Instill good habits during their growing years
THE early childhood years are a crucial time for laying the foundation of your child's healthy living habits. And parents have an important role to play. Here are some tips from the experts to help you along in your child's growth and development.
Make every meal count
What goes into your little one's tummy is crucial, especially during his or her growing years. Ensure that your child's diet is a well-balanced one packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, recommended nutritionist Letty Shiu from the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) Youth Health Programme Development.
According to Ms Shiu, dietary habits are formed when children are below the age of five, and they become more difficult to change during the teenage years. So, think twice before you pass your child that packet of chips. She added that most young children tend to have "an innate preference for sweet-tasting food and beverages", which explains why many of them have an aversion to vegetables that may be slightly bitter.
"As food preferences can be shaped and modified early in life, parents should incorporate a variety of vegetables into their children's diet from young. This way, they will be more likely to enjoy eating their greens as children and also as adults later on."
Work those little muscles
If your child's idea of exercise involves only the eyeballs (to watch TV) or flexing his thumbs (on portable game consoles), it may be time he get off the couch for some good, old-fashioned workout.
According to Ms Chong Shuh Min, senior executive at HPB's Youth Health Programme Development, physical activity helps with a child's growth and development. It also helps them achieve a healthy weight, improve fitness and stamina, build strong bones and tone muscles, and maintain good posture and balance.
"Participating in team sports or games also provides the child with an opportunity to enhance communication and social skills," she added.
A sedentary lifestyle, coupled with overfeeding, can be detrimental during the growing years. "Fat may be cute, but it is not beneficial for the child. Severely overweight children are more likely to develop high blood pressure and diabetes even at that young age. They may also develop low self-esteem and are more likely to become overweight adults."
The HPB recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as in-line skating, cycling and swimming, each day for five or more days a week. Or, short bouts of 10 to 15 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the day (to be accumulated to meet the 60-minute daily physical activity recommendation) can be built into the child's daily routine.
Say ahh ...
Dental hygiene is often one of the most neglected areas of a child's health. After all, why bother maintaining baby teeth when they will eventually fall out? But according to dental experts, baby teeth, which typically start dropping when the child is about six years old, are just as important as adult teeth.
Most children will have their full set of baby teeth by the age of three. "A set of healthy baby teeth will help a child chew and speak well. It will also help boost his or her self-esteem and confidence. Furthermore, the early loss of baby teeth to tooth decay may result in crowding and misalignment of the permanent teeth," said Dr Wong Mun Loke, deputy director of HPB's Youth Health Programme Development.
A good oral health regime is important at any age, even if your baby has no teeth.
"Before the first tooth appears in a child's mouth, it is useful to clean his gum pads with a clean, moist cloth. This will help the child get used to the habit of cleaning his mouth and prepare him for teethbrushing," said Dr Wong.
Sneak that carrot into your child's meal
- Give healthy food fun and interesting nicknames that fit into your child's imaginary world. For example, "little Os" for O-shaped cereals, "snow white tofu" for bean curd, "banana wheels" for banana slices, or "carrot swords" for thinly-sliced carrots.
- Prepare a variety of dips so your child can have fun dunking food into a bowl. For a nutritious after-meal food and dip combo, try serving fruit and yogurt.
- Involve your child in food preparation. Chances are, he'll be more willing to eat the food he has prepared. This means from grocery shopping to the actual food preparation in the kitchen. Younger children can perform easier tasks such as washing vegetables or scrubbing potatoes, while older ones can measure ingredients or do the mixing and stirring.
Get your child moving
- Take a walk along the mangrove boardwalk at Sungei Buloh and experience the great outdoors.
- At the Singapore Botanical Gardens, have great fun playing at the Jacob Ballas Children's Gardens.
- Try sports such as in-line skating and frisbee, or go kite-flying on the vast open grounds.
Get them interested in brushing their teeth
- Get your child to brush a doll's teeth. Explain that this will help keep the doll's teeth clean and healthy. It helps the child understand the importance of brushing and become more familiar with it and less averse to it.
- Play a song your child enjoys as part of the teeth-brushing regime. This positive reinforcement helps make brushing more enjoyable.
- Keep a teethbrushing diary to remind your child to brush their teeth at least twice a day - once in the morning and once at night before sleeping. Once he diligently keeps to the teethbrushing regime for a month, offer a simple reward.