Before we dive headfirst into spooky season, there’s another holiday, albeit sugar-free, that needs celebrating first.
National Children’s Health Day!
Though it came and went on the first Monday of this month, kids’ health is perennially important. Because, well, we talk a lot about how adults can restore and regain wellness, but wouldn’t it be so much better if we never lost it in the first place?
By working with the limitations of childhood tastes and tempers instead of against them, we can instill rock-solid, science-backed habits that lead to long-term, whole-person health. No gummies, gimmicks, or gut-churning red dye-40 syrups necessary.
Read on to learn Dr. Neal’s core tenets of holistic wellness for kids so you can raise healthy toddlers, teens, and everything in between.
In This Article:
- The Wellness Pyramid for kids
- Diet and nutritional habits for healthy children
- How sleep and exercise impact kids
- Stress management and mental well-being for children
The Wellness Pyramid for Kids: Holistic Children’s Health
We can’t expect kids to understand the importance of wellness or get excited about the benefits of building a healthy life. Heck, most of us grown-ups still throw tantrums about exercise, diet, and sleep, too.
We can, however, expect our kids to be little sponges, mirrors, copycats. Whatever metaphor you want to use there will work — children see, children do.
So as we look at the Wellness Pyramid from a kid’s point-of-view, keep in mind that the best thing we can do for the youngins is to make these lifestyle factors a fun and easy part of normal, everyday life.
Because children are always watching and picking up on our cues, patterns, and feelings, especially those surrounding mealtime, bedtime, and playtime.
1. Diet: Build Good Nutrition Habits
We know the last thing a tired, busy parent wants to hear is that they need to spend more time and effort on their kid’s meals.
But the corporations churning out plastic-wrapped foods marketed to overwhelmed parents know that, too. In fact, they bank on it… Literally. So here’s the unfortunate truth: even the greenest of the green-washed pre-packaged eats are less healthy than real food.
And, here’s the worst part — there’s a lot at stake for your kid. Children at risk for nutritional deficiencies aren’t able to perform at top capacity in school and suffer long-term in the realm of mental health.
Plus, for children with ADHD, diet can play a major role in either quelling or aggravating the symptoms of the common neurodevelopmental disorder.
The good news is that the reverse relationship between a high-quality diet and boosted mental health, improved school performance, and mitigated ADHD symptoms has been studied, too. Teaching our kids that we eat to fuel our fires can be a make-or-break factor in your child’s quality of life.
Focus on: Sharing the importance of whole, fresh foods; balancing macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) in every meal; enjoying snacks sparingly but without guilt.
2. Exercise: Encourage Regular Movement
New parents and modern guardians might be shocked to learn this, but we used to say, “Run the kids like dogs,” to help with sleep issues. Why?
Because physical activity — exercise, movement, and play — is critical for your child’s overall health and well-being. Not only has it been linked to improved school performance and better social integration, but it can also help prevent depression and anxiety.
If you want your child to develop properly and happily, get those suckers outside. Run, jump, and play with your kids regularly, making sure to expose them to plenty of sunlight (with sunscreen!) and fresh, green grass.
(Green schoolyards and playgrounds — AKA natural spaces designed more like a park and less like a parking lot — have been shown to have a whole host of physical and emotional benefits for kids.)
So get your kiddos moving and grooving outdoors, please, the wellness of our future generation depends on it.
3. Sleep: Prioritize Restorative Sleep Patterns
High-quality sleep, that is sleep that meets the parameters for depth and duration, is one of the integral building blocks to a long, healthy life for your kid.
On the other hand, getting inadequate sleep can increase the risk for long-term health issues — mental and physical. The consequences of insufficient sleep in kids range from impulsivity, anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive functions to lower muscular endurance and cardiovascular health.
Dr. Neal’s tried-and-true, clinically-verified do’s and don’ts for improving your child’s sleep quality are:
- Create a consistent sleep routine for the household.
- Limit water and sugar intake before bed.
- Feed them a light amount of healthy protein and fat.
- Eat sugary treats or chug water before bed.
- Approach sleep arbitrarily or inconsistently.
- Leave screens on at bedtime — limiting blue light and stimulation is crucial.
So more stuff like apple slices with peanut butter for dessert, and less iPad time in bed.
4. Mental Health: Support a Healthy Experience of Life
Speaking of devices — it might be time to rethink the all-access passes to dopamine-spiking Stimulation Overload World we’ve given our kids via technology.
Dr. Neal’s inner circle of psychiatric practitioner friends — and the latest research — are pointing to the connection between mental illness, device addiction, and social media. What they’re seeing is that, instead of priming our children for the real world, unlimited access to the internet is setting them up for depression, anxiety, inappropriate behavioral eating habits, and more.
So when it comes to preserving the spark that makes childhood so special, device detachment is the big thing.
That being said, it’s never too early to actually bolster and improve your kid’s mental health with meditation and mindfulness practices, too.
In fact, Dr. Neal believes that we could solve the American mental health crisis in a single generation by making meditation training a part of all public (and private) schooling. As lofty as the goal might seem, the reality of its benefits makes the difficulty of achieving it seem inconsequential.
In educational settings, mindfulness-oriented meditation practices have been shown to better children’s cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and social capabilities — all in one fell swoop.
Teaching a Future Generation of Health Heroes
Wait, did they skip right over the 5th aspect of the lifestyle domains?
We sure did.
But you can do it for them! Lower the toxin burden their bodies have to carry by following Dr. Neal’s guidelines for limiting the number of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in your home.
After all, it’s up to us, folks. It’s our job to raise a generation that’s better than the preceding ones — hopefully much, much better.