When I, Dr. Linda Carson, was in college I had a professor of early childhood who lectured that “children grow predictably, but their development depends.” In other words, growth (or maturation) will unfold inevitably, but development depends on life experiences. This is a very powerful statement worth reflecting on by adults. Healthy child development depends on the living and learning environments that are created and nurtured by grownups. It is awe-inspiring to be reminded that child development actually depends on the many decisions made on behalf of children by parents, grandparents, teachers, or other significant adults in the life of a young person. We are literally responsible for helping a child develop preferences, resiliency, decision-making, self-esteem, social skills, respect for others, healthy habits, and the list goes on and on.
Parent – Child Relationship
The relationship that parents share with their children has lifelong impact. Studies show that the benefits of sustained parental involvement affect all areas of a child's life, including health, academic progress, and life choices. More “family time” is associated with fewer high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse and delinquency, and lower rates of depression, eating disorders, and antisocial behavior. Other studies have shown that family rituals and traditions are associated with positive mental health outcomes.
Family Ritual Idea
I’d like to suggest a healthy family ritual that can impact the quality of life for all family members and have impact for years to come. Let’s embrace the 5, 2, 1, 0 campaign advocated by American Academy of Pediatrics and the Head Start National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness. The 5, 2, 1, 0 messages encourage:
- 5 or more fruits and veggies a day: A diet (meals and snacks) rich in fruits and veggies is associated with lower rates of chronic disease and may help prevent weight gain
- 2 hours or less screen time per day: Screen time promotes sedentary behavior, attention problems, and takes away from important and influential family time
- 1 hour or more of physical activity daily: Move more! Children and adults will experience health benefits by increasing and enjoying physical activity each day.
- 0 sugary beverages: Consumption of soda pop, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, powdered drinks, and even bottled sweetened tea is associated with cavities and excessive weight gain.
More Family Resources
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Head Start National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness have created Growing Healthy resource materials to help us. I especially like the family goal setting worksheet that will help us get started in 2016 with the 5, 2, 1, 0 approach to developing healthy habits. The Family Goal Setting worksheet also has great ideas for getting started. Print copies after downloading it here.
If you have children in your home, use this goal setting approach as a new family ritual and consider downloading our monthly calendars for more ideas for family fun. If you work with families share this information with them. If you do not have children in your home, use this goal setting worksheet for beginning to plan and document a new personal ritual. Be sure that your goals are small and achievable. If five fruits and veggies (2 fruits and 3 veggies) are unachievable to start, then challenge yourself with a number that can be do-able and increase as you adjust and enjoy. I suggest making your goals visible around your home on the fridge door, bathroom mirror, or a home bulletin board. Maybe you’ll decide to focus on just one of the messages and gradually add each of the others as you make progress. You can decide how to get started and how to use this information to reap health benefits that you will never regret.
Let’s remember that children grow predictably, but their development depends---on YOU! And if health is wealth, let’s invest wisely.