Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Child Development
When it comes to optimal health and wellness for your family, small steps can lead to impactful changes. All aspects of health should be looked at holistically—like the inner workings of a vehicle—where each contributing factor (or part) plays a crucial role in the system of growth and development. In the early years, your child is growing and changing rapidly, which puts them in an ideal position to take on habits that will carry them well into the future. Help them lay out the foundation for optimal health and wellness for years to come!
How much sleep do children need?
At any age, proper sleep is crucial for physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. The delicate way that your child’s mind and body change and develop in the early years depends heavily on restful sleep. Although a child’s individual sleep habits may differ, the Canadian Paediatric Society makes the following general recommendations for sleep:
- Infants (4–12 months) 12–16 hours
- Toddlers (1–2 years) 11–14 hours
- Children (3–5 years) 10–13 hours
- Children (6–12 years) 9–12 hours
- Teenagers (13–18 years) 8–10 hours
Not only is the length of time important when it comes to sleep, but quality matters, especially during the early years of growth and development. Learning and behavioural difficulties, hyperactivity, and decreased focus can all be linked to not enough good quality sleep, highlighting the need to prioritize it for the youngest members of our household.
Create the right sleep environment
To help your child get more sleep, implement age-appropriate bed and wake times. Keep the room cool, dark, and cozy, and create a family rule of no electronics at least an hour before bed. Plenty of active play and physical activity will certainly set the stage for a happily tuckered-out child! Finally, a calm mind is a restful mind, and if you ensure your child’s emotional needs are met as well during the day, sweet sleep is more likely to follow!
Plan healthy family meals
Implementing healthy food choices from the start is foundational for healthy growth and development, and can pave the way for healthy choices later in life. Focus on consuming whole foods and well-balanced meals, with the occasional sweet as a special treat (but resist the temptation to use it as a reward!).
Healthy snacks for kids
At each meal, make sure to include a protein (chicken, turkey, salmon), healthy fats (avocados, full-fat coconut milk, cheese), fruits and veggies (berries, bananas, leafy greens), and nutrient-dense carbohydrates (sweet potato, oats, quinoa). Simple nutrient-dense options like rolled oats with almond milk and blueberries; turkey, cheese, and lettuce rolled up in a tortilla; and fruits with yogurt dip or vegetables with hummus are easy healthy twists that almost every kid will love!
Make mealtimes less stressful and more mindful by creating a media-free environment where everyone dines together as a family. Play soft dinner music to make it relaxing, make sure there’s time to eat slowly for good digestion, and engage your children in personal ways that make them look forward to mealtime.
Keep trying with your picky eaters
Did you know that it may take up to ten tries for your child to start accepting a new food? Their developing taste buds might need a little more time to acquire a taste for it. Or spark your child’s interest in food by having them help out with meal planning and cooking. From grocery store to table, keeping your child involved will help to create more enthusiasm at the dinner table.
Strengthen the immune system
Your child’s immune system rapidly evolves throughout their developmental years and plays an important role in ensuring other systems healthy functioning, including the skin, gut, and brain. There are many ways to naturally support your child’s immune system through diet, lifestyle, and supplementation.
Studies have shown that early exposure to germs can prevent allergies and autoimmune diseases from developing later in life.1 Spending time in nature helps expose your child’s developing immune system to various microbes, and may pave the way to more robust pathogen resistance.
Good guy gut glut
Maintaining a healthy population of gut bacteria helps to regulate immune health. You can find probiotics in foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt, which make tasty additions to any dinner table and are often well-accepted by kids! You can also get probiotics formulated for children in supplement form.
Sunshine on a cloud-D day
Studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of infection and autoimmunity.2 Strive for a safe level of sunshine exposure—the primary source of vitamin D production in humans. In the northern hemisphere especially, supplementation is also highly recommended, and your healthcare provider can help determine the most appropriate form and dose of vitamin D for your child.
Conscious decisions and consumer choices
In a world where we are regularly burdened by chemicals and toxins, making conscious decisions about household and personal care products can help your family's health and safety. The body eliminates toxins through the skin, liver, kidneys and bowels, so keeping these systems in check helps keep your child happy and healthy.
Green and clean
Make a conscious switch to greener and cleaner household products as certain chemicals found in conventional cleaners can lead to respiratory (asthma, allergies) and skin issues (eczema, rashes) in children.
You can help support regular bowel movements through fibre-rich foods, magnesium supplementation, and castor oil belly rubs.
Sweat it out
Regular physical activity and spending time outdoors promotes circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Love your liver
Support your child’s liver health with foods that help cleanse the liver and flush out toxins such as garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts).
Stress management and emotional intelligence
Emotional and physical wellbeing go hand in hand and cannot be looked at in isolation when it comes to overall health. Coping with everyday pressures is a natural process of growing up but can also put a strain on your child’s mental health.
Keep communication lines open by creating an environment where children feel safe to speak their minds. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes-or-no answer to help to keep little ones’ developing emotions in check.
Screening the screen
Just like physical activity, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition can help build a healthy body and brain, so limiting screen time is an important component of overall physical and mental health. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends no screen exposure for children younger than two years of age. For children 2–5, limit screen time to less than one hour per day and, if at all possible, not sedentary. Maintain daily screen-free times and avoid screens for at least one hour before bed to ensure sleep quality.
Parents want the best for their children, and it is never too early (or too late!) to implement healthy changes in your day-to-day life. Nurturing a strong foundation can lead to optimal health and wellness right from the start!
Want more great advice and ideas for sustainable living practices? Check out why giving your kids more control leads to healthy eating habits, how to reduce food waste and save money, and great ideas for teaching children to care about the environment.
For references and further reading visit ecoparent.ca/TWF/SPR20