by Danielle Labonte, MPH, MAN, RD, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit
Parents and caregivers can help children have healthy bodies and healthy minds by role modelling healthy active living. This can begin with making physical activity a part of family time. Plan physical activity into your weekends, vacation time and general family time – remember to always keep the focus on having fun and feeling good.
Encourage children to try new and challenging activities that help them develop new skills and confidence. It’s important for children to learn to move in a variety of ways, for example: jumping, running, climbing, throwing and catching. We are now learning that limiting outdoor play and being too protective may affect children’s development. We want children to be safe and learn to avoid hazards, but we also want to encourage them to challenge their bodies’ abilities while they learn to identify and manage risks. Children benefit from being given the freedom to explore. This can build their confidence, resilience, problem solving skills and learning limits. It is important to give children time for unstructured adventurous play, which lets them guide their own activities. Playing outside in nature is a great way for unstructured play to happen naturally!
The final piece to the “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” approach is mental well-being. We can help children be mentally healthy by having a positive view on bodies and well-being, and accepting and respecting themselves and others around them. Healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Celebrate the positive qualities in yourself and others, and help children do the same. Encourage children to compliment others on their talents and skills, rather than appearance. Teach them how to accept and appreciate comments. These are good practices for everyone!
We often see and hear unhealthy and unrealistic pictures and messages in the media. It’s important to teach children how to question what they see and hear. Think about whether or not it’s realistic or healthy. Ask yourself if the message is trying to sell you something, and who it’s from – is it from a researcher, health professional or celebrity? Challenge the media messages and pictures that make you feel bad about your body and help children learn how to do the same.
For more information, visit www.healthunit.org, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, or call 1-800-660-5853.