Us adults may have taken our health for granted when we were younger, but we certainly start to appreciate how precious it is as we age.
A large part of having a healthy body is about having healthy habits – and the best time to start these is when you’re young. With this in mind, one of the best gifts we can give our children is a good attitude to health by teaching them how to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. With everything from an addiction to screens, the overconsumption of processed foods, to enforcing a culture of achievement that can result in childhood anxiety, teaching them how to be healthy in current times can feel like a challenge.
But there are simple ways to start making sure your children stay as healthy as they can, as they grow up. Here’s what to bear in mind:
- Increase time outdoors
Sunlight, exercise, grounding, less screen time… there are multiple benefits to encouraging your children to get outside regularly. In South Africa, we’re blessed with a climate that allows our kids to spend time outside almost all year round. The easiest way to do this is to build it into your normal routine – whether it’s walking with them to the shops a few times a week, taking them to the local park after school or encouraging them to take part in sport if they’re interested. Besides the physical benefits, spending time outdoors also has a positive mental impact as well: a 2015 study from the US found that there was a significant impact on children’s health and wellbeing when they had regular access to nature.
- Encourage moderation
While we all know sugar and processed foods are bad, it can be difficult to avoid these completely in our modern life – and children are especially vulnerable. A more realistic approach is to adopt the 80/20 rule over a given week, say by supplying your kids with fresh and healthy food for their main meals but letting them indulge in ice cream and cake at a birthday party over the weekend. Taking a moderate approach also means your kids are less likely to get obsessed with sweet things than if they were completely deprived of them. To help satisfy their sweet tooth in a healthy way, there are plenty of recipes you can try to create healthier treats using things like honey instead of sugar, beetroot instead of red food colouring or raw cacao instead of processed cocoa powder.
- Don’t be too scared of germs
The last two years have made us very wary of any types of germs (hello face masks and hand sanitizer!). But the truth is that being exposed to germs regularly is one of the very things that helps build up our kids’ immune systems to keep them healthy over the longer term. As it turns out, there’s evidence that playing with dirt can benefit a child’s heart, skin and immune system as well as increase their happiness, reducing anxiety and enhancing learning. Ensuring that they have good hygiene is one thing, but it’s important to let them come into contact with germs so this natural immune building process can happen. If they do get sick, having a good medical aid can help give you peace of mind if your child needs medical attention. Some medical aid companies like Fedhealth offer options that are perfect for families and include extensive childhood benefits to cover those busy early childhood years.
- Let your kids express their emotions
Most wellness practitioners today accept the existence of the mind/body connection where there’s increasing evidence that our feelings and moods affect our physical health. Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, they have strong emotions and it’s important to give them the space and permission to express these emotions in a healthy way, so that they can be processed.
- Give your kids downtime
There’s a tendency in our busy lives to over schedule things, and this can rub off on our children too, whether it’s extra Maths lessons, loading up the extra murals or even scheduling too many playdates. During the pandemic, many families got a taste of what life was like without these kinds of frenetic schedules, and the positive benefits this could have on children – from stimulating creativity to improving bonding between parents and kids. While your intentions may be good with scheduling activities for your children, make sure you also carve out ‘free’ time where they can recharge in their own way, whether that’s free play or doing a creative activity of their own choice. Creating these pockets of downtime is a good habit to instil for them as adults, when balance and moderation is key to living a balanced life.
Incorporating these healthy habits into the entire family’s life is the best way to ensure that they carry them through into adulthood, rather than forcefully instructing them in the shorter term. Ultimately as parents we want to empower them to live independently, happily and healthily without us one day, and the best time to start preparing for this – is now.