Teach your children healthy habits and give them guidelines without scolding and by setting a good example so they can develop their own routines for self-care.
Medical Advisor Manuel Alonso Alejo, Pediatrician, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare.
Children that learn about self-care have the ability to stay away from situations that compromise their physical integrity, know how to stay away from people that can harm them, have proper emotional development and good self-esteem, and are raised with a strong sense of human values as a reference point for how to act and behave.
Instilling the importance of self-care in children is therefore one of the main tasks of parents during the first years of their children’s lives. Parents are the first people to set an example for them, as the norms and behaviors they have in regard to self-care is taught through healthy practices and repetition.
“Remember that words can only do so much. It’s not enough to tell your child to wash their hands, brush their teeth, eat vegetables or play sports. Parents must also practice these habits at home,” states Manuel Alonso Alejo, pediatrician.
During this process, it is important not to debate, judge, scold or punish children for not practicing these habits, as this is a phase that generally lasts all throughout childhood. “Give them explanations using few words and clear, simple and short instructions as to why it is important to be aware of these norms,” adds Dr. Alejo.
Our doctor recommends beginning to teach the importance of self-care when children are newborns, a stage in which schedules and eating, sleeping and bathing routines become ingrained “so that these behaviors become rooted in their personality and part of their lifestyle,” he states. It is also suggested to reinforce this reasoning when children are between three and four and when they become school-age so that they can develop their own routines.
Habits that last a lifetime:
Washing your hands: Handwashing is recommended every time a child eats, goes to the bathroom, plays outside or plays with a pet. Use soap and rinse for a maximum of one minute in order to save water.
Brushing your teeth: Do this three times a day: after breakfast, lunch and dinner. Brush gently from top to bottom to avoid damaging your gums. Provide the child with a non-fluoride toothpaste and when parents inspect their brushing, they should use fluoride toothpaste. The proper dosage of this mineral is important and should be applied according to a doctor’s recommendations.
Eating fruits and vegetables: These foods provide the body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; nutrients that are essential for children’s bodies to function properly. These foods are also high in fiber, water and are low in fat. Teach children to choose healthy foods when going shopping and provide them with several meal options.
Drinking water: Because they are more likely to become dehydrated due to how physically active they are, children should drink an average of 2.5 liters (10.5 cups) of water a day, at minimum. With younger children, the suggested proportions are as follows: between 0 and 3 months, 800 ml; at 6 months, 1,000 ml; and age one, 1,300 ml.
Playing sports: Any sports activity will prevent children from being physically inactive and is therefore good risk prevention for being overweight or obese. Sports are also beneficial to their social relationships and to them learning how to follow rules. Encourage them to do things that make them feel good about themselves such as art, sports, music or dance.
Not playing with kitchen equipment: When not handled properly, knives, forks, plates, cups, and mugs, among other items, can cause cuts or lacerations. Any contact with stoves or appliances in general should also be avoided.
Being careful around the stairs: Children should go down the stairs slowly, step by step, using the wall or a handrail as support and without jumping. If the child cannot yet walk, they should use the stairs from a seated position.
Respecting your body: Teach them that every organ is valuable and that only they can touch and care for their body. Use the proper terminology to talk about body parts with them and help them to detect the warning signs their mind and body gives them when they are not well.
Parents as validators
- As a parent, be consistent with what you say and do.
- Do not punish children for not doing an activity such as brushing their teeth or washing their hands. Keep in mind that these habits should be taught without punishments.
- Do not reward children when they practice self-care correctly, as the child may value the prize more than the habit.
- Do not take authority away from a caretaker or babysitter, especially if they want to teach children other practices. This instills a lack of trust and insecurity in children.
- Explain tasks involving personal care to children in a simple and clear way, avoiding complicated explanations and rhetoric.