Changing a handful of little habits can help ensure you have super healthy kids. These are the pediatrician-approved qualities of the most robust kids around.
They get plenty of sleep
Many kids—especially as they hit their teen years—don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. “Prioritize sleep,” says Natasha Burgert, MD, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Missouri. “Sleep is required for healthy growth, body functions, and mental health. Plus, sleep protects against obesity and its associated risks.” For toddlers, expect 11 to 14 hours of sleep, while teens should get between 8 and 10 hours per night. Need help getting shut-eye? Try these 10 tips for a better night’s sleep.
They wash their hands before eating
A 2012 study showed that something as simple as teaching your kids to wash their hands regularly can drastically lower the rate of respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. Here are other key ways to avoid getting sick.
They don’t eat only mac n’ cheese
“Parents can teach their kids to eat foods that are all colors of the rainbow,” says Jean Moorjani, MD, a pediatrician at Orlando Health’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “The variety will ensure that kids are getting the appropriate vitamins and nutrients they need to grow and be healthy.” These are the after-school snacks nutritionists give their own kids.
They stay up to date on vaccinations
Vaccines are key to preventing illness—and to healthy kids. “Parents can make sure they give vaccines on the CDC recommended schedule,” Dr. Moorjani says. “This includes a flu vaccine every year.”
They get out and play
Active kids are healthy kids. And beyond the physical benefits such as decreased risk of obesity and weight-related disease, regular exercise can help reduce stress and boost mood too. “Healthy kids do something fun every day, screens not included,” Dr. Burgert says. “Promoting mental health is important.”
They have parents who prioritize their own health
“When parents get busy, we have a tendency to prioritize the health and wellness of our kids over our own,” says Dr. Burgert. “Moms and dads need to prioritize their own health to set an example. This includes eight hours of sleep, limiting media use, eating at home with their kids, drinking lots of water, getting a flu shot, washing hands, getting regular exercise, and taking time out for ourselves.” By having healthy habits of your own, you’ll be modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids. Here’s how to carve out more “me time.”
They use car seats and seat belts
Car accidents are one of the most common causes of death in kids under 12, and 35 percent of those killed were not properly restrained in car seats. Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, and have kids rear facing until they turn 2, in a five-point harness until they outgrow their forward-facing seat, and then a belt-positioning booster until they reach 4 feet 9 inches. Learn how to use a car seat safely.
They wear helmets when they ride bikes
Only about half of children wear helmets when they ride their bikes, even though nearly 26,000 kids each year end up with bike-related head injuries, according to the CDC. And though they aren’t perfect, a study in the American College of Surgery shows that people who wore helmets reduced their risk of traumatic brain injury by 53 percent. These are the signs you need to go to the ER after a head injury.
They limit their screen time
A recent survey by Common Sense Media finds that kids are glued to their screens for an average of 2 hours and 20 minutes every day. But super healthy kids step away from technology. “Kids who spend too much time in front of a screen—computer, video games, tablets, smartphones—have higher risks of developing obesity, depression, sleep problems, lower academic performance, and increased risky behavior,” says Dr. Moorjani.
They see their doctor annually
Regular doctor’s visits can help ensure that everything’s ship shape—and make sure that you catch any underlying medical issues sooner. “Parents can contact their trusted pediatrician for guidance in helping their kids grow up as healthy as they can be,” says Dr. Moorjani. “As healthcare providers, we want what you want, and that is for every child to grow up healthy.” Here’s how to find a pediatrician you can trust.