There are many aspects of keeping your family healthy and safe. These include the lifestyle choices you make and the things you teach your children. It is important to create healthy habits starting at an early age. Doing so will make it more likely for them to stay healthy as adults.
Path to improved health
Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. This is the case for kids, teens, and adults. You can improve your health by keeping a balanced diet. Healthy eating can help prevent chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Other benefits include:
- increased focus
- more energy
- stronger muscles and bones
- healthy weight.
Below are tips on how to create and keep healthy eating habits.
- Choose foods that contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Eat a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein.
- Teach table manners. Eating is not a race. It should be slow, purposeful, and enjoyable. This aids in proper digestion of nutrients. Help your kids understand what “full” means, so they don’t undereat or overeat. This means knowing how to listen to their bodies. Do not make them clean their plate, but do not be too quick to let them eat multiple helpings all the time.
- Make meals family time. This may not be possible for every meal, but it is a good routine to aim for. It helps you to communicate and build strong connections. It can also lead to healthier eating choices.
- Eat in. Avoid or limit how often you eat out. This includes fast food or takeout, as well as sit-down restaurants. If you do eat out for an occasion, read the menu or ask for nutrition information to choose healthy meal options.
- Monitor your children’s eating. Keep track of what and how much they eat. Also, be mindful of why your child eats. Are they eating out of boredom? Are they starving each time they sit down to eat? Do they pick at their food? These can be early signs of eating disorders or other health problems.
- Set an example. If you prepare and eat healthy foods yourself, your child will be inclined to eat healthier too. Do not talk poorly about yourself or others in terms of food.
- Involve your kids. Include your children when you shop for groceries and prepare food to eat. Teach them what is and isn’t good for them.
- Set snack boundaries. Make a rule that your child has to ask for a snack. Put the snack on a plate or in a bowl to limit intake. Also, have them eat the snack at the table, if possible.
- Skip the food reward. Do not use food to reward or persuade children. This can lead to an unhealthy habit of using food to cope with emotions. Instead, give your child praise, attention, and affection.
- Choose healthy drinks. Nutrition is not just about the food you intake, but also the liquids you consume. It is important to stay hydrated by drinking enough water. Avoid or limit high-calorie and sugar-filled drinks, like soda, juice, and sports drinks.
Keep in mind that children develop their eating patterns at a young age. The early years are a chance for you to teach them healthy habits that will stay with them as they get older. Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate as a tool to create a healthy eating routine and lifestyle.
People who have certain allergies or health conditions may need to set certain diet limits. For instance, if you have celiac disease, you can’t eat gluten. Or if you have high cholesterol, you should cut back on fat, sodium, and processed foods. These diet restrictions may apply to your children as well.
Physical activity helps prevent or reduce health problems, such as obesity. Other benefits include:
- It helps make bones and muscles strong.
- It burns calories instead of storing them as fat.
- It maintains blood sugar levels.
- It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- It builds strength and endurance.
- It relieves stress and improves focus.
- It boosts self-esteem and confidence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids who are 6 to 17 years of age should be active for 60 minutes or more each day. Adults should be active for 150 minutes each week, in addition to doing muscle-strengthening exercises. Exercise doesn’t have to be done all at one time. You can be active several times throughout the day.
When it comes to being active, there is something for everyone. It may take some time to find an activity that is enjoyable. Try a variety of options early on, and find things that are fun to do together.
Below are tips on how to create and keep healthy exercise habits.
- Allow your child to choose. Involve your child to help promote interest and excite them. It also lets them show their personality.
- Try new things. It’s important to explore different activities. You never know what you’ll like or be good at. Try a mix of single, group, and team activities.
- Be active together. Build exercise into family outings and vacations, as well as your everyday routine. This makes you a healthy role model for your children.
- Put limits on screen time. Reduce the amount of time spent on TV, computer, or video games to 1 or 2 hours a day. This forces you and your family to find something more active to do.
Mental and emotional health
Mental health is a big part of our overall health. It is just as important as nutrition and exercise. It affects how we think and feel about ourselves and the world around us. Good mental health helps solve problems, make better decisions, and have positive relationships.
Mental health begins to take shape at a young age. There are certain things you can do with your children to support their emotional state.
- Spend one-on-one time with them.
- Offer regular praise and encouragement.
- Give them chores to help them grow and learn.
- Teach them (through words and actions) how to manage anger, stress, and other feelings.
- Teach them to think before they act.
- Take time to have meaningful talks.
- Listen to and acknowledge your kids.
- Talk to them about bullying and how to treat others.
Look for signs of poor emotional health or mental health problems. These may vary for children and adults. Seek medical help for you or your family member. Warning signs can include:
- Sudden or ongoing sadness or irritability.
- Frequent temper tantrums.
- Acting anxious, nervous, or worried.
- Acting violent or harmful to oneself and/or others.
- Decreased performance in school, work, or hobbies.
- Lack of interest.
- Avoids spending time with others.
- Trouble sleeping, either too much or not enough.
- Unplanned weight loss or weight gain.
- Complaints of feeling sick often with no visible symptoms.
- Substance abuse.
- Thoughts or hints (verbal, written, or actions) of suicide.
Sexuality is another aspect of our health. Good sexual health means you are informed, careful, and respectful to yourself and others. Discussions about sex should begin early and at home. You want your children to feel comfortable and safe to ask questions. Let them know that sexual health is not something that should be managed alone. It is something that they should talk about with people they love and trust.
It is normal for a person’s sexuality to change over time. To stay healthy, it is best to regularly reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Path to improved safety
It is important to practice drug safety at home. The best way to do this is to keep all medicines out of your child’s sight and reach. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and vitamins. Follow these tips to ensure protection:
- Store medicines in high and/or locked cabinets.
- Put medicines away after each use. Do not leave drugs out because of convenience.
- Request and purchase medicine with safety caps, when possible.
- Explain what medicine is to your kids. Never tell them that it tastes like or is candy to get them to take it.
- Ask all guests and caretakers to follow the same rules.
All babies and children are around water at some point. Most often, this occurs when they take baths. It is possible to drown in any amount of water, even 1 inch. Never leave your child alone in or near water. Keep electrical items away from water. Make sure water is not too hot for your child by testing it first. Set your water heater to 120°F or less.
You may also have a pool or take your kids to a pool. Do not let children be unattended. Teach your children about water safety in advance.
The law requires everyone be properly secured in the car. Older children and adults must use seatbelts at all times. Babies and younger children must be placed in a car seat according to their age, weight, and height. In general, babies less than 2 years old should be in rear-facing car seats in the middle of the back seat. Toddlers should be in forward-facing car seats. School-aged children use booster seats until they are about 4’9” or 80 pounds. Check the seat’s owner’s manual for specific limits and installation instructions. You also can check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Prepare and plan in advance when traveling with children. This includes by car, plane, train, or boat. A few tips for safe travel are:
- Bring proper child gear. This often includes a car or booster seat, baby carrier, and stroller. If on water, make sure there are life jackets for everyone in your family.
- Pack medicines. Include any medicines your child takes on a routine basis. As a precaution, consider taking over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for things such as fever, motion sickness, altitude sickness, swimmer’s ear, or diarrhea. Talk to your doctor about what OTC medicines are safe for you child, considering age and weight. A first-aid kit may be useful as well. Pack it with a thermometer, band-aids, wipes, creams, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. If anyone has a severe allergy, pack an Epi Pen in case of exposure.
- Give each child a form of ID in case of separation. This could be a card or bracelet with contact information. Make sure your kids have their name, your name, and your phone number memorized. Older children may carry a phone in case of emergency.
- Carry on toys and books. This includes anything that will keep your kids entertained. These should be easy to access during travel. Be sure to include chargers for electronic devices as well as extra batteries.
If you are traveling internationally as a family, everyone will need passports. Check to see if vaccinations are required or if there are known health issues. Research medical centers near where you are visiting. This way you know where to go in an emergency without having to figure it out in another language.
Things to consider
There are a lot of things that families can do to stay healthy and safe. For instance, you should childproof your home. Doing so can help prevent accidents, such as falls, burns, choking, and poisoning. However, sometimes emergencies happen. Know what to do and help your kids understand how to react in these situations.
- Talk to your family doctor about when to go to urgent care versus the hospital.
- Call 911 if someone is unconscious, not breathing, bleeding badly, or has a severe injury.
- Learn how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.
- Set up and practice disaster plans. Make sure your family knows what do to in case of a fire or other natural disaster. If at home, decide where to take shelter or how to escape. If not at home, identify where to go and who to call. When you go to a public place or event, have a plan of what to do in case a family member gets lost or hurt.
Questions to ask your doctor
- My child is very picky. How can I get them to eat healthier food?
- If my child is overweight or underweight, should they see a nutritionist?
- Are different types of physical activity better than others?
- What kinds of activity do you recommend for a child who has a physical handicap?
- How much exercise should someone get if they are overweight or obese?
- How can I keep my child active and prevent injury?
- I have a mental health condition. Is my child at risk of having it too?
- What types of mental health treatment are available?
- What are stress and anger management techniques for children and adults?
- What is the best way to start a conversation about sexual health with my kids?
- Can being overprotective push my child into having sex before they are ready?
- What does childproofing my home involve and when should I do it?
- How do I know if I should take my child to an urgent care clinic or emergency room?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.