Top 10 Things for Kids’ Long-term Health

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 — Establish Dental Visits

Anthony J. Tabone, a dentist operating an eponymous practice in Auburn, encourages parents to bring in their children starting at age 2 to establish home care, educate “and if nothing else, make sure there’s nothing else going on,” he said. “Early visits can rein in any habits the parents might not be aware of that can affect their child’s oral and overall health.”

Dental professionals can screen for issues like obstructive sleep apnea, for example.

2 — Establish Healthcare Visits

Pre-natal and post-natal care from a provider can help give babies the best start by helping parents learn the right steps to take.

“If the mom is planning to become pregnant in the next year or so, taking folic acid, stopping drinking, substances and getting healthy nutrition and exercise helps them be strong and healthy for pregnancy,” said Beth Machan coordinator of the perinatal and infant community health collaboratives initiative for Onondaga County Health Department. “Once the mom becomes pregnant, we talk about early and consistent prenatal care: a chance to identify any problems, discuss with the doctor how to have a healthy pregnancy. We can advise them about WIC which can help them obtain nutrition food if their budget doesn’t allow.”

Check-ups with medical providers help 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.

3 — Get Childhood Immunizations

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.

“At pediatric visits as recommended, parents can stay up to date on immunizations,” Machan said. “These will protect them from illnesses.”

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.

Free clinics can help families without insurance.

4 — Provide breastmilk

“We do believe that breastfed is best,” Machan said. “Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, diabetes, obesity, ear infections and stomach bugs. It supports a strong immune system.”

5 — Limit screen time

Avoid making screen time a go-to means for occupying children. Engaging learning toys and games and spending time reading and playing together “helps kids expand their vocabulary and helps them be readier for school,” Machan said. “Parents are their children’s best teacher.”

6 — Establish Active Habits

Engaging children in regular physical activity they enjoy can help form a lifelong habit of movement.

“Kids should be active each day,” Machan said. Children need about 60 minutes of physical activity daily, which can include sports, games and free play.

7 — Establish Healthful Nutrition Habits

“Start and model positive eating habits young,” Machan said. “This starts with sitting down and having healthful dinners together. Offer fruit and vegetables, not just what they want to eat.”

The My Plate guide can offer an easy way to ensure balanced meals.

8 — Establish and Model Good Sleeping Habits

“Keep a regular bedtime when you can and develop a routine before bed, like reading,” Machan said. “Generally, your children should be in bed before you.”

Avoiding electronics before bed can also help promote better sleep. Most children need nine to 12 hours of sleep per night, depending on their age and other factors.

9 — Test for Lead

Lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage, nervous system, kidney and liver damage, infertility, seizures and death. Homes built before 1978 likely have lead paint in them unless remodeled since then. If you’re seeking a reliable solution, don’t hesitate to find out more about the company that offers lead-safe painting services.

“Test your home for lead if there are concerns,” Machan said. “At ages 1 and 2, have the children tested.”

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

Grace Puchalski, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Walk with Grace in Liverpool.

Good mental health can help children stay resilient when faced with challenges. Grace Puchalski, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Walk with Grace in Liverpool, said that protective factors include positive discipline, recognizing each child’s needs, teaching children to regulate their emotions and clearly communicating.

“Parents need to listen and help children work through things, not say, ‘Don’t worry about it’ or ‘You don’t feel that way,’” Puchalski said.

She added that children need to feel that their parents will be there for them and that they can rely on their parents for help. 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.