“Your child has a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index). He’s had good growth from last year.” I repeat this line many times during the course of my workday as I am seeing kids for their annual check-ups. The parents often will smile and say, “Great.” At this point, if the conversation moves onto the next topic, then I, as a pediatrician, and you, as the parent, have just missed a golden opportunity.
That’s right, a wonderful teachable opportunity for yourself and your child. Knowing that your child has a healthy weight and height is good, but what is even more important is the conversation that should come after. This is THE BEST time for the pediatrician and parent to talk to the child and say, “You are healthy. Let’s talk about ways to STAY healthy.” This is the time I talk about 5 fruits and 5 vegetables a day. “Whaaaat?? Five of each. Can I have some treats too?” is what the kids ask at this point. “Yes, one junky thing a day and small portion of it is ok,” is usually what I say. This is the perfect conversation to bring up healthy portions. Surprise. Surprise. Most parents don’t know what a healthy portion is for a five year old vs. a ten year old. I would prefer to stop all sugary drinks for kids however I know that is not feasible or practical for many families. So I ask everybody to water down juice and limit the total intake to 4 oz a day. This conversation is especially helpful when the juice is about to be introduced to an infant or toddler.
Let’s not forget about healthy “screen time” of no more than 2 hours a day. By screen time, I mean all the gadgets that have a screen. Exercise or staying active is another aspect of health that should be touched on for kids with normal weight (not just the kids who are overweight).
Many of us talk to our doctors about how to BECOME HEALTHY when our child is over or underweight. I prefer to talk about STAYING HEALTHY, when they are already at a healthy weight. We always hear that prevention is the key to health. As a pediatrician, I have the unique opportunity to see a child grow up and for me, missing the opportunity to teach them about health is not acceptable.
I would love to hear your thoughts too. When you or your child is given a clean bill of health, how many of you talk about how to stay that way?
Living in the lush landscape of the Northeast has it advantages. While summer activities abound, so do the insects. Every summer, parents ask me if there are any bug repellents that I recommend. For my family, I use bug repellents that are made of natural oils. Oils of citronella, soybean, peppermint, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and geranium are effective for small periods of time. Being particular about smells and fragrances, I find that Citronella and Peppermint ones smell less overpowering than others. If you are going for a heavy-duty hike with the kids, then use insect repellant lotion or spray that contains 5-30% DEET (not for kids under age 2 months). The higher DEET concentration does not mean that it is more effective, rather it just lasts longer.
Wearing loose and light-colored clothing, which provides good coverage is important. I prefer application by hands, rather than spraying because I do worry about fume inhalation from sprays. Avoid hiking during dawn and dusk, which increases one’s chances of being bitten.
Forget Mr. Smith. I think the whole family should go to Washington. Why? Because it is awe-inspiring. By the way, Mr. Smith goes to Washington is an old Hollywood classic (yes, I do watch AMC and TCM in the middle of the night).
If you look beyond the politicking and lobbying that occurs in Washington D.C., and just look at the city itself, I gotta say it is amazing. There is no better way for school-age kids to jump into learning history than to visit the presidential memorials. Standing at the foot of the Thomas Jefferson memorial and reading excerpts from the Declaration of Independence is, unquestionably, inspiring. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men all created equal…” Also, reading the Gettysburg Address out loud, while Abraham Lincoln’s statue smiles serenely near us, is great fun. At the FDR memorial, the depiction of the Great Depression offers many teachable moments about humility. And there is so much more…
Speaking of U.S history, recently, I watched an interview of David McCullough on 60 minutes. Mr. McCullough is a Pulitzer prize-winning historian (by the way, I highly recommend reading his biography of John Adams.) During the interview, he talked about early American thinkers and politicians who shaped the country’s past and present. At one point, he talked about today’s college students saying they lacked fundamental knowledge of U.S. history.
His comments got me thinking, especially since July Fourth is approaching. This holiday is more than backyard barbecues, pool parties, and fireworks. I think Fourth of July is about reminding us (the older generation) to teach our children about our country’s history. Traveling to Washington D.C. is a great way to develop their interest. Watch a group of people protesting in front of the White House and your kids will recognize the true meaning of free speech. Tell me which historical sites (local or national) you have been inspired by and why?
Summer is here. Let the camps and play-dates begin. After all, the busier the kids are, the more accomplished they will be as adults, right? Wrong. Every summer, I become adept at chauffeuring rather than PARENTING, scheduling rather than TEACHING, the future rather than the PRESENT.
Well, not this time. Summer presents a unique opportunity for parents to do major life-planning (for their kids). Not the getting-into-the-Ivy-Leagues kind of planning. Parents…this summer…let’s plan to foster good habits in our children. Keep the bed and wake times structured. Don’t let them sleep into the late morning. Teach them to pick up after themselves. No more clothes or games all over their bedroom during vacation. Let’s plan to foster independence. Get them used to doing chores and duties during the summer. Let’s plan and teach them the true meaning of friendships, so that they stand up for friends in need. Let’s plan to teach them thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect. I could go on and on.
These are just some of the habits and values that will guarantee their success in life. The music, the arts, the sports, and the camps are all wonderful and important. But, they are poor substitutes for what we REALLY need to teach our children.
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on this topic.
Organic…non-GMO…pesticide free…free range…locally grown…who know grocery shopping could be this complicated? My mother surely did not anticipate this. As a young child, she would take me to the farmers markets. “This is how you pick a “good” one,” she would say. She chose fruits and vegetables based on how they looked or smelled and how they fit into her menu for the week.
One topic we never talked about was organic versus inorganic. Amazingly, this question is now part of the mainstream parental consciousness. Being one of these parents, I have reached several conclusions (for now).
One, eating fresh nutritious food is more important to me than only eating organic foods. So if that means I am preparing non-organic green beans for dinner, I will live with that.
Two, when possible, I try to reduce the pesticide and chemical exposure whether in my food or in my environment. I do this by reviewing the “dirty dozen” list of produce, while I am shopping. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has a great foldout card (included in the post) that helps me choose fruits and vegetables with lower pesticide content.
A few years ago, an apple was an apple (with or without wax/pesticides). Fortunately, now we know better (although we have a long way to go). Finding good resources of information is important. Two resources of mine are http://www.ewg.org and http://www.healthychildren.org. What resources do you use for nutrition-related information?
“You can only watch TV on the weekends,” I remind my little one after school. “Okay,” she sighs and she begins to play with her blocks.
I give myself a mental pat on the back for sticking to my guns. TV is not good for her little brain. I would much rather she engage in creative play or a learning activity.
Ha, little do I know. What I thought to be minimal TV exposure is not so “minimal” in reality. Yes, she is reading or coloring, but the TV is often playing in the background. Whether it is CNN or Project Runway or Indian soap operas, the TV is literally “on” for hours.
A recent study showed that kids in the U.S. are exposed to about four hours of background TV. Add that to the 2 hours of TV kids watch actively. Six hours — that is equal to the time they spend learning in school.
In my practice, I always talk about the health and behavioral problems caused by kids watching too much TV. But, what about us parents? Could our media addiction be harming our children indirectly? My parental intuition says, “Without a doubt.”
What are your thoughts on this disturbing statistic?