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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy December 30, 2013 08:32 AM
It's New Year's Resolution time--and as a pediatrician who is always talking to families about ways to live healthier and happier, I can't let the opportunity pass.
My advice is kind of obvious. I get that. But as someone who spends an awful lot of time listening to how families live their daily lives, well, just because something is obviously a good idea doesn't mean it automatically or even frequently happens. We all have some room for improvement.
And that's how you should think about it: as room for improvement. So many New Year's resolutions don't get kept--mostly, I think because people get too ambitious, set goals that aren't really practical, and then give up. With each of my suggestions, all you really need to do is lean into them. Try things out. Make small changes. They add up.
It's worth making these changes, really. Because each one of them is about habits that can make your child--and you--healthier and happier not just for now, but for life. So here are my top five:
1. Give your family a healthier diet. There's lots of ways to do this, obviously. But the best things you can do are to add more fruits and vegetables, cut back on sweetened beverages, and limit junk food and fast food. Like...pack water instead of juice for school snack, and swap out an apple for those chips. Get in the habit of including a fruit or vegetable with every meal, even if only a few bites are eaten. Do some meal planning on weekends, and maybe put together a casserole (with no-cook noodles, making lasagne ahead of time is wicked easy) so you're less tempted to grab fast food on the way home. The Healthy Family Fun and ChooseMyPlate.gov websites have lots of great recipe ideas.
2. Get your children active. The goal is an hour a day of physical activity; anything toward that goal is great. And really, "active" is the key word. Active play is fine, although running around the house (which is what lots of parents point to when I ask about activity) may not quite be enough. Playing outside is better--and really, you don't have to hibernate all winter. Layer up and go outside! There are lots of indoor things to do, too--like swimming lessons, martial arts classes, indoor rock climbing (my son loves that!), roller blading or basketball. The Healthy Family Fun website has information about things to do in the Boston area. Check out your local YMCA and city recreation department, too.
3. Be more thoughtful about media and screen time. Notice I'm not telling you to shut the screens off--I get that they are here to stay. But we could all do a better job of being more thoughtful about the kinds of media our children interact with--and how much time they spend with them. Take a hard, honest look at your family's media habits. Limit violent or sexual content for everyone (it truly has effects you don't want)--and for little kids, try to limit media in general, especially fast-paced cartoons, as they can mess up learning and behavior. The Common Sense Media website has great ideas and reviews that can help parents make the best decisions--and find media that can be good for kids. If you have tweens or teens, talk to them about social media, and help them make good choices about how they use it.
4. Make sure your children have time and space for creativity, relaxation--and independence. Too many children are overscheduled--and have too many decisions made for them. This is another place where parents need to take a hard, honest look at their lives and habits. Children need to play, use their imagination, choose their own activities...and make their own mistakes. It's really crucial for their mental health--and overall success in life.
5. Spend more time together as a family. Have more family dinners (with the TV off)--they lead to better nutrition, better school performance, and better teen behavior, it turns out. Game Night is another way: I had a blast the other night playing Anomia with my daughters--and our Apples to Apples game on Christmas Eve was pretty funny (even the 8-year-old enjoyed it). Exercise together--take walks, go to family swim. Build a snowman together. Visit a museum (check out the museum pass program at your local library for discounts). Try to do something once a week. You might just be surprised how much fun you have. The connections you make with your family can make all the difference--for your child, and for you.
Happy New Year--may 2014 be a really great one for you and your family.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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