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Steal Your Kid's Healthiest Habits

If you want to swap your full-fat latte for a skim one so you can lose weight, don't order it once, decide you hate it, and never buy it again. You know that kids need to taste a new food about 10 times before they like it, and the same goes for adults. Give that skim latte a chance -- you wouldn't fold so easily if you were trying to convince your child to eat broccoli, right?

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Bathtime often plays a big role in your kid's soothing bedtime routine, and it pays to make it part of yours too. "Research shows that taking a warm bath lowers your body's core temperature, which helps you fall asleep faster," says Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, PhD, author of Sleep Deprived No More. How? Your core temp drops after you leave the tub, which may signal your body that it's time to sleep. Can't fit in a long soak? Taking a warm shower will have the same snooze-inducing effect.

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What parent doesn't carry a bag of Cheerios for her kid to eat on the go? Consider packing a handful of healthy cereal for yourself while you're at it: A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that eating high-fiber, whole-grain cereal helps people lose weight and boosts their intake of magnesium and vitamin B6.

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The FDA discourages parents from giving cough syrup to kids under 6 (and banned it for kids under 2), and you may want to avoid it too, says Neil Schachter, MD, author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. Instead, stick to hot tea with lemon and honey to soothe a sore throat, and use antihistamines such as Claritin (during the day) and Benadryl (at bedtime) when you're sick. "This works better, and you're less likely to have side effects like insomnia and nausea, which are typical with some cough syrups," says Dr. Schachter.

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You wouldn't want someone to light up near your child, but would you say something if a person whipped out a cigarette a few feet away from you? Speak up or walk away: You don't have to be a smoker to get lung cancer, which kills more women than any other type of cancer, including breast. Regularly breathing in secondhand smoke increases your risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

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Even if you're not a germophobe, there's no way you'd let your child blow off washing her hands after using the bathroom or a trip to the park. And you shouldn't skip scrubbings either. Think about it: Parents may be even more likely to come in contact with some of the germiest stuff -- such as keyboards, doorknobs, and ATM buttons -- than kids are. "Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water for about 25 seconds, or use hand-sanitizing gel if you're not near a sink," says Allison Aiello, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

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You wouldn't buy new shoes for your kid without measuring his feet -- you know he's growing rapidly, feet included. But did you know that your shoe size isn't permanent either? "Feet can lengthen and widen over time -- especially after pregnancy," says James R. Christina, MD, director of scientific affairs at the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Unfortunately, 65 percent of women haven't had their feet measured in at least five years, according to an APMA survey. "If you've been walking around in tight shoes, you could end up with corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails." Wearing snug shoes can even lead to hammertoes, a deformity of the joints in your toes.

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Kids aren't the only ones who need vaccinations. Many moms are surprised to learn that the CDC recommends that adults get a pertussis booster shot to ward off whooping cough. Ask your doctor about the TdaP vaccine: It contains boosters for pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria. (You should get the shot every 10 years, but many people skip it.) Other vaccinations you may need: hepatitis A, chickenpox, and the flu shot.

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If you have a baby or a toddler, your pediatrician's office probably feels like your second home. But when's the last time you got a checkup? That's if you even have a primary-care doctor: Many women between the ages of 25 and 40 don't, but they should have both a primary-care physician and an ob-gyn. The American Medical Association recommends that healthy women between the ages of 18 and 39 get a physical at least every three years, a pelvic and breast exam every year, and an eye exam every one to two years.

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Children who carry heavy backpacks are at risk for back pain and spinal and shoulder injuries, and the same is true for moms who lug giant purses and diaper bags. Don't carry around more than 10 percent of your body weight (that's 13 pounds if you weigh 130). And your bag should weigh even less than that since you're often carrying your child at the same time, says Brett Taylor, MD, an orthopedic spine specialist at the Orthopedic Center of St. Louis. Take a load off by using a bag with a wide strap (thin straps dig into your shoulders), and switch arms regularly. "Try to find the smallest bag possible," says Dr. Taylor. "It forces you to cut down on the amount of stuff you carry."

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You warn your child that she should never hop on her bike without a helmet, and you shouldn't ride bareheaded either. Not only will you set a good example for your child, you could save your own life: Adults are more likely to be hurt or killed in a bike accident than kids are. In 2006, the average age of bicyclists injured in a traffic accident was 30, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. And only one in seven riders killed in traffic accidents was between the ages of 5 and 15 -- the rest were adults.

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Toddlers have a lot to teach us about healthy eating habits (shocking, we know). That's because they eat only when they're hungry and push their food away when they've had enough -- an approach that can help you get rid of those lingering pregnancy pounds. Pay close attention to your stomach at mealtime and put down your fork when you feel full, even if you haven't eaten everything on your plate. Another toddler habit to consider stealing: eating several small meals a day rather than three large ones. "It takes 20 minutes for your body to register fullness, so if you're really hungry and eating those three meals quickly, you may overeat," says Ari Brown, MD, Parents advisor and author of Toddler 411. "You're less likely to binge when you're on a mini-meal schedule."

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You've been hearing for years about how massage benefits babies: It makes them less irritable, helps them sleep better, and can even aid their digestion. And what mom doesn't want those perks for herself? Treat yourself to a gentle Swedish massage to work out the kinks in your back and shoulders from carrying your kid (and all his gear). Not only does a massage feel awesome, but studies show it also boosts immunity, eases muscle pain, and decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can't afford to hit the spa? Ask your husband to give you a 10-minute rubdown, and promise to massage him afterward.

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Ideally, kids shouldn't drink more than a can of soda a week (if any) so they'll learn that it's a treat, says Jennifer Shu, MD, Parents advisor and coauthor of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup. You should stick to that limit too: Not only is regular soda full of sugar (a 12-ounce can contains an average of 10 teaspoons of sugar), but a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who drink one sugary soft drink a day are much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and gain weight over time than those who have soda only occasionally.

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Your kid probably loves to drink with a straw, and it's a habit that's sure to thrill his dentist too; it helps prevent cavity-causing drinks like milk and juice from coating the teeth. Using a straw positioned toward the back of your mouth can keep your smile healthy too, and it's practically a must if you have sensitive teeth or receding gums -- cold drinks can cause major pain when they hit your teeth.

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Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. 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.