For good or for bad, parents today are faced with the fast paced nature of both the real world and a virtual one. Much of the virtually continuous stream of information, videos, tweets and texts we receive on a 24/7 basis relate in one way or another to what we can, should, and/or are expected to do to be good parents. And let’s face it – keeping up with all of the modern-day parenting advice would be hard enough even if all of it was fact-checked for us. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, as much of what we hear, see and read is unfiltered, potentially unfounded, and confusingly contradictory.
Having spent much of my professional career as a pediatrician increasingly committed to making sense of pediatric and parenting advice in both of these worlds, I have found that what parents often want to know from me is simply how to filter the good from the bad and separate fact from fiction.
Knowing that you all are probably as busy as I am, I decided that this week I would distill down to as few words as possible the handful of things I consider to be some of the most well-founded, important things you can do as parents can do to make your kids smarter, safer and healthier. In other words, the following is my list of the “low-hanging fruit” of parenting.
Move more. I feel the need to say this because it’s painfully obvious that it has become incredibly easy for our children (and for us) to barely move in the course of any given day. Whether it’s walking instead of driving to school (or work) or taking an evening walk around the block, getting out of the car instead of rolling your way through drive-thrus, or signing up for organized sports, joining a gym, or participating in more vigorous daily exercise regimens – every step counts towards an healthier life style.
Use restraint. Literally speaking, I’m simply referring to the use of car seats and seat belts in motor vehicles. With motor vehicle crashes clearly identified as the number one cause of death in children, and the correct use of car seats and seatbelts clearly shown to have a huge impact on reducing motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths, taking the time to buckle up comes with a huge return on your parenting investment.
Read. For every parent who has ever asked my opinion on what they can do to help their children become smarter, excel in school, or head down a path of success, reading always factors in to my answer. Reading aloud to babies, toddlers, young children and teens alike not only fosters improved language skills, but also a love of reading that will serve children well for their lifetime. One of my favorite sayings to emphasize this point is that children spend the first few years of school learning to read, and the rest of their lives reading to learn.
Sleep. For parents of infants and young children, this conversation usually focuses on getting children to fall asleep, stay asleep, sleep in their own room, and do so without requiring repeated interventions. For parents of teens, the conversation often shifts to too little and too late. But regardless of your child’s age, it is becoming convincingly clear that instilling your child with good sleep habits is not only a good thing for your own chances of getting a good night’s sleep, but your child’s overall health and well-being.
Wash your hands…and while you’re at it, remember to cover your cough (preferably with your arm rather than your hand) and vaccinate. The fact of the matter is that while modern day science and research is continually coming up with new medicines, treatments and technologies to improve our families’ health and more effectively treat disease, the simple act of teaching our children to wash their hands (which includes committing to consistently doing so ourselves) remains one of the single most effective things we can do to limit the spread of disease. So is protecting against all of the vaccine preventable diseases.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska