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Raising healthy children in today’s world

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As pandemic stressors continue for all of us, it’s important to focus not just on avoiding serious illness but on the many aspects of health and well-being. This is equally true for children as it is for adults.

Raising eight children with my wife, we wholeheartedly acknowledge that the last few years have thrown the normal routines of family life into a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride. With schools and other social activities in flux during the pandemic, the easy fixes can be defaulting to screen time and picking up dinner at the drive-thru. But as parents and caregivers, we can do more to ensure we are raising physically, mentally and socially healthy children.

Pediatric doctors are a major ally and resource in this effort. From birth on, they work with you to offer advice, prevent illness and help you foster a healthy lifestyle for your child. They also treat acute or chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or childhood obesity. And the more you know, and remember, the better you can care for your child at home.

Outside regular visits to the doctor’s office, there are several small steps families can take to ensure their children get the right start in life and set the stage for a lifelong commitment to healthy living:

Eat colorfully. Introducing your children to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will help them develop healthy eating habits. For breakfast, try oatmeal or yogurt with fresh fruit instead of sugary cereals and breakfast pastries. For lunch, pack carrot chips, celery sticks, apple slices, grapes and other fun fruits and vegetables that are filling and also taste good. For dinner, let your kids help you cook – they may be more likely to eat their vegetables if they help prepare them.

Exercise regularly. It’s no secret that children are little imitators, and they will pick up the habits of the adults in their lives. If you make exercise an important part of your routine, chances are, they will do the same. And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be an intense, seven-days-a-week sweat fest. Taking evening walks as a family or playing outside with your children are fun and easy ways to incorporate exercise into your routine and be a good example for your kids.

Read early and often. Children become readers when their parents read to them. It really is as simple as that. And here’s even more good news: It’s easy to do and it's great fun. It is best to read to your child early and often, but it’s never too late to begin and to spark their creativity and imagination.

Make mental health a priority. Since the start of the pandemic, stressors of all kinds have increased, and during the winter months people are less likely to be outdoors and active. It’s time to take the stigma out of mental health care. Pediatricians and other types of primary care providers are able to offer referrals to counseling should the need arise.

Make sure your kids have fun and laugh every day at home. Several scientific studies since the late 1970s have shown that laughter has tremendous positive impacts on the physical, mental and well-being of children. It also stimulates the immune system, decreases stress associated with debilitating illness, increases the tolerance of pain and impacts mental functions such as memory and alertness. It may also help in reducing anxiety. Laughter appears to trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Thus, it is very important that parents are aware of these benefits so that they choose activities to enhance family time and add a little laughter now and then.

Taking these small steps now can add up and have a big impact on the overall health and well-being of you and your children, in this pandemic and beyond.

A bilingual pediatrician, Dr. Fierro Perez practices at Memorial Family HealthCare Sonoma. Appointments can be made online at MemorialPhysicianPractices.com or by calling 575-556-1871.