Most parents believe that their most critical job is to keep their child healthy and safe, with literally everything else after that being a bonus, and for many generations, parents were happy to just achieve this. While today’s standards of parenting have risen to “Pinterest levels” and overbooked schedules of extra-curricular, Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn, Illinois, says these same two priorities are still on the top of the list for parents: Do what you can to keep children healthy and safe. Take care of Your Child’s Health
“There are some illnesses that your child is bound to pick up throughout the years, like the common cold, strep throat, or the flu,” says Dr. Alzein. “Some illnesses are just unavoidable. There are, however, five things parents can do to minimize the risk of illness, when a child does contract an illness, make the symptoms and complications less severe.”
- Don’t Skip the Well-Child Visits and Vaccinations- Your Child’s Health
Dr. Alzein understands that, if your child appears to be healthy and thriving, it’s easy to put off these recommended well-child visits. However, they are just as important when your child is healthy as when they are ill. “Having your pediatrician examine your child while they are outwardly healthy will catch any developmental delays or early warning signs of illness.”
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined well visits from birth to 21 years of age. Your pediatrician’s office should help you make and keep these recommended appointments. Vaccinations are safe and proven to save our children’s lives, protecting against life-threatening and life-altering illnesses,” says Dr. Alzein.
However, if you have concerns about your child, their health, or their development, Dr. Alzein says not to wait until a well-visit appointment. “Bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious delays or complications.”
When you adhere to the AAP well visit schedule, your child is also much more likely to stay current on their vaccinations. “This schedule is carefully constructed to ensure the vaccines are administered in the most effective way for a child’s developing immune system. Staying current on the vaccination schedule is the best way to prevent illness,” says Dr. Alzein.
- Serve a Healthy Diet.- Your Child’s Health
“You are what you eat” is probably the most accurate way to describe how parents should think about a healthy diet for their family. Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables at every meal, as well as protein and carbohydrates, is the best way to give the body what it needs to thrive.
“We also strongly recommend avoiding processed foods that have excess sugar and sodium. Going through a drive-through once in a while won’t going to push anyone’s health over the edge, but going through a drive-through every day will eventually take a serious toll on your child’s health. Study after study shows that consuming heavily processed food leads to unhealthy weight gain and puts them at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes,” says Dr. Alzein.
At every meal, serve your child a vegetable and a fruit, making sure they eat that – even just a few bites – before eating any other foods, and most especially before any dessert.
Instead of the fast-food line, try to pack lunches with whole fruits, such as bananas and apples. Make sure breakfasts contain protein and avoid the sugary cereals that will give kids a burst of energy, but bring a crash mid-morning.
Dr. Alzein recommends:
- Protein: homemade chicken nuggets, seafood, beans, peas, and unsalted nuts
- Fruits: fresh, canned, frozen, or dried
- Vegetables: several times a day in an assortment of colors
- Grains: whole grain bread and rice, oatmeal, and popcorn
- Dairy: yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, and milk at meals
- Hydrate!- Your Child’s Health
Grandparents today laugh because they cannot remember a time in their childhood when they carried a water bottle around everywhere they went – sometimes not even at sports practice. Dr. Alzein says, “We know the importance of water today. Now, more and more parents make sure children have water easily accessible.”
There are plenty of physical benefits to staying hydrated; helping blood circulate, making digestion easier, and helping to maintain a consistent optimum body temperature. “There are also mental benefits to staying hydrated,” Dr. Alzein says. “Being well hydrated will help improve mood, memory, and attention span.”
Water intake should be a standard part of your child’s day, increasing when the temperature rises or they are engaging in physical activity. Make sure your child drinks water whenever they are thirsty and encourage them to drink enough so that their urine is nearly clear. Dr. Alzein says, “No child, at any age, should be drinking pop, soda or soft drinks, even clear drinks.”
- Encourage Physical Activity.
Parents are pulled between working, taking care of the home, and keeping up with the kids. “We know that there are times it is easier to sit them in front of their favorite show or give them a tablet so parents can have time to complete a task or just have a break. While is nothing wrong with this for a time or two, sedentary behavior should not turn into a habit,” says Dr. Alzein.
Regular physical activity in childhood will lead to maintaining physical activity a priority as an adult. According to the CDC, this habit will:
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Improve the cardiovascular and respiratory system
- Reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes
- Prevent obesity
- Decrease anxiety and depression
“Physical activity does not have to be structured or involve a league,” says Dr. Alzein. “It can be as simple as a family bike ride after dinner, a trip to the park in the morning, or silly obstacles, like walking like a bear or a cabin doors to get from room to room. Find what works for you and your child so their body is moving and their heart rate becomes elevated for an hour every day.”
- Keep a Schedule that Prioritizes Rest.- Your Child’s Health
Dr. Alzein says, “We are busy our entire lives, and it seems as though rest is always sacrificed to accommodate hectic schedules, even in childhood. Rest has to be a number one priority above any other commitment. When children rest, they are giving their bodies and minds time to recover from a long day of learning and developing and also gearing up to do it all again the next day.”
Children above the age of 5 years old need an average of 10 hours of sleep a night. When children sleep, bodies cleanse toxins and release hormones for growth and the brain strengthens itself, which increases learning and memory. An adequate amount of sleep will also help children regulate their emotions and decrease the risk of depression.
“To make sure that your child is getting enough rest, teach them healthy sleep habits at an early age,” says Dr. Alzein. “Have a consistent, calm bedtime routine at the same time every night. Make sure that all screens are shut off at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid anything caffeinated in the afternoon and evenings. If your child is clocking 10 hours of sleep a night and still seems groggy during the day, call your pediatrician and make sure a physical problem isn’t preventing them from getting the rest they need.”
Check-in with Your Child Regularly
A healthy lifestyle takes commitment to build, but when these healthy habits are started in childhood, kids will carry them through healthy adulthood. “As you stack these building blocks of health with your children, make sure they are part of the building,” says Dr. Alzein. “Giving them some control over their health will empower them and help them learn the why behind healthy choices.”
“Check in with your kids. Ask them how they are feeling and what they like and don’t like about their diets and exercise. Talking to your child may reveal some preferences that can easily be adjusted to help them increase their water or vegetable intake. They may be having a difficult time falling asleep from the stress they are carrying. You won’t know unless you ask,” says Dr. Alzein.
Dr. Alzein says, “Above all else, advocate for your child. If you or your child feels something is wrong, make sure to see your pediatrician, ask all your questions, and get the answers you need to improve both their physical and mental health.”