Is it just me, or can it be seriously hard work keeping kids healthy? I mean, it seems that at every step they are out to sink the ship of wellness I'm trying to sail! I think most parents can relate to the feeling of wanting to give your kids the best start in life possible, and a big part of that is feeding them well and making sure they stay active. But when your toddler takes the already-tiny list of food they will eat and changes it up on a daily basis (no more fish fingers apparently, so I think the complete list currently stands at toast, peanut butter, marmite, cheese, ham, tomato, and olives) then panic can start to set in when we consider the full range of nutrients they need to survive and thrive. I'm writing this article more for me to refer back to when I undoubtedly get hung up on this again in the future (probably within a week).
My aim here is simple: reduce worry and anxiety about keeping kids healthy, and give a basic strategy to implement in order to at least get the fundamentals in place.
So, let's start with the first part about reducing worry. If you are thinking about your child's health, activity, nutrition etc then I can assure you that you're already doing great. Seriously. The fact you consider these things important almost definitely means you're making better choices and giving your child a great lifestyle! If you are thinking about making sure your toddler gets plenty of activity, then as a results you probably give your toddler plenty of activity. If you are thinking about what foods would be best to give him/her, then you're probably going to be acting on that a lot more than if it wasn't even crossing your mind. Essentially what I'm trying to say is that if you're reading this then you can stop worrying! Really, you have my permission. Again, I'm also talking to myself here.
One of the best ways I've found to reduce stress and worry as a parent is mindfulness . I'm not talking about some hippy-dippy, skirt made of wheat, live in a tent kind of malarkey (although I am a hippy, and I would love to live in a tent...but I don't own any wheat clothes yet), but I'm referring to a practical and proven method of becoming more relaxed and calm. According to the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, mindfulness is 'the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment'.
Most worry and stress comes from thinking about the past of the future, in this case it could well be anxiety about the 'what if' scenarios. What if my child never eats a balanced diet? What if my child is inactive forever? What if she grows up to develop numerous chronic health problems as a result of her not eating broccoli tonight? If we can remove (or at least reduce) thoughts about the future and the past, the worry will dissipate and the present moment will become more calm and enjoyable for both you and your child, which will in turn result in your child having a more relaxed and positive experience with mealtimes or physical activity, and this positivity is key when it comes to keeping kids healthy.
Another strategy I love to use to reduce worry and anxiety is to question all the thoughts which are underpinning that emotional response. All emotions are based on the thoughts you are having, so we can look back to the previous paragraph and the 'what if' questions which may have been screaming through your head and see what we can do about those. Use your logical mind to rationalise those thoughts, and to take the power out of them. Is your child likely to never eat a balanced diet, or do most children go through fussy stages but go on to eat a varied and extensive diet? Is your child likely to be inactive forever, or have they just not found the enjoyment of the right activity yet? Is your child likely to grow up to develop numerous chronic health problems as a result of her not eating broccoli tonight, or are you massively overreacting? Again, aimed at me.
Once you've rationalised these thoughts and taken their power away, give yourself some new thoughts to replace them. Why not try something like 'I'm doing my best to give my child the best start in life possible'. Because I can guarantee that whoever you are and whatever is going on, THAT IS TRUE. How does it feel when you tell yourself that? More positive, right? Do you think that would be a better emotional state from which to come at this challenge? Hell yes! If you're in a better emotional state then you'll be much better equipped to deal with the obstacles related to keeping kids healthy. When your child decides that one of the only food items they've been eating, the one you've been clinging onto as a glimmer of hope, is now off-limits then a happy and positive emotional state is going to give you a far better outcome than the usual despair, anger, and worry. If you want some ongoing support with mindset, attitude and changing emotional state then definitely check out this info about my online group coaching.
Once you've nailed the internal struggle, now it's time to look at practical strategies for improving the way your child eats and stays active. There are three questions I always try to ask myself when it comes to overcoming challenges: what can I do, what can I read, and who can I ask? Grab yourself a pen and paper, and work through these questions in order, but they have to be in that order. The first question will give you practical methods for keeping kids healthy that you already know, and you might surprise yourself with how many ideas you can come up with just off the top of your own head! These are things you already know which you can try out to overcome the challenges you are facing.
Once you've tried these out, you can start looking at what you can read. No matter what you are up against, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else out there has experienced the same and written about it. There are books on every topic under the sun, and there is also high-quality information all over the internet if you're willing to look. One of the most useful articles I've read recently on the topic of keeping kids healthy was from BabyCenter.com and was all about fussy eating, check it out here and see what you think. It really put my mind at rest and gave me some great tools to move forward.
The last thing to ask is who can you ask? Who do you know that is an authority on keeping kids healthy? Perhaps it's a friend or family member, or someone you follow on social media or a blog that you read regularly. Whoever it is, reach out to them, share your challenges and ask for some pointers. Make sure you let the person know the strategies you've tried and what you've read, which is why this is the third step: people are much more likely to give you some time and energy if you can show that you've put in time and energy as well. You are essentially proving that this is important to you and not just some whim, just an inconvenience that you want someone else to solve for you.
To finish with, my idea of the fundamentals for keeping kids healthy looks like this: feed them, water them, exercise them, rest them. Don't overcomplicate it! Just make sure they are eating reasonably well but NOT perfectly because that doesn't exist (again, this article will give you the lowdown on fussy eating), give them water and add some squash if you have to because it's better that they drink it than not at all, get them running around and doing fun stuff even if you feel too tired (because if they run around they are more likely to sleep better later so you'll win in the end), and do your best to help them get a good night's sleep (check out this article). And number 1 most super-important tip: DON'T STRESS! Stay positive and relaxed, work on your own mindset and emotional state and everything will go much more smoothly.
You're doing great.