All parents want to raise healthy and happy children. We all want to see them grown to be the best version of themselves. However, sometimes it’s hard to balance what is best for your kids with what makes them happy, let alone be a parent in today’s messy world.
Nevertheless, there are a few often mentioned but powerful pieces of advice you can craft into your daily parenting routines (until they become a habit) to help you raise healthy and happy toddlers.
Establish healthy eating habits
There are two essential food-related requirements for raising healthy toddlers. The first is choosing healthy food, and the second – establishing healthy eating habits as early as possible.
Healthy food for toddlers, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy, meat, and more, gives your child the energy they need for growth and good health. Furthermore, healthy eating boosts their immune system and helps prevent many chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes type 2, and high blood pressure.
A child who gets lots of fruits and vegetables on their plate comes to think of them as common and delicious foods. For a child to get this perception, the parent must routinely serve them and keep them on the menu. If you need help, keep in mind that toddlers should “eat a rainbow” each day. That means eating a wide variety of foods, so their bodies get all the essential nutrients they need.
Another helpful tip for fortifying your toddler’s healthy eating habits is not allowing them to be rummaging through the kitchen cabinet or refrigerator looking for snacks. If they have unrestricted access to them, they won’t have any appetite for the real meals. On that note, if your toddler is thirsty, water should be your first choice since it doesn’t ruin an appetite.
Support regular playtime
Supporting regular playtime is a vital part of every child’s physical, emotional, and social development. Toddlers’ daily exposure to play (through climbing, running, falling, and getting back up) helps them develop coordination, muscle strength, and balance. It involves exercise that gets the heart pumping, helping to keep the body at a healthy weight.
Playtime is so much more than just unstructured physical activity. Through it, kids learn to manage the emotional surprise of the fall, manage minor pain, and develop resilience. It also helps children learn how to respond appropriately to positive and negative emotions based on their experiences playing with other children, teaching them negotiation and conflict resolution.
Furthermore, doing even simple activities like building with blocks stimulates imagination, encourages creativity and helps children learn to share, wait for their turn, and be leaders.
Toddlers are happier when they know how to do it for themselves. Developing independence cultivates self-confidence and self-efficacy and helps parents strengthen their connection with their child by showing trust. When encouraged, it gives children a constructive way to communicate their needs, minimizing problematic behaviors.
Allow your little one to help you with personal and household tasks. This way, you will give them a possibility for natural learning, providing space for developing new motor skills, strength, and coordination. Let your child decide what to wear, what (and with whom) to play, and what to eat (in moderation). These activities will provide them with a feeling of control and support their growing confidence and sense of competency.
Get them to sleep
Toddlers produce the growth hormone while they sleep, which is vital in stimulating numerous biological developments in the muscles, organs, blood, and bones. Research shows that if a child doesn’t get the appropriate amount of good quality sleep, growth can be significantly affected. What is more, poor sleeping habits can also affect a child’s heart and lung strength, immune system, and, importantly, mental health.
One to two-year-old children should have 11 to 14 hours of sleep over 24 hours. This amount may be split up between nighttime sleeping and a nap (or two) during the daytime.
Having a consistent bedtime routine is vital for a toddler. Avoid screens and over stimulating activities right before bed and make sure the bedroom environment is quiet, cool, dark, and comfortable for sleeping. Remember, the bed is for sleeping only – it should not be used as a platform for playing.
Hug and cuddle
Toddlers need a lot of different sensory stimulation for normal development. Through physical touch such as hugging, skin contact gives the essential stimuli required to grow a healthy brain and a strong body.
Therefore hugs are indispensable in promoting better physical health in children. The hormone Oxytocin, released when hugging, provides many benefits to our bodies. For example, increased oxytocin levels can strengthen the human immune system, causing, for example, wounds to heal faster.
What is maybe even more important, hugs are not only good for children’s physical development, but they also support their emotional development. When toddlers have intense emotions, high cortisol levels are released circulating through the body and the brain. When left for a prolonged period due to a young child’s inability to regulate, this toxic level of the stress hormone impacts the child’s health, both physically and mentally. Hugs activate the release of Oxytocin, decreasing levels of stress hormones, buffering against these adverse effects, and helping children develop resilience.
Ultimately, hugs make children feel safe and let them know that parents care about them, even if they disagree with their behavior. Lots of hugs and cuddling are critical aspects of raising happy and healthy kids, and unconditional parenting as well.
Set an example
Children pay way more attention to what we do than what we say, especially toddlers. They are exceptional little students, learning about the world around them every waking moment. And you are your child’s first teacher. So, if you don’t eat healthy foods, why should they? If you do not put effort into building things and relationships, why would they? If you are not self-disciplined, how could they be? It is simple as that!
That said, try being careful about what you say and how you behave towards yourself and other people. By behaving the right way, you can be sure that you are setting the best example and teaching your child how to be healthy and happy.
Childhood is a particularly special and important time in every person’s life. It is a time of learning, discovery, play, growth, and wonder as the child gets to know the world around them. For parents, on the other hand, it can be a time of constant stress and worry. Yet, being present in your child’s life and focusing on doing what is right and good for them will ensure they grow into a healthy and happy adult.