STARTING AT A FAIRLY early age, one of my sons decided that walking from the car to anywhere was much more efficient if you groaned all of the way. On the other hand, faced with a “hike”, he could go for miles. The challenge of climbing something is great fun if someone is not telling you to be careful or not go too high while you are aiming for the sky. I was also once told that if you gave kids a variety of all types of food, they will actually create a fairly healthy diet on their own. My personal experience is that when presented an array of choices, children will eat a lot of junk food and sweets over those beautiful veggies. When talking about health and fitness for our little ones, we are really talking about a holistic approach to each child. There are copious studies on raising healthy kids and more information than one can handle, but here are a few totally unscientific hints based on my personal observations that might be useful.
First, if you want your kids to eat healthier food, then model it and don’t have things that any of you shouldn’t be eating easily available. Also, don’t create absolutes. Some sweets in moderation and with guidelines prevent seeing sweets or other not so healthy stuff as forbidden fruit that becomes much more desirable. Kids love dipping so providing a good dip with almost anything seems to make it more edible. Tummy time became a thing when SIDs research showed that kids should sleep on their backs. We actually have seen a decline in upper body strength since babies spend so much time on their backs and in car seats which can be carried everywhere. As kids grow, look for activities requiring them to pull up and push up. Climbing structures are great as are places to literally “hang around.” Let those kids pull up and cruise around the coffee table and give those crawlers room to explore.
Allow for empty time. The gym, music classes and sports teams are all great, but kids also need to know how to amuse themselves (without plugging into something). Being healthy also means knowing that you can create your own entertainment. Being able to hang out with friends and figuring out games to play, open ended block play without instructions to make something specific, laying under a tree and reading, and creating stories should solve the “I’m bored” whines.
Get outside. When I was a child, the parents on our block basically kicked us out of the house in the morning with skates or bikes and basically did not want to see us until the next meal. We no longer live in places where we can do that, but you can still gather kids in the back yard or at parks and let them run. We are blessed to live where there are great hiking trails, park playgrounds, turtle ponds at Caltech, and just fun places to walk. Get yourself moving along with your kids. Throw some mats in the backyard and do yoga together. Teach kids not to fear weather – you can be outdoors anytime if dressed appropriately (and no one is getting frostbite in our climate).
Raising healthy and fit kids may mean thinking about being a healthy and fit family. Have fun together
Judy Callahan is Director of B’nai Simcha Jewish Community Preschool and a member of PJTC.