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The key to raising a happy, healthy child is to focus on both their mind and body

All parents want their children to be healthy, so we serve up nutritious meals, encourage them to have a run in the backyard and remind them to brush their teeth at night. But for total wellbeing, a child also needs a healthy mind. So how do we raise a well-rounded human being – someone who is mentally strong, physically fit, resilient and compassionate to others? Here, we look at some key components.

Teach them gratitude

Can teaching your child to appreciate what they have make them happier and healthier in the long term? It seems so. Research from California State University found that thankful teens were more satisfied with their lives and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than less appreciative teens.

The four-year study of adolescents found the most grateful were 17 per cent happier than the least grateful. In that time, they also experienced a 13 per cent drop in negative emotions and a 15 per cent drop in depressive symptoms. “These findings suggest that gratitude may be strongly linked with life skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence,” says lead researcher Giacomo Bono.

Description: Can teaching your child to appreciate what they have make them happier and healthier in the long term?

Can teaching your child to appreciate what they have make them happier and healthier in the long term?

What you can do

“Start by not giving kids everything they ask for,” says child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Emma Little. “It might be that they need to learn to wait, they need to earn what it is they want or sometimes you just need to say no. This way, when they do get things, it’s special and a gift rather than a right.”

Little has this trick to help your child recognize how fortunate they are, without making them feel guilty: “I tell children, ‘Don’t always compare yourself upwards to kids who have more. Look around and you’ll always notice kids who don’t have what you have.’” This helps them see that not every child has the same material wealth or opportunities as they do.

Bin the negative food messages

Having a positive relationship with food will not only help your child maintain a healthy weight, it will safeguard their mental health, too. Children and teens who binge eat are not only more likely to be overweight or obese, they are twice as likely to become depressed and are more at risk of taking marijuana and other drugs, reports the US journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Binge eating is characterized as overeating with a loss of control.

“Parents need to tell their children that food is to be enjoyed, not feared,” says psychologist Jennifer Garth. “When a child starts to feel guilty or anxious around food, they’re more susceptible to becoming chronic dieters or falling into bad eating habits.”

Description: Having a positive relationship with food will not only help your child maintain a healthy weight, it will safeguard their mental health, too.

Having a positive relationship with food will not only help your child maintain a healthy weight, it will safeguard their mental health, too.

What you can do

“Teach them that food is energy, but to take pleasure in delicious food,” says Garth. “Don’t label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or use it to reward or punish your child. And don’t use food to comfort them or they will reach for it every time they feel down. Instead, help your child to listen to their body. Encourage them to eat slowly so there’s time for their hunger signals to kick in. If they’re overeating, say, ‘Have you had enough?’ rather than ‘You’ve had enough.’”

Eating together regularly will also give your teen’s mental health a lift, reports a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “More family dinners related to greater emotional wellbeing, more helpful behavior towards others and higher life satisfaction,” says study co-author Frank Elgar.

Promote the benefits of exercise

Fit kids are more likely to become fi t adults, so ensuring exercise is a part of their everyday routine is crucial. “Children aged three to 18 need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day,” says dietitian Melanie McGrice of Melbourne’s Nutrition Plus.

Helping them get fi t is the gift that will keep on giving. A US study found five-year-olds who exercised a little more than recommended had less body fat at age eight and 11 than five-year-olds who didn’t, which suggests being active has a protective effect on metabolism. Research shows exercise helps children better cope with stress, while adolescents who take part in team sports are at lower risk for mental health problems. A US study also found that the fittest Year 6 to 8 students had the highest test scores and better grades.

Description: Promote the benefits of exercise

Promote the benefits of exercise

What you can do

To instil in your child a love of exercise that endures, start by helping them choose activities that suit their interests and skill levels, says McGrice. They’ll be more likely to keep up a sport that they like, even if it’s not one you would have chosen for them. Then model the positive attitude to fitness you want them to emulate. A study by the UK’s University of Essex found that children who perceive their parents as doing little or no exercise have a 50 per cent greater risk of being unfit than those with more active parents.

 

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