4 Ways to Build Healthy Habits in Kids
Every January, resolutions and healthy habits are at the top of everyone’s mind. The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on current habits and make a plan to reach new health and wellness goals. As you ring in the new year, have you considered healthy habits for your children as well?
It’s important for kids to learn proper fitness, nutrition, and safety habits at a young age to set them up for success in the future. However, a healthy lifestyle for a child often looks very different from health goals for adults. Here are some ideas to help you and your child set healthy goals in the new year.
Depending on the age of your child, the recommended amount of physical activity per day varies. According to the CDC, preschool-aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development. ¹
Alternatively, children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day, including daily aerobic – and activities that strengthen bones (like running or jumping) – 3 days each week, and that build muscles (like climbing or doing push-ups) – 3 days each week. ¹
The CDC breaks down physical activity for children into three types:
Aerobic Activity: Aerobic activity should make up most of a child’s physical activity. This includes walking, running, swimming—anything that gets their heart beating faster!
Muscle Strengthening: Muscle strengthening can include things like climbing, gymnastics, or doing push-ups. Young children typically don’t need formal muscle strengthening programs like lifting weights but, as they get older, this can start to be incorporated into their fitness regimen.
Bone Strengthening: Bone strengthening activities include running, jumping rope, skipping, or sports that involve jumping or rapid changes in direction. These weight-bearing activities require the body to work against gravity, which improves bone mass.
Physical activity for a child should be diverse and fun! To help your child get the exercise they need, try signing them up for an after-school sport or plan an outdoor activity with family. Helping with chores around the house can be a way to be physically active, too. Because children require daily physical activity, it’s important that they are also given the time they need to rest and recover.
Making sure your child is up to date on their immunizations is the best way to keep them safe from preventable diseases. Your child should be vaccinated against the following diseases in their lifetime: ²
Pertussis (whooping cough)
Varicella (chicken pox)
Different vaccines are recommended at different stages in a child’s life. The CDC’s childhood vaccination timeline can be found here. Talk to a doctor or your local pharmacist to see what vaccines may be right for your child. Some vaccines are given as a series to children, and others need to be repeated annually.
Vaccinating your child is only part of keeping them healthy. Staying on schedule with your own vaccines — and encouraging loved ones who are around your child to do the same — can help protect your child from being exposed to illness. By staying on top of your family’s immunization schedules, you can help keep yourselves and your community safe.
Nutrition needs vary based on age and activity level at any life stage, and the same holds true for kids. The food recommended for infants is not the same as what is recommended for preschoolers or teenagers.
Kids develop taste preferences young, and those tastes can stay with them for a long time. Introducing healthy foods at a young age can start your kids on a healthy path; avoiding foods and beverages high in sugar or sodium can help cut down on sugar and salt cravings as your child grows. MyPlate.gov has lots of helpful tips for nutrition choices for any life stage. Some recommendations by life stage include: ³
Infants: It’s all about the drink at this stage. It’s recommended that infants stick to breastmilk, infant formula, and plain water for the first year of life – cow’s milk, fortified soy milk, and juice are not recommended until later. As you begin to introduce foods, be sure to experiment with food from all food groups. Foods rich in iron and zinc are especially important for breastfed babies. Talk to your pediatrician about whether your baby needs supplemental Vitamin D, too.
Toddlers: Toddlers are learning the world around them, and that includes what they do and don’t like in their food. Have them try a variety of food and see what they enjoy – switch up the flavors, textures, and even colors. When it comes to beverages, try to stick to water when it’s not a meal; toddlers can fill up on drinks, making it harder to convince them to eat food when it’s mealtime.
Preschoolers: Variety and balance are key at this stage. Recommended amounts of food can go out the window when faced with a child who just doesn’t want to eat or is eating to fuel a growth spurt. Don’t worry about the amount eaten at each meal – instead, focus on meeting the recommended goal over a few days or even a week. Introduce new foods alongside something that you know they love – and if they don’t want to try it the first time, keep trying! Encourage them to help you make the food to tempt them into trying the finished product.
Older Kids: Aim to have half of your child’s plate filled with fruits and vegetables every day. Try different kinds of protein and stick to whole grain and low-fat options. Get the kiddos involved in the process! Having your child help unload groceries, prep your ingredients, and set the table can help them be more invested in what’s going into their body.
As a parent, you want your kids to be safe and feel like they can come to you with anything. When they are very young, that safety starts with the steps the adults around them take: ⁴
Keep doors closed. Not only does this keep strangers out, it keeps your kids inside where you are. As your child gets older, teach them to not open the door unless they know the person on the other side of the door. Keep medicine out of reach. Medicine can look like candy, so it’s important to remove the potential that children get into it accidentally by keeping it well out of reach. When your child is old enough to understand, teach them that any medicine can be dangerous and that they should only take what is given to them by a trusted source, such as a parent or pediatrician. Avoid allergens. Kids can develop allergies at a young age, so keeping an eye out for reactions from the start is important. Introducing certain foods early can help lower the chances of a food allergy. As your child ages, make sure they understand what it means to be allergic to something, and teach them what to do if they have an allergic reaction.
Another important aspect of your child’s safety is body autonomy. Knowing personal boundaries, and recognizing that others have boundaries too, is important to establish young. ⁵
It’s okay to say “no.” Teaching your child early that they can say no to an activity is important and providing a safe space to learn this skill is even more essential. Starting early will give your child the confidence to say no in more stressful situations when they are older, and your child will learn to respect when others say no as well.
Teach “good touch” and “bad touch.” Children are curious about their bodies, and they will mostly learn through touch. Talk to them about their bodies so they are comfortable in their own skin, and also make sure they know what is an acceptable touch from others — and what isn’t. This lesson is a two-way street – it will help protect your child from unwanted touches, and it will teach them what is appropriate when they touch others. Be a safe space. Even when it’s uncomfortable for you or for them, make sure your child knows that they can come to you when they are scared, embarrassed, or any other feeling. It doesn’t take many bad reactions to erode that trust, so monitor your own reactions to keep that trust strong. Go over safety information. Make sure your child knows their full name, parents’ full names, and phone number in case of emergency. If they get separated from a trusted adult, make sure they know who to look for (police officer, doctor, teacher), and how to contact them, like dialing 9-1-1.
There’s a lot to building healthy habits in kids and prepping them to stay safe and live a good life. It’s ok to build these habits over time – getting overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once doesn’t serve anyone’s best interests. Remember that kids don’t grow up in a day and that you aren’t alone. Lean on your support system, including our team here at the pharmacy.