As the calendar turns a fresh page, it's the perfect opportunity to embark on a journey of new beginnings and positive change. For parents, creating healthy routines in their children's lives can be a transformative and rewarding experience. Belliny Phaeton, MD, a pediatrician specializing in lifestyle medicine at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, provides tips on laying the foundation for a year filled with growth and well-being. From overcoming challenges to creating a balanced daily schedule, let's explore practical tips to set your child up for success in the coming year.
How important is it for children to have a routine, and how does it contribute to their overall well-being?
Establishing a routine is very important for children because it provides them with a sense of security. The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that children thrive when exposed to regular, predictable, and consistent routines. These routines not only contribute to mental well-being but also promote positive effects on physical health by incorporating healthy habits into daily activities.
With the start of a new year, what are some common challenges parents may face in establishing or maintaining a routine for their children?
We face different challenges, some common and some unique to the individual or family. Here are a few.
Maintaining an established routine:
A new year represents a blank slate, a new page to write on, a new chapter, and fresh opportunities for improvement. One may make New Year's resolutions and then find them difficult to maintain. This may be because the resolutions were too ambitious or new life stressors get in the way. A solution may be to start small and then gradually build. Rather than attempting to go from no exercise to one hour daily, perhaps start with 15 minutes a day. Then, slowly increase until you reach your goal.
Overcoming discouragement from “failed” routine:
Consistency and perseverance is key! If you miss one day because of an unforeseen event, bounce back the next day and try to maintain the routine. Sometimes, we are hard on ourselves and have an all-or-nothing attitude, but it’s important to have positive self-talk.
Those in situations of divorce, co-parenting, or having other family members assist with childcare can have an additional challenge in establishing or maintaining a routine for children. Consistency in routines is very important. Therefore, the adults must communicate and be on the same page about keeping the routine for the children. Sleeping and eating schedules should not vary drastically. If one adult doesn’t see the importance of establishing or maintaining routine for the children, consider seeing your pediatrician or other topic expert together.
Resisting a new routine:
Some children may resist a new routine at first. Try to partner with the child. Give them some responsibility so that they take ownership of this new routine as well. Be firm and consistent, yet make it fun and enjoyable. Children can sense negativity. Have a positive attitude about the new routine and about the child. Don’t let it turn into a fight.
What are some of your top tips for parents on creating a balanced routine that includes academic, physical, and recreational activities?
Balancing life's priorities is a life-long endeavor as needs change and circumstances change. The first step is to understand that academic, physical, and recreational activities are all important. This allows you to try to make plans for them all. Sometimes we prioritize academic achievements, but not the other aspects of our lives. Developing the other factors are important for raising a healthy, balanced child with a healthy, balanced character and brain.
Combine things whenever you can. Physical activity can be recreational activity. Family together time can be combined with maintaining the house. For example, everybody may do their part together while listening to music and singing together.
Keep in mind that there are daily routines, but there are also weekly routines, monthly routines, or yearly traditions.
What health and wellness goals should parents should set for their children? Anything they can do together?
An easy way to remember some of them is using the 5-2-1-0 rule.
5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
2 or less hours of screen time per day
1 or more hours of physical activity per day
0 sugary beverages per day
Consider these goals:
The goal for children and adolescents is 60 minutes. This improves mental health, physical health, and academic performance.
Parents can play with children, go for walks, or go hiking on the weekend as a family, or the parent can walk around while the kids play if the kids are on a team. Find something the child will enjoy so that staying active is not a chore.
Sleep is incredibly important. The hours needed depend on the child's age. According to the Sleep Foundation, children ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours, including naps. Children ages 6-12 need 9-12 hours of sleep. Adolescents ages 13-18 years need 8-10 hours of sleep. Set a health and wellness goal for a bedtime routine to ensure that your child is getting the appropriate amount of sleep.
Consider starting an accountability game. Create a checklist of everyone in the house, and then, after dinner, have everyone see if they met the goal of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables for that day. This should be like a game for accountability and support. However, if this can lead to stress and turn into unhealthy competition, don’t do it. Other nutrition goals include avoiding soda and sugary beverages, decreasing junk food, and drinking more water. Make these healthy dietary changes together because it will benefit the entire family. If one child has a medical concern, such as obesity or prediabetes, don’t single that child out and discontinue their soda or ice cream intake while the other children are allowed to consume these items. Lead by example and be healthier together.
Avoid toxic substances:
Smoking or the use of other substances often starts during late childhood and adolescence. Make it a goal for your children to not start using these substances or to quit if they already have. Make sure they are aware that smoking, vaping, and other substances are unhealthy. If a parent has an addiction to a substance, the child is more likely to start using and become addicted as well. If your goal is for your child not to start smoking, vaping, or using other substances, step one is for you to quit. If this is something that you struggle with, seek professional help. This will empower you and your child.
Make a goal to limit media consumption. Ensure that the media being consumed is good quality media, and consume it in low quantities. Media can be in the form of television, internet use, video gaming, cell phone use, or social media. Increased media consumption is associated with increased anxiety, depression, and obesity. Limit the amount of time spent on media and monitor the content that is being consumed. Violent and pornographic content is detrimental. It’s important to communicate with your children about the content of the media they are consuming and sometimes co-viewing with them.
Maintaining social engagement and fellowship:
Building social skills and connections in a safe environment is also important for optimal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation is associated with negative mental and physical health risks, including increased risk of depression and anxiety, addiction, diabetes, and heart disease.
How does sleep play a crucial role in a child's routine, and are there recommendations for improving sleep habits in the new year?
Sleep plays a crucial role in everyone's routine, especially children. Sleep is important for both physical and mental health. It’s vitally important to establish a regular bedtime to ensure your child gets enough sleep prior to getting up to go to school. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep impacts memory, learning ability, and mood. Adequate sleep also helps prevent the development of diabetes, obesity, attention difficulties, behavior problems, and mental health issues.
Here are some recommendations for improving sleep habits in the new year:
- Be consistent with a regular bedtime and wake-up time, including the weekends. We are tempted to sleep in on the weekends, but don’t let this fluctuate too much from the regular routine.
- Remove electronic devices from the bedroom. The blue light from our devices disrupts our brain's ability to produce melatonin, which negatively impacts sleep quality. Avoid using electronics for at least one hour before bedtime.
- Have a calming bedtime routine, such as bath time, reading a book, or family worship and prayer time.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime.
- Ensure physical activity during the daytime, which will help children fall asleep at nighttime.
Last but not least, lead by example! Model healthy sleep hygiene for the children. This will benefit you, too!