How to raise a healthy child
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Through research, scholarship, teaching and outreach, the faculty in the College of Human Ecology continually seek ways to nurture healthy children and families. This series of six stories, written by communications director Jane P. Marshall, explores ways to raise a healthy child who will grow into a competent, capable adult.
First you make eye contact
The relationship between a parent and a child sets the foundation for the child's future, according to early childhood education professor Bronwyn Fees. Parents don't have to build the foundation alone. A child needs at least one person who is nuts about her, the more adults you can surround the child with — the more adults who are "nuts" about her — the better that facilitates the child's development, the professor said. From these relationships and experiences, a baby grows to learn problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and understanding the feelings of others and herself. Fees offers suggestions on building those relationships.
Keep children on the move
Send the children outdoors to play. "We find that the more time children spend outdoors the more active they are," said David Dzewaltowski, professor of physical activity and public health in the Department of Kinesiology. He called the lack of physical activity in children today a national problem. "We live in a toxic environment that does not promote physical activity in children, or anyone," he said. "From birth to death, it is important to be physically active. We know that physical activity improves quality of life and helps avoid chronic illness." Dzewaltowski offers ideas on how to keep children physically active.
Rediscover how to play
"We find that parents lose the ability to play," said Nancy O'Conner, director of the K-State Family Center, which provides clinical services to the Manhattan community. She also is a play therapist and a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist. Play encourages the mastery and development of the crucial C's: courage, capable, connect, count. "We want parents to help their children feel brave, to feel that they can do things, that they belong and that they matter," she said. That feeling of attachment is one of the most important criteria for being a mentally healthy adult. She offers suggestions on how a parent or caregiver can rediscover play.
'I'm important, you're important'
When a child feels valued, he sees values in others. When he realizes he has his own thoughts and emotions, he understands that others do, too. When his ideas and feelings are respected, he learns to respect them in others. "As a parent, you want your child to understand and respect that other people have thoughts and feelings. It makes for healthier children who develop into happier adults," said Bradford Wiles, assistant professor in early childhood development and extension specialist at Kansas State University. "It's a much easier existence for children if they see value in everyone," he said. "When they start to get judgmental, things get so much harder for them." He offers other ways to build a foundation for empathy, tolerance.
When multitasking and parenting don't mix
Learning communication skills begins the day a baby is born. "At all stages of early communication development, children can understand more language than they can produce so it's important they are hearing speech and language," said Debra Burnett, assistant professor and licensed speech-language pathologist. To bolster language, listening and conversation skills, a parent should try to set aside time during each day when communicating with his child is the only thing he is doing, Burnett said. No multitasking. No electronics. She offers other strategies for building language skills.
Develop healthy eating habits: start early, eat your veggies
A healthy diet promotes success in life — better concentration and alertness, better physical health that translates into good mental and emotional health. But even the best intentioned parents can expect food fights with their children, said Tanda Kidd, associate professor of human nutrition and extension specialist. Developing good eating habits in your children is worth the effort, she said. Good eating habits also are a frontline defense against overweight and obesity, which affects nearly 1 in 4 children ages 2 to 5, said Paula Peters, associate professor of human nutrition and assistant extension director. An obese child is at risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and sleep apnea. "No parent wants her child to be sick. No parent wants her child to feel like an outsider in social situations, or be teased or bullied because of her weight," Kidd said. They offer ways to develop healthy eating habits in a child and list what children ages 2 to 5 should be eating.