Think, for just a minute, about the children in your life. Maybe you have your own children, or maybe you just drive by the same three kids at the bus stop in the early dawn, but children add light and life to everyday life in so many ways. And so when I think about the fact that Monday, October 7 has been designated as National Child Health Day, I can’t help but to simultaneously give thanks for the health of my own children (or relative health, if you don’t count a sprained ankle and bruised cartilage in the chest) while also thinking about those children who have been lost to illness and those who are fighting illness right now. My heart aches for these friends and family.
And so it is in their honor (sweet Noah, loving Andy) that I write this article, dedicated to keeping our children healthy. In the busy, fast-paced lives that most of us lead these days, it’s easy to let things slide. An extra computer game here, another fast food meal there … the line between healthy and unhealthy can sometimes be a slippery slope.
But beyond the slippery slope, there’s also a really big gray area, particularly with food, and besides kale chips, most food items don’t fit neatly into the completely healthy or unhealthy category. And so, as parents and caregivers, we are called upon numerous times each day to make these decisions. “Have a healthy snack” is translated into teenager-ese as anything that once came from a vegetable, including corn chips and potato chips. So what’s the defense? Keep lots of truly healthy snacks on hand. My kids both have favorite fruits, and if I have mangoes and bananas on hand, I’m pretty much guaranteed they’ll get eaten. And then I just try to limit the chips and sweets that I buy so that these are really “treats” and not everyday expectations.
Once we fuel those little bodies with good food, they need a place to expend that energy and to build strong, healthy bodies. Make sure to give your kids plenty of opportunities to build a love of playing outside, whether they play organized sports like soccer or baseball (tee-ball) or just romp at the park. Teach them to play the games you played outside when you were little. Freeze tag, hide-and-go-seek, and cat’s-in-the-cradle. Have you ever played hide-and-go-seek after dark? It’s a blast, but just as a warning, set boundaries or you may never find your kids!
Water. It sounds so simple. It seems to be everywhere, flowing through our valley and our bodies, and it’s easy to forget how important it can be. If you have young children, one simple thing you can do for their health is to teach them to drink water. Don’t give them juice, and limit the milk that they drink to certain times, like when they wake up or before they go to bed. And by all means, avoid sodas, even as treats. There’s just no reason to give children, or anybody for that matter, all that sugar.
And finally, we can’t forget about regular check-ups at the doctor and dentist, right from the start. Most kids don’t need a dentist until they are around 2, as long as you are brushing those little pearly whites right from the start, and teaching them to do so as well. But regular doctor visits, with the required vaccinations on schedule, are vitally important to our children’s health. And while I know that health insurance is complicated (boy, do I know), the state’s CHP plan for children’s health care is actually amazing if you qualify. And did I mention vaccinations?
In the 1970s, children’s health advocate Marlo Thomas released the book and record set, Free to Be You and Me, and my sister and I spent hours listening to the record and reading along to the skits, stories, and songs dedicated to empowering children and helping them to develop healthy attitudes about themselves and each other. If you haven’t heard it, I’m sure it’s on You Tube by now. Marlo’s book encouraged children to accept all kinds of people and to find value in themselves. We know that health is physical and mental, and while the proceeds of Marlo’s book supported physical health for children at St. Jude’s, the book’s content supported mental health. Exposing children to a variety of different ideas and attitudes gives them a chance to recognize that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, and that there’s room for all of us to get along.
Healthy children who grow up with healthy habits have the best chance of becoming happy, well-adjusted adults. Celebrate National Child Health Day in your own way with the children in your life. Maybe it’s kale chips for dinner or a smile and a wave to the kids at the bus stop, but health is important and we can’t take it for granted.
Jaymee Squires is the Director of Graduate Programs at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. If you haven’t seen Free to Be You and Me, Jaymee recommends the scene with the babies. Goo.
Photo: Rotary International