By: Joel Brasher
In theory, raising healthy children should be easy. But there is actually nothing easy about it.
Today’s negative health trends in our adult population indicate fewer parents are health-conscious than ever before thereby contributing to the declining health of their children. Unfortunately, parents who make unhealthy lifestyle choices often raise children who make unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Children who have a disability are exposed to the same sedentary environment, and as a result are more likely to be overweight or obese than their able-bodied peers. Surprisingly though, simple steps can be taken to foster a more health-conscious environment and achieve a healthier lifestyle for the whole family.
What if parents scheduled time for physical activity each day and made a reasonable attempt to make healthy choices as a family? Perhaps we would see progress in preventing kids from developing debilitating illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and a host of chronic diseases later in life. �
Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic said, “Parents play a primary role in their children’s health choices and behaviors.” Parents who adopt a healthier lifestyle themselves stand a greater chance of breaking the cycle of unhealthy choices in their family.
Unfortunately, many parents often fail to make wise health choices themselves decreasing the likelihood of their children seeing them as a healthy lifestyle role model.
But there is hope. Here are a few tips to create a health-conscious happy, home environment.
Begin by making better health choices during leisure time and on family outings, and let your children be a part of these efforts.
Children look up to their parents. Parents don’t have to become marathon runners or professional athletes to be good health role models for them. Simple activities like playing a game of tag, four-square, hiking, or catch are effective and inexpensive activities that can begin healthy trends in the family.�
Children with disabilities can participate and contribute to healthy choices at home as well. Many of the same methods used in raising children to be more health-conscious can be used in raising health-conscious children with disabilities. In most cases, simple adaptations can be applied to ensure the child achieves success and has fun. For example, if your activity of choice is a game of tag, decrease the boundaries of the game by drawing a circle that will increase the probability of a child in a wheelchair having success in the game, or incorporate a fishing net during a game of catch for a child who has a mobility impairment.
Children with disabilities can gain numerous mental and physical benefits from being physically active on a regular basis including a reduced risk of chronic and secondary conditions, improved self-esteem and greater social interaction.
Activity does not have to be strenuous to provide positive benefits. A little imagination can go a long way in providing a means of inclusion in practically any activity.
Having fun while being active is the key! Find activities that are enjoyable and include your whole family in the action.
An hour of physical activity a day may seem impractical right now. But keep in mind, a little activity every day leads to significant health benefits. Before you know it, you will be doing more activity than you thought you could. For the younger ones or for children with disabilities, gear the activities to include them in age- or ability-appropriate movement by adapting the activity to be both fun and successful.
Parents know their children better than anyone. Different parents support their kids’ physical activity in different ways. What matters most is that your children know how much you value and support their active pursuits. Encourage regular physical activity by going on active family outings. Signing your child up for sports, getting them to and from practice and cheering for them at games demonstrates how much you value an active lifestyle. Look for opportunities to be active in inclusive programs that are already in place at your local community and recreation centers, health and fitness facilities, public agencies and park departments, or sports clubs. Help your child discover the joy of adapted physical activity by encouraging them in adaptive sports such as those offered at Lakeshore Foundation.Go to www.lakeshore.org to learn more.
Besides adopting a healthy lifestyle as a parent and considering adding regular activity as an alternative to sedentary activities, parents must consider the effects of their immediate environment on a child’s health. "The environment plays a huge role in supporting healthy and unhealthy habits in kids of all abilities," said Tara LaRowe, PhD, assistant scientist in the Department of Family Medicine at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Pay attention to how much time you and your child spend in front of a television, computer or video game. Perhaps you could move the TV and computer out of your child’s room and keep them in a public area. That way you can stay on top of how much time your child spends glued to them. You could also set a daily or weekly TV time limit and stick with it. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no more than two hours of TV time a day for children 2 and older.
Many families may already have some healthy habits, or very few. Whatever your current status, it’s never too late to make a family commitment to healthy change. Remember to make healthy habits a priority, keep the conversation positive, and get your kids involved.
Your children might not react well at first but rest assured your behavior matters. Work physical activity into your family’s life and continue to talk about the positive benefits. Eventually, most children follow their parents’ lead.
Remember, you should always consult your personal doctor before beginning any physical activity or exercise program.
Parenting goes beyond just healthy active living.� Look for Part 2 in our “Raising Healthy Kids” series where we discover the fun in making healthy food choices.