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The 10 Factors for Healthy Growth in Kids Every Parent Needs to Know

by Asad Bondi
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As parents, we want to do everything we can to ensure our children grow up to be healthy, happy and productive members of society. With the right nourishment, care and attention, they’ll develop into fine young adults who can flourish in their careers, maintain lifelong relationships and pursue their passions with gusto. When raising your child, consider these 10 factors for healthy growth in kids every parent needs to know about.

1) Don’t Over-Schedule Them

For a host of reasons, kids need plenty of downtime. There’s nothing wrong with taking them on regular outings and vacations, but you can still do so without over-scheduling their lives. As parents and caregivers, we have a tendency to overschedule our kids—even before they’re old enough to tell us how much they like or dislike something. They aren’t defined by what activities they participate in or who they spend time with; it’s equally important that we give them room to just be kids.

2) Push The Right Buttons

It’s important to keep kids physically and mentally active throughout their childhood. A growing body of research links physical activity with a range of positive health outcomes—and some experts believe that children who are active tend to be better learners. But, how do you get your kids off the couch? It all comes down to what motivates them, says Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. So, before you push your kid toward exercise or music lessons or soccer practice, try thinking like a child psychologist and ask yourself: What buttons do I need to push here? (This idea works on adults too.) In other words: What is it that really gets my child excited about doing something healthy?

3) Speak Up When They Are Falling Behind

Keeping your child in step with his or her peers is easier said than done. If you want them to do well, make sure you are on top of your game: look at their homework, talk about what they are learning, and remind them of upcoming tests and quizzes. This way, they will be less likely to fall behind. And don’t forget that they need sleep! Helping them go to bed earlier is a great way not only to keep them healthy but also get some extra shut-eye yourself!

4) Encourage Imagination Through Play Time

As your child gets older, you’ll start thinking about structured activities: speech lessons, piano lessons, soccer practice. And these are important. But when it comes to developing imagination, don’t forget free play—that is, letting your kids run wild and just be kids. Pretend play is how children learn to think creatively and problem-solve (and frankly, they always will be thinking creatively and problem-solving). The key is not to step in too soon with a well-meaning let’s pretend we’re ice cream cones! Just let them do their thing until they hit upon a great idea—like pretending crayons are spaghetti.

5) Set An Example by Living a Healthy Lifestyle Yourself

If your kids see you being healthy, they will be more likely to grow up living a healthy lifestyle themselves. Teaching them about fitness and wellness from a young age will lay a foundation for life-long health. As you guide your kids through their youth, make sure that you are also leading by example. Show them how important it is to be active, eat nutritious foods and lead a happy lifestyle. Even if they don’t follow in your footsteps right away, having grown up with a solid base of good habits will help them become healthy adults someday soon!

6) Give Them a Well-Rounded Diet

The best diet, from a health perspective, is one that’s balanced. That means it doesn’t restrict your calories too much and gets you eating a range of fruits and veggies (also known as the rainbow of food groups), whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats every day. You should also aim to balance what you eat with physical activity. Studies have shown that sitting still or watching television increases your chances of obesity. So being active throughout your day is important. The CDC advises that kids ages 3-5 get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day; kids ages 6-17 get at least an hour per day.

7) Let Them Choose to Help Around The House

Giving kids chores and responsibilities around their own home is not only a great way to teach them how to be responsible young adults, but also can help them learn valuable skills. By giving your kids age-appropriate jobs around your house, they’ll build self-esteem and become more active members of your household. And, it doesn’t hurt that doing chores as a family gives you some time together—something we could all use more of. Here are some ways you can get your children started on their new life of responsibility

8) Send Them Outside to Play

Your kids need at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, so make sure you give them plenty of room to run around. The great news is that children seem to naturally gravitate towards all manner of movement; even a simple game of tag or catch can provide all their daily needs. You don’t have to enroll them in expensive sports programs if they seem disinterested—they might just want to dance, draw and play house (and those are still excellent exercises). If you’re concerned about your child’s growth, talk with their pediatrician and seek out activities appropriate for their age. But above all else, do not be afraid of dirt! Kids who grow up playing outside tend to eat healthier and are less likely than others to develop chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer. Good luck!

9) Make Exercise Fun and Energizing Instead of Boring and Forced

Getting your kids to enjoy exercise is one of your key objectives if you want them to get healthy, and it’s something you should start with as early as possible. Aside from making sure they’re properly hydrated, give kids plenty of opportunities to play outside. Organize soccer games, bike rides and other group activities that incorporate exercise. If their interest starts waning a bit when they hit their teen years, try enlisting their friends so that it’s no longer a form of punishment, but rather something fun and exciting. Remember that almost any form of exercise is better than none at all; even playing catch can be a great way for them to burn off some energy and release endorphins after a tough day at school.

10) Work on Problem Solving Skills

The single most important skill kids need to succeed at home, work, and school isn’t math, reading, or even being able to surf cyberspace. The essential skill is problem-solving. We need our children not only to know how to solve problems but also to love doing it—to approach each challenge with enthusiasm and optimism. And as parents and teachers, we have an opportunity every day (or at least many days) to help our children hone their ability. How? By encouraging them when they tackle a problem without our help; by finding ways of letting them learn from their own mistakes; by coaching them on strategies that will lead them in productive directions; by teaching them they don’t always have all of life’s answers at their fingertips.

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