Thoughtful Parenting: Building self-directed in health habits
With crayon in hand, each girl reached as high as she could to draw trees, birds and butterflies on the outside of the house. As they colored on the siding, the three girls, ages 4, 5 and 6, chatted with one another about how their mural would be seen by people far away, and lots of children would want to come over to play.
Though it didn’t work out on the grand scale the children envisioned (their mother redirected them to draw on paper and had them wash the siding), their activity shows the children were deeply engaged in early childhood brain development. They practiced communication and problem-solving skills and showed persistence and attentiveness in beginning and finishing the activity.
These skills are involved in many aspects of development, including how children learn healthy habits. Being active participants in their own learning helps them become self-directed in keeping themselves healthy in the long-term.
The following tips and examples can help parents nurture this process.
Create a bedtime checklist with pictures or stickers. The child chooses the order of activities: tidy-up (add music, if it makes the task easier), take a bath, put on PJs, brush teeth, choose a stuffed animal, hug family members, read, lights out. Talk about how sleep restores the body and the mind. Even children have worries that can interfere with sleep. Take time to listen to what’s on their mind and comfort them.
Help children brush all sides of each tooth, but allow them to have a turn at brushing by themselves. Looking in the mirror, they can watch how their teeth, tongue and mouth help them form the words. Talk about how teeth help them with eating, speaking and smiling. Let your child chose his or her toothbrush while shopping. Children are more likely to assume responsibility when they have a say.
As children choose their clothes and dress themselves, have them also choose their hat and sunglasses. Allow them to help apply sunscreen to their skin. Talk about the benefits of the sun to all life and the dangers of too much sun.
Keep television time to less than two hours per day, so children experience active play, such as, playing tag, playing ball, jumping rope, dancing or swimming.
Help children remember to wash up before eating. Involve them in shopping for the soap they will use and placing it next to the sink. Another idea is to make a hand print poster to put up near the sink.
Get children involved in planning and preparing snacks and meals. Start in the fresh produce section of the store, and allow children to choose a vegetable or fruit. Talk about flavor. Let the child look in a mirror at their tongue and the taste buds. They can help unpack groceries, sort cutlery, and set the table. Allow a time for practicing pouring their own milk or making their own sandwich.
Always be encouraging and supportive as children gradually develop skill in health habits. For more information about this and other child health topics, visit healthychildren.org.
Beth Watson is a public health nurse at Northwest Colorado Health.
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