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Teaching Your Child to Stay Healthy

The Lesson Why it's Important How to Teach it
1. Safety Come First -- Always. Unintentional injuries are the number-one cause of death for kids in the U.S. Imagine the moment when an unsupervised child walks by the side of a pool or finds "colorful candies" in an unsealed pill bottle. What happens next may depend on what you've taught your child. From the time your child is a toddler, identify dangers clearly and explain your concerns. If your child is climbing on furniture, remove her from risk while saying, "No, we don't stand on chairs. You can fall and hurt yourself." Remind your child over and over -- repetition and reinforcement help.
2. Fitness Feels Good. Research has shown that exercise habits formed in childhood are likely to continue into adulthood. What's more, being active helps prevent obesity and its consequences, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It builds strong muscles and bones, and it boosts self-esteem and mental well-being. Use positive reinforcement, and make fitness a family affair. Go biking on the weekend. Take walks after dinner. Turn exercise into contests, such as who can jump rope the longest. Offer sedentary children rewards when they reach milestones, like walking eight laps around the block with you.
3. Healthy Foods Fuel the Body. A nutritious diet helps ward off extra pounds and provide protection against myriad health problems, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. And the time to foster a love of spinach and all things green in your child is right now! Eating behaviors and food preferences established early tend to last a lifetime. What you eat influences what your child decides to eat. Set a good example by choosing grilled over fried foods at restaurants. Explain that nutritious "go" foods get the green light to be eaten regularly: whole grains, fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy. Teach that "slow" foods, like sweets, can be enjoyed occasionally.
4. Washing Your Hands Regularly Keeps Sick Days Away. If kids wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after handling pets, when they're sick, and when their hands are dirty, they can significantly reduce their risk of stomach and respiratory illness and serious infections like meningitis. Resist calling germs "bugs" since young children may confuse them with insects. Show kids how to properly wash up: Wet hands, lather with soap, scrub vigorously (including under the fingernails) for at least 15 seconds, and rinse. The soap and scrubbing action are both needed to get rid of bacteria.
5. A Well-Rested Child Equals a Happy Child. Sleep reenergizes the body and brain. In addition, tired kids are more apt to have mood disturbances, impaired learning, and difficulty concentrating in school. Some children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may actually just be in need of more slumber time. Create calming rituals by allowing for 30 minutes of soothing activities like a bath and reading -- no TV or Internet -- before bed. Infants need a total of 14 to 15 hours of sleep a day, toddlers require 12 to 14, preschoolers should slumber for 11 to 13 hours, and school-age kids should get 10 to 11.
6. Smoking, Drinking, and Drugs are bad for you. If you speak often with kids about the consequences of risky behavior, they're more likely to make wise decisions. Closely monitor your child's activities. For instance, research has found that children who aren't allowed to watch R-rated movies are less likely to try cigarettes than kids who can watch them. Stress that smoke, drugs, and alcohol harm the body and mind. Explain that smoke is a poison that turns lungs black. Tell children that medicine is only to be taken when Mom, Dad, or the doctor gives it to them because they're sick. If you drink, do so in moderation and emphasize that kids can't have alcohol.
7. Your Body is Private. When kids value their body as their own kingdom, it can help protect them from inappropriate touching, bullying, and physical and mental abuse. Teach preschoolers anatomical names, such as penis and vagina, in a casual way to dispel embarrassment. Stress that any part of the body covered by underwear is a private area nobody can touch without permission; kids should feel confident saying no and should never keep uncomfortable situations secret.

Copyright ? 2004. Reprinted with permission from the November 2004 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.