Summer is the ideal time for kids to get up, get out and grow, but for some kids, exposure to activities that stimulate the body and mind ends with the school year. In fact, research shows that kids are more prone to gain weight and fall behind academically over the summer months.
More often than not, healthy kids are members of healthy families. The family home is the single most important place that defines, creates, and predicts a family’s lifelong health and wellness. The eating and activity habits we develop as children have a strong impact on our lifelong health and well-being so it’s critical to establish healthy behaviors early on. Whether we grew up with healthy habits or not, it’s our obligation as grown-ups to ensure kids have a strong foundation.
In busy families, grown-ups sometimes “sacrifice” their own healthy behaviors in favor of doing what they believe is good for their kids—taking them to swimming three days a week or to music lessons. But they are missing an important part of the equation. It’s great for kids to be active in athletics, but they are much more likely to build lifelong healthy behaviors if they see that the grown-ups in their lives are doing so too.
The greatest gift a grown-up can give a child is to model what being a healthy adult looks like. Healthy eating, activity, and relationships take work and commitment but are ultimately attainable and undeniably worthwhile.
At the Y, we know it’s tough to make dramatic change overnight. We believe that small steps lead to big changes. With a commitment to trial, transition and maybe a few tricks, families can adopt healthier habits—happily.
The first step is your commitment to role model the lifestyle you want for your child. The more kids hear “I love salad” or “I feel great after riding my bike” or “I love spending time with you” the more they’ll think positively. Similarly if a grown-up sits for hours in front of a TV and eats lots of snacks, the kids will want to do that too.
Try focusing your family’s efforts to live healthier around the Y’s pillars of a healthy family home:
- Eat healthy
- Play every day
- Get together
- Go outside
- Sleep well
Go for what’s realistic and achievable. Take it one step at a time and your family will soon be feeling stronger and living healthier.
With a balanced approach, even the busiest families can discover ways to eat healthier and feel better. Introducing new foods and adapting to new tastes a little at a time, week by week can result in major changes over the course of a year and ultimately a lifetime. A simple way to improve your family’s overall health is to explore your approach to fluids by cutting out the drinks with added sugar and adding more water, 100% fruit juice, and low-fat milk to your family’s diet. If your family is used to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, begin working gradually to replace them with healthier options. If your family is used to whole milk, introduce 2 percent, then 1 percent (depending on ages of young children) and then skim. Remember, sometimes it takes two or three times of trial before truly developing a like or dislike.
Play Every Day
Play may be the best way to prevent childhood obesity and it’s a powerful promoter of family health and well-being. But in our goal-oriented culture, physical activity is often perceived as athletics, exercise, or working out. However, experts agree, play can and should be embraced by family members of all ages. Kids and parents who play in a physically active way are healthier and happier.
It doesn’t matter what you choose to do—try to spend at least 20 minutes three times a week doing something physically vigorous as a family, ideally outdoors. Play fetch with the dog, a game of tag before dinner, play “chase” in the backyard, play “horse” with little ones, run through the sprinkler on a hot day, or turn the music up loud and dance while the whole family cleans the house.
Don’t worry if five or ten minutes of turning it up a notch leave you feeling wiped out at first. Small steps will get you there so don’t overdo it. When the play stops feeling good, take a break. You’ll soon find yourself getting the activity that will have your family feeling energized and strong.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is the time you all spend together. In today’s world, too many families are go, go, go all of the time resulting in too little time spent together.
Children need adult time and attention like they need healthy food and playful activity. When that time and attention is missing, kids will find other ways to ask for it—often through negative behavior that stresses the relationship. The thoughtful gift of your time is one of the things that will help your child learn, grow, and thrive.
Try to find an hour a day during which your entire family has an opportunity to connect and share. Try a family game board night, invite your child on a special date night, learn three new things about your kids, eat dinner together. The time and attention that you invest now will help your children learn, grow, and thrive.
Good things happen when we unplug and go outside to play together. Kids and adults benefit from contact with nature as well as unstructured play and exploration. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, free play helps children grow and develop toward important intellectual, emotional, and social milestones along their developmental journey toward healthy teen and adult years.
A growing body of research is pointing to the fact that time spent in contact with nature is good for everyone, but that it is particularly important to the healthy development of children. Nature engages all the senses, helps children to develop curiosity and creativity, reduces stress and fosters a sense of wonder and a desire to explore and learn.
Go for something that is realistic and achievable. Take your children to a park and let them play, take a walk around the block, do a family nature scavenger hunt, plant something together.
One of the best ways to raise healthy kids is to make sure they—and you—get enough sleep. Based on their ages, children need different amounts of sleep. Doctors recommend between 10 and 12 hours per day for kids between the ages of 5 and 12. When children do not get enough sleep it can cause moodiness and impact their ability to learn in school. Additionally, recent studies have found links between sleep and obesity in children. It may seem strange, but the more hours that kids sleep the less likely they are to become obese.
You need your sleep, too—seven to eight hours per night. Restful sleep helps maintain your immune system, metabolism, mood, memory learning, and other vital functions. To encourage sleeping well, try to have sensible bedtimes for everyone in the family, turn off the TV one hour before bedtime or reading a story to your child each night. A healthy family depends on it.
A healthy home isn’t about what you have to give up, it’s about what you get. It’s about the joy and fun of being active together as a family. It’s about the confidence you feel from making healthier choices. It’s about having more energy and feeling better—together. Best wishes from the Lansing Y on your journey to a healthy, happy home.
Laura Newland is the Director of the Lansing YMCA’s Child Care Center located at the Oak Park Branch. She has been directing childcare programs and advising parents on child development and healthy family living for over 15 years.
Best wishes from the Lansing Y on your journey to a healthy, happy home.