As a pediatrician and a parent, I have invested a considerable amount of time promoting and teaching healthy habits to both my patients and my own children. I’ll be the first to admit this is no easy task. Giving in to unhealthy habits can seem like the only option when one’s child is being particularly picky or stubborn. And with all of the unhealthy foods and less-than-healthy habits trying to make their way into our children’s daily routines, it can understandably feel a bit like you’re fighting an uphill battle when it comes to encouraging your family’s healthy lifestyle. Given the lack of support parents often have for instilling healthy values in their young children, I’m particularly pleased that Primrose Schools has developed its Healthy Bodies initiative.
Over the next three months, Primrose is concentrating on health through its Healthy Bodies initiative, sharing information, ideas and resources to help children develop a healthy lifestyle from an early age. Inside Primrose classrooms, fun lessons and activities will encourage students to learn and get excited about health. Kicking off the initiative is the theme of healthy habits – one of the most important (and admittedly challenging) things we can teach young children when it comes to lifelong health.
First and foremost, the key to promoting healthy habits is to start early. A habit is, by definition, “a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” In other words, by the time we recognize something as a habit – be it “good” or “bad” – it has already become routine. This is why it’s so important to encourage positive habits while recognizing and discouraging unhealthy ones early on.
So how does a parent go about this? First, we must stop telling ourselves that the little things don’t matter. Having one sweet at bedtime or adding an evening stroll around the block into the daily routine can seem too small to impact one’s overall health and well-being. But whether we’re talking about healthy bedtime routines, eating habits, tooth-brushing or reading, the numbers really do add up – both in the short term and in determining our children’s future habits.
Keeping in mind that every positive step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction, here are some tips for how you can encourage two of the most important habits for children: tooth-brushing and reading.
Parents want children to accept, remember and even enjoy brushing their teeth on a regular basis. The best way to do this is to introduce a toothbrush early on. How early? I typically answer this question with, “Why wait for teeth?” After all, babies love putting things in their mouths and generally enjoy having their gums rubbed. Make sure you use baby toothbrushes designed specifically for an infant’s mouth. Establish a fun routine well before the “age of resistance” (i.e., toddlerhood) to kick-start a healthy habit that will benefit your little one long after he’s lost all of his baby teeth!
Reading is also one of the healthiest habits you can and should introduce to your child early on. There is absolutely no need to wait to start reading together until your baby can sit up, hold a book, understand all the words, or even fully focus on them. After all, the goal isn’t just to raise a child who knows how to read, but rather one who loves to read. Fostering a love of reading can be as easy as making it part of the bedtime routine from the time your child is an infant and continuing to make it an enjoyable shared experience as she gets older.
Parenting can be both busy and rewarding. Sometimes just getting one’s children fed, bathed and in bed at a decent hour can be a success. Given both the demands and the importance of our job as parents, I’ve found it helps to take a step back every now and then to ask yourself if what you’re doing with, for and around your child is promoting healthy habits. It also helps to remember that no matter what, it’s most important that you find ways to have fun and enjoy the time you spend with your child as you introduce him to what will hopefully become a lifetime of healthy living.