When expectant moms ask what they need to do once their babies are home, Dr. Benitez tells them that newborns need four things: to be fed, to be clean, to be warm and to be loved. As babies grow, however, their needs change and expand. Children’s and older kids’ needs include the following:
1. Provide Nutritious Food and Limit Snacks
While it might be tempting to whip up cookies for an after-school snack or decadent cupcakes to celebrate a child’s accomplishment, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cautions against this. Focus on nutritious meals instead of snacks to create healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Acceptable snacks to offer occasionally include low-fat yogurt, trail mix or celery sticks topped with almond butter and dried cranberries.
2. Spend an Hour a Day Outside
The lure of electronic devices like TVs, iPhones and video games is strong, but it’s probably doing your children more harm than you realize. In addition to health benefits such as stronger bones and less depression, playing outside for at least an hour a day has many other upsides. Kids who spend time outside have an easier time making friends, stretch their creative muscles and perform better in school. And remember, active kids grow up to be active adults.
3. Have a Technology-free Family Dinner
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the idea of a device-free dinner. Not only does it allow families a chance to converse, share their days and build deeper bonds, but family dinners without technology also have other lasting effects. Kids who experience family dinners from a young age eat more healthy fruits and vegetables, a habit that follows them into adulthood.
4. Make Chores a Daily Event
While your eight-year-old might disagree with you, making her pick up her toys or make her bed will pay off in a big way in the future. Choosing one age-appropriate chore a day such as folding or putting away laundry, picking up toys, unpacking groceries, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table or making their bed teaches children to be responsible and to give back, as well as the skills necessary to live independently as an adult.
5. Implement a Consistent Sleep Routine in a Technology-free Bedroom
A consistent, age-appropriate sleep routine reaps many benefits for growing children. Well-rested children are more creative, better able to concentrate, have better problem-solving skills and are able to learn and remember new things better than their sleep-deprived counterparts. Allowing technology–including televisions–in the bedroom, especially close to bedtime, can hamper sleep by suppressing melatonin and keeping brains awake and active when they should be winding down for the night.
6. Setting Limits for Kids
Remember that you are your child’s parent, not their friend. This means setting boundaries and rules that they must live by. When they are fighting your rules, instead of giving in to their demands, it’s important to remember why they need limits. Limits teach kids self-discipline, keep them safe, help them process unpleasant feelings and show kids that you care.
7. Give Children What They Need, Not Always What They Want
Don’t be afraid to say no. Constantly giving in to your child’s every whim results in children and adults with low self-esteem and frustration-management issues who think the world owes them and they don’t have to work hard or earn things in life. By strategically saying yes only sometimes, you are teaching your kids discipline and delayed gratification.
These seven tips help teach children responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from failures. The best gift we can give our children is the coping mechanisms and skills needed to persevere when bad things happen to them as adults, because as we can all attest, adult life isn’t easy.