How to Raise Health-Conscious Kids

5 min read  |  September 19, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

Partner with your pediatrician to guide your child’s healthy future.

It’s no secret that parenting is the most demanding job you’ll ever love. Challenges may be inherent to the role, but pediatrician Lisa Gwynn, D.O., MBA, MSPH, FAAP, urges parents to focus on opportunities, especially when it comes to health. When meeting parents for the first time, she doesn’t make assumptions about their understanding of health. 

“My parents and patients come from around the world and come here in all different ways,” says Dr. Gwynn, who practices within the University of Miami Health System. “A lot of what pediatricians do is counseling and preparing parents for the next developmental phase in their child’s life, or what we call ‘anticipatory guidance.’ At wellness visits, we talk about ways kids can stay healthy by practicing good habits.”

Find a “medical home.”

Whether your child is healthy or has a chronic condition like asthma that requires ongoing medical care, Dr. Gwynn believes it’s essential to “stick with one or two pediatricians within a pediatric practice so that you have a medical home.” 

Seeing the same one or two doctors allows them to become well acquainted with your child. “Today, many parents go to urgent care or minute clinics; none of those facilities discuss developmental phases. It’s more of an ‘in and out’ situation. Sometimes you have to take the time to talk things through with your pediatrician,” Dr. Gwynn says. 

Start early.

Children are naturally curious, so teachable moments are common. 

“It starts early when kids learn about their body parts – use the proper names,” Dr. Gwynn says. Throughout childhood, parents can teach healthy habits at an age-appropriate level. Again, a pediatrician can guide you if you’re unsure how much information your child needs or what level of understanding is normal for their age. A doctor who sees your child regularly will tailor their advice based on your child’s unique circumstances. 

Model healthy behaviors for your kids.

How healthy are your own habits? When did you last exercise? Would you like to quit smoking or vaping? Could you swap one fast food dinner per week for something home-made? Does screen time demand too much of your attention? 

Kids learn by watching their caregivers. 

“Modeling and communication are key. It builds confidence in your child, which helps them navigate peer pressure later on.” 

Focus on five behavior areas.

With that in mind, Dr. Gwynn urges parents to promote healthy behaviors in five key areas: 

  1. Sleep: Children’s developing bodies and minds need a lot of rest. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines break down the sleep recommendations from infancy to age 18.
  2. Exercise: From age 3-5, kids need activity throughout the day. From 6-17, one hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily is recommended.* 
  3. Nutrition: Balanced meals include fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein, and dairy (for those not lactose-intolerant). Healthy nutrition focuses on simple, whole foods instead of highly processed choices. (Think apple vs. donut, carrots vs. chips.) 
  4. Socialization: The American Academy of Pediatrics website has several pages devoted to healthy socialization guidelines, from toddlers to teens. 
  5. Happiness: The greatest gift you can give your child is your time; quality matters more than quantity. Adequate rest, nutrition, activity, socialization, and communication help promote a happier lifestyle. 

Match your message to your child.

It’s wise to remember that the approach that worked with your eldest may not work with your youngest. 

“Some parenting styles don’t work with certain children,” Dr. Gwynn says. “We try to help parents learn ways to communicate so that kids will be receptive.” 

Using age-appropriate language, concepts, books, and other teaching tools helps.

Keep trying even if your message doesn’t seem to get through. 

“A lot of kids are left to have the world inform them. Kids are being exposed to health information via social media. Sometimes, you have to limit their screen time or monitor their social media. It’s up to parents to engage and communicate with their children,” Dr. Gwynn says. 

Reading to or with your child, Dr. Gwynn says, is a great opportunity to learn their level of understanding and makes the child feel valued. 

In addition to your family pediatrician, Dr. Gwynn recommends the following resources:

Healthychildren.org: Powered by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this site shares the latest fact-based, reader-friendly information on all ages and stages, from pre-natal to young adults.

MyPlate.gov: A source of nutrition information and education, MyPlate includes budget-friendly recipes and meal plans.

CDC.gov: The CDC’s Health Topics list covers everything from physical and emotional health to prevention and chronic conditions. 

*CDC Physical Activity guidelines

Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to the UHealth Collective. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.

To schedule an appointment with a UHealth pediatrician, call 305-689-3627 or book an appointment online

Tags: Dr. Lisa Gwynn, good habits, healthy children, kids health

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