By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
All parents want their children to enjoy lifelong health. To promote a better chance of lifelong health, parents can do a few things now.
1 — Keep Well Child Visits
Check-ups with doctors and dentists help providers and parents track development, stay on schedule for vaccines, and detect and monitor any small issues before they become big issues. Providers can also educate the family on good health habits.
“The best thing for a mom to do is to follow up with the pediatrician right after the baby is born and get regular check-ups as recommended,” said Beverly Lawler, public health nurse with Niagara County.
2 — Get Childhood Immunizations
Lawler said that the advisory committee on immunization practices sets the recommended ages for routine vaccines, many of which occur during the first year of a child’s life, with boosters later in childhood.
Parents should address with their child’s pediatrician any concerns about childhood immunizations’ safety. However, nearly every child without allergies to vaccines’ ingredients can safely receive immunizations. These vaccines can protect children against 20 potentially life-threatening diseases. Generally, vaccines work by mimicking an illness, which stimulates the body’s immune system to mount a very strong response against its next exposure to that illness.
Lawler said that free clinics can help families without insurance.
3 — Discuss and Model Drug and Tobacco Abstinence
Although many parents warn about the dangers of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, many youths experience confusion about recreational marijuana, mistakenly thinking it is safe because it’s legal.
That misconception also applies to prescription medication.
Some youth also believe that vaping is safe because it is nonincendiary. The cocktail of chemicals inhaled in the vapor can also cause health problems and should be avoided.
“Parents shouldn’t be smoking, vaping and using marijuana and other drugs,” Lawler said. “If a parent does use a vape, they should put them away where children cannot get them. Elementary kids are starting to get vaping pens. They have to get them from somewhere.”
She encourages parents to start early and maintain open conversation about substance abuse.
4 — Use Sunscreen
“You need sunscreen as there’s so much skin cancer,” Lawler said.
SPF 30 is adequate for sun protection, along with avoiding direct exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and wearing protective clothing, plus hats and sunglasses. Many brands of swimwear offer SPF built in.
5 — Teach About Sex
Use accurate names for body parts and, as age and maturity appropriate, frankly discuss sex when an opportunity arises. Euphemisms confuse children and sitting down for one giant “sex talk” can provide too much information at once.
Instead, “have regular discussions about sexual activity and sexually transmitted diseases,” Lawler said.
Ensure your children understand that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes the feel uncomfortable.
6 — Establish Active Habits
Engaging children in regular physical activity they enjoy can help form a lifelong habit of movement.
“Kids need physical activity to stay healthy,” said Cathy Hoy-Patterson public health educator with Niagara County Department of Health. “The more active they are, the more likely they are to stay active.”
Children need about 60 minutes of physical activity daily, which can include sports, games and free play.
7 — Establish Healthful Nutrition Habits
The My Plate guide can offer an easy way to ensure balanced meals, along with serving a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“Parents can get children involved in prepping food so they can build good eating habits,” Hoy-Patterson said. “Include the five food groups throughout the day. Even with picky eaters, letting them have some say in what they eat can help them make healthful choices. MyPlate has ideas for those on a budget.”
8 — Seek Swimming Lessons
Many YMCA chapters and community pools have lessons. Find a swimsuit in a bright color, as it is easier for parents and lifeguards to spot a struggling child who has gone under the surface. Light and dark colors, blue and green are much more difficult to detect.
9 — Test for Lead
Lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage, nervous system, kidney and liver damage, infertility, seizures and death.
“Parents of young children should have them tested for lead poisoning at one and two years as recommended by the CDC,” Hoy-Patterson said. “Lead can have an impact on their development and growth. If they live in a home built before 1978, they may want to have their house tested for lead.”
Old painted baby furniture and toys, cheap imported jewelry and some imported toys are known for containing lead.
10 — Model and Teach About Mental Health
Engage in both emotional care of your children and self-care.
“Kids are little sponges, picking up everything in the environment,” said Sourav Sengupta, associate professor of psychiatrics and pediatrics at UB Jacobs School of Medicine and hospital psychiatrist at Oishei Children’s Hospital. “They can only learn from the examples in front of them and the examples of kids who have been through the emotional ringer and those who have developed in an emotionally healthy way.”
Validating children’s feelings helps them feel that they are safe expressing themselves to their parents. Consistency in meeting their basic physical and emotional needs builds trust and helps them build self-esteem.
Children should be able to access mental healthcare as needed.