Adapted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.
It’s New Year’s resolution time and as a pediatrician who is always talking to families about ways to live healthier and happier, I can’t let the opportunity pass.
So many New Year’s resolutions don’t get kept. Mostly, I think because people get too ambitious, set goals that aren’t practical, and then give up. With my suggestions, all you really need to do is lean into them. Try things out. Make small changes. They add up.
Each one of the following changes is about habits that can make your child — and you — healthier and happier not just now, but for life.
1. Give your family a healthier diet. There are lots of ways to do this, obviously, but the best things you can do are add more fruits and vegetables, cut back on sweetened beverages, and limit junk food and fast food. For example, pack water instead of juice for school snacks and swap out an apple for chips. Get in the habit of including a fruit or vegetable with every meal, even if only a few bites are eaten. Do some meal planning on weekends, and maybe put together a casserole so you’re less tempted to grab fast food on the way home.
2. Get your children active. The goal is an hour a day of physical activity but anything toward that goal is great. Active play is fine, although running around the house may not quite be enough. Layer up and go outside! There are lots of indoor things to do, too, such as swimming lessons, martial arts classes, indoor rock climbing, or basketball.
3. Be more thoughtful about media and screen time. I’m not telling you to shut the screens off. But we could all do a better job of being more thoughtful about the kinds of media our children interact with and how much time they spend with them. Take a hard, honest look at your family’s media habits. Limit violent or sexual content for everyone and for little kids, try to limit media in general, especially fast-paced cartoons, as they can affect learning and behavior. The Common Sense Media website has great ideas and reviews that can help parents make decisions and find media that can be good for kids. If you have tweens or teens, talk to them about social media, and help them make good choices about how they use it.
4. Make sure your children have time and space for creativity, relaxation, and independence. Too many children are overscheduled and have too many decisions made for them. Children need to play, use their imagination, choose their own activities, and make their own mistakes. It’s really crucial for their mental health and overall success in life.
5. Spend more time together as a family. Have more family dinners (with the TV off). They lead to better nutrition, better school performance, and better teen behavior. Game Night is another way to spend time together. Exercise together, visit a museum. Try to do something once a week. The connections you make with your family can make all the difference for your child, and for you.