By age 2, children acquire eating, activity, and sleep patterns similar to their family’s. It is important that you create a healthy routine early on and be a positive role model for your child. Having a routine and regular schedule for waking up, going to school, eating meals and going to bed will help your little one feel safe and comfortable, and give them predictability to learn to manage their day. The first five years of life are the critical period to create and develop these healthy eating, sleeping, and physical activity habits to support long term patterns.
Research shows one in three children is overweight or obese by age 5. The following are contributing factors that are found with most young children:
- Overall fruit and veggie consumption does not meet daily nutritional needs
- Vegetable consumption is limited to starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, etc.)
- Increase in daily sugar consumption through drinks, cereal, and snacks
- Daily screen time increases and activity decreases
- Sleep decreases to less than recommended number of hours per day
- 4-12 Months (12-16) hours per day
- 1-2 Years Old (11-14) hours per day
- 3-5 years Old (10-13) hours per day
As a parent you can decrease childhood weight gain factors by modeling healthy eating habits for your children. Simple changes like having balanced meals that are rich in fiber and nutrients are the first step. In addition, adding more veggies, fruits, and water to meal time will help. Avoiding sugary drinks and reducing screen time is important as well. Incorporating these mindful eating practices with an active lifestyle will benefit the overall family health, especially that of your developing child.
The benefits of family meals and active lifestyles are plentiful. These activities create a positive atmosphere and give opportunities for more family discussion time. These opportunities can strengthen the family’s role as educators and reinforce life lessons. Family meal time is a great time to create a strategy to discourage picky eating and to improve meal time behaviors for your child. By modeling behaviors early, young children can learn valuable lessons like the importance of taking turns.
In addition to family meals and active lifestyles, establishing regular bedtime routines for your child is very important. This is a chance to give your child your undivided attention. During this time, you could cuddle up with your child and read a book, answer questions that your child may have been saving throughout the day for you, and talk about important things that they are thinking about. The repetition of a bedtime routine lets your child know what to expect and helps them feel secure. This routine can help your child learn to relax and self soothe as well.
Young children experience lots of change throughout the day and year. From family time to free time and eventually school time, change is consistent in your child’s life. Stepping into preschool for the first time is filled with lots of wonderful new experiences for your child, but for some it can also be a little scary because it’s new. With this in mind, there are a few things that will help you establish new routines and prepare your new preschooler for their first day. First, introduce your new routine early so that your child can adjust to their new schedule. Before school beings, visit the classroom together and familiarize your child with the school. This will help comfort the fear of the unknown. In addition, talk about what it will be like going to school and about all the new things they will experience there: new friends, new teacher, activities, crafts, and learning. Stories about going to school help prompt these conversations as well. A few favorites include Pete the Cat, Clifford’s First School Day, and The Kissing Hand.
By starting routines early, you will be establishing a lifelong bond with your child. It is important to remember that repetitive schedules and routines will be the best way to help your precious child learn the valuable lessons that you hope to instill in them as they continue to grow and develop.