reading is a wonderful skill which can be a life-long, pleasurable habit.
4. Drink Water and Eat One Fruit and Vegetable a Day
How’s this for a simple New Year’s resolution for your child: “I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and I will limit the amount of soda I drink.” Good nutrition is about balance and offering meals with few preservatives and additives and fresh fruits and vegetables are most parents’ goals. Aim for one fruit and one vegetable a day and cut the soda. Limiting soda to once a week (as a treat), could be the difference between a healthy future versus the real fear of a future with Type II diabetes for your child. Soda contains 15 teaspoons of sugar per 20 ounces. Substituting those sugary drinks for clean, refreshing H2O is the way to go in ’08.
5. Celebrate What Makes You Unique
Self-esteem is a major part of “well-being.” Your child’s happiness not only feels good, it’s healthy. A parent’s role in fostering this takes attention and awareness. Here are some simple steps:
- Demonstrate and teach displays of affection, attention, and approval. This promotes loving feelings, good will, a sense of self-worth, and reduces the likelihood of negative, destructive words and behaviors.
- Recognize every effort and increment of progress or improvement your kids make.
- Keep expectations for changes and goals realistic. Celebrate your child’s individuality and tell her—time and time again—what makes her special. Do not compare siblings.
- Celebrate successes—don’t hold back on praises and positive emotions.
- Understand your child’s behaviors and emotions; recognize hidden agendas. Acting up, for instance, may be a cry for attention and help. A nine-year-old patient of mine stopped doing his homework and his grades were dropping. After many questions with Mom and Dad, we discovered that his older sister recently won a “Best Student of the School award”—as well as all the praise at the dinner table every night. After figuring that out and “redistributing” the loving accolades, the problem was solved!