We all want our kids to grow up healthy and happy. There is no right way to raise a child; there are many, probably more than I can imagine. But as a pediatrician and parent, I have some thoughts on things that most people can do to help their child grow up healthy and happy.
Studies show that children who drink breast milk are less likely to get infections such as ear infections and pneumonia, and are more likely to have a healthier weight when they grow up.
Exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of your child’s life goes a long way to helping them have a healthy childhood and healthy weight into adulthood. Breastfeeding for longer increases those benefits. Breastfeed or pump — whichever works for you — but remember “breast is best!”
Gather round: Eat dinner together
After your child begins eating some solid foods, eat dinner as a family as often as possible. Studies show that kids in families who eat dinner together get more fruits and vegetables, have healthier weights and perform better in school. Busy parents who take time to sit down as a family report less stress.
Even teenagers enjoy and benefit from it, despite what they tell you. It’s difficult, but spending time together, talking about your day and eating well has many benefits.
Decisions, decisions: Give choices
Anyone who has spent time with a toddler or young child knows it can be difficult to get them to eat vegetables. They want to control their destiny. Well, let them, by offering healthy choices. If your child gets to pick the green vegetable for dinner, they are more likely to eat it. Broccoli or green beans? Brussel sprouts or spinach? Cauliflower or sweet potato?
Let ‘em help!
If your child is old enough, helping prepare food can increase the chance that they will eat the nutritious things you want them to. Let your child layer spinach in the lasagna, or mix oil and vinegar for the salad dressing. Feeling invested will make them more likely to enjoy their food.
Don’t get frustrated
Getting your child to eat healthy foods they don’t like can be trying, but it’s important to stay patient. Keep offering healthy options and doing things as if they have never tried it before. You may never get your kid to eat broccoli, and that’s okay. Offer other things they enjoy more, like peas and carrots or sweet potatoes.
With your kid or without, prioritize physical activity. Walk, ride bikes, run and play games. If you enjoy playing soccer, basketball with friends or running in your neighborhood 5K, do it! Your child and/or spouse can play too or be there to cheer you on.
By watching you exercise, knowing that it is a priority for you and seeing you have fun, it will help your child stay active too.
Protect against diseases: Vaccinate!
It is really incredible if you consider that a few shots when your child is young can protect them for the rest of their lives against diseases like measles, mumps and hepatitis. In some cases, childhood vaccines can even protect against cancer!
If you have questions or concerns about vaccines, voice them to your child’s healthcare provider. Most providers are happy to have an open conversation about your concerns and help you make a plan that best protects your child and works for your family.
Be a role model
If you want your kid to eat their vegetables and play outside, you are going to have to eat your own vegetables (with gusto!) and spend time being active outside. Kids will know in a minute if they are being held to a different standard. Plus, being a role model keeps you healthy so that you can be there every step of the way as your child grows into a healthy and happy adult.
Don’t have a primary care physician? Find one near you.