When you start a family, there are many things to consider, and your children's health will likely be top of the priority list. Establishing good habits helps them to stay healthy and strong now and in the future. Here are some ways you can keep your kids healthy.
When your kids are small, it's your responsibility to keep them healthy. This can be easier said than done. If you have younger children, you may feel that you're dealing with endless colds and other childhood illnesses, especially if they mix with other kids at nursery or school. However, teaching healthy habits plays a significant role in keeping your children healthy as they grow up and in later life.
Creating healthy habits now means they're more likely to follow that pattern in the future and can be the key to staying healthy as an adult. Government research found strong links between an individual's health and well-being in childhood and their overall health in adulthood. We're currently lagging behind other developed countries in terms of child health. The aim is to create a generation of children that are flourishing rather than struggling. Taking the right steps to keep your child healthy can contribute to that.
Of course, good medical care makes a difference too. Vaccination programs and access to healthcare have improved disease control and reduced the prevalence of many common childhood diseases which would once have been fatal or had life-altering effects.
Keeping your children healthy is important, but how can you achieve it? Here are a few building blocks of good child (and adult) health to incorporate into your child's daily life.
There is endless debate in child psychology circles about how your parenting style impacts your child's behaviour and development. No child is a blank slate, and their personality may equally affect the way you parent them.
However, your lifestyle and habits form your child's view of the world. If you spend your weekends walking in the countryside, your children will grow up viewing that as a normal part of life (even if they complain bitterly about their aching feet at the time). Equally, a constant diet of burgers and chips will also become routine for children who have never experienced anything else.
The Millennium Cohort Study of children's health found that socio-economic factors had a profound effect; basically, children living in poverty were more likely to experience poor health. However, there is a link between childhood obesity and poor parental health that goes beyond this.
In short, if you set a good example, your children will benefit.
A healthy diet supports your child's physical development and gives them the nutrients they need to grow into healthy adults. Every parent has probably heard "I don't like it" or had to deal with one child whose tastes differ vastly from their sibling's at some point. A famous study found that children typically choose a healthy diet even if each meal isn't perfectly balanced. However, the study only presented children with healthy foods. It's hard to predict what would have happened if the choices had included junk food.
Eating healthy foods can help to prevent or treat chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease and can even prevent some cancers. What you eat will depend on your food preferences and cooking skills, but nutritional guidance such as the Eatwell plate should give you a good idea of a balanced diet.
So, how can you help your child develop healthy eating habits that will continue into later life?
Cooking healthy meals at home lets you decide what goes into your food. Whilst family life means that it isn't always practical for the whole family to eat together, sharing a few meals during the week allows you to normalise healthy habits.
It's a good idea to involve your children in preparing meals in an age-appropriate way. Even toddlers can learn how to wash vegetables or mash a banana. They can develop the skills that let them prepare meals as they get older; also, if they've helped to make dinner, they're much more likely to eat it!
Snacks such as crisps or nuts are quick to grab, but it's easy to overdo the salt, fat or sugar. Give your children healthier snacks like fruits and vegetables or rice cakes with hummus or peanut butter when they're little, and they'll hopefully choose them as they get older.
There's no easy answer to encouraging your children to eat well. Even if you prioritise healthy eating at home, your kids will still have access to unhealthy food as they grow up. Even expert views differ on whether junk food should be banned from children's diets. Some feel that schools should only serve healthy options, while others believe that including some treats makes them less of a novelty.
Jamie Oliver's initiative to improve school dinners led to a rebellion from some parents whose children didn't like the new meals. The right approach for you depends on your lifestyle, tastes and what your child's school offers.
Active children experience various health benefits, including better sleep, increased fitness, stronger muscles, bones and heart health. Including regular activity as part of their daily routine can also have positive mental health benefits, boosting their self-esteem and improving their concentration. Making movement a normal part of life means they're much more likely to carry it forward into adulthood, reducing their risk of illness in the long term.
It's important to make exercise fun and include it in your child's usual routine. Normalise walking or cycling to school and make exercise an opportunity to spend time with the family.
Getting your children out into the fresh air increases these benefits, giving them vitamin D and cleaning their lungs, reducing their risk of respiratory infections. Exposure to sunlight can also improve their sleep - good news for parents of tiny children.
We live in a digital world with children who increasingly spend their lives online. This can increase their risk of experiencing mental health issues or becoming a victim of online bullying. If they spend their evenings and weekends playing video games, this will likely reduce their level of physical activity.
The amount of time your child spends using screens can also impact their eyesight. Opticians advise that screens can cause eye strain or lead to short-sightedness. Time away allows their vision time to recover.
A family film night can be a great shared activity, but it's crucial to balance the time they spend sitting with hobbies and interests involving movement. Placing limits can help. Many devices come with parental controls that allow you to set the time your child can use it or have downtime to ensure they can have screen-free time before bed.
Sleep is a perennial topic for parents, often because a young child's sleeping habits can change constantly, leaving parents needing a good night's rest. Getting enough sleep supports every aspect of your growing child's health, from memory and concentration to immunity and appetite. Sleep problems can also cause issues with growth and hormones as they get into their teenage years.
Eating well and getting enough exercise promote good quality sleep. Stress or worry can disrupt sleep, so you can support your child by enabling them to discuss their concerns or seek outside help when necessary. A bedtime routine that helps them to wind down and relax lets their body and brain know it's time to sleep. This could include a drink of warm milk, a bath and a story; consistency is essential.
Your child's sleep requirements change as they get older. Babies and toddlers with developing brains need between 11 and 16 hours daily, including naps. Preschoolers and even reception-age children may still need a nap during the day. A child's sleep requirements will reduce as they get older, with teenagers needing between 8 and 10 hours. This can be the most challenging age group as their social activities shift into the evening and beyond.
You can learn more about developing good sleep routines for children and young people here.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of the importance of washing our hands, with information posters in public toilets and instructions to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice to ensure we wash for long enough. Teaching our children to wash their hands properly remains vital. Regular hand washing helps to prevent the spread of infections or illnesses, including food poisoning.
You can review your hand-washing technique with this NHS guide; there's a video you can share with your children too.
If you're out and about with your children and don't have access to proper hand-washing facilities, alcohol-based hand sanitiser is a good alternative.
Investing in private health insurance gives you quick access to medical care when you need it most. It's worth looking for an insurer that allows you to add your children to your policy free of charge. Some family policies will cover your children until they're 25, giving you all peace of mind even when they're away at university or starting their first job.
Health insurance provides access to services that support their health and well-being and can help them to develop healthy habits.
Getting an appointment with your NHS GP can be challenging thanks to a rise in the number of patients registered with each full-time GP and recruitment stagnation. If your child has a temperature in the middle of the night, it can be challenging for parents to decide whether to take urgent action or look after them at home.
All health insurance policies come with a virtual or online GP service operating 24/7 so you can get advice when you need it. You can also speak to a nurse via a telephone helpline for advice.
Children can develop stress or anxiety at any age, particularly as they head into their teenage years. Waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services can be long, leaving children and their parents to find alternative support or risk deteriorating mental health.
Health insurance providers offer various mental health support services, including telephone helplines, online resources or access to counselling or CBT without a GP referral.
Most insurers offer member discounts, with some allowing you to spend quality time with your kids. These include trips to the cinema, family days out and holidays.
Vitality's reward program provides discounts when you hit your health and activity goals, helping you be a good role model for your children and develop a healthy lifestyle.
MyTribe guides offer advice to help you make an informed choice about health insurance for you and your family. If you'd like to learn more about how health insurance can support your family's well-being, contact us for a comparison quote. We'll put you in touch with a regulated broker for tailored advice.
Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.
You can support your children's health by helping them to eat well, stay active, spend time in the fresh air and get enough sleep. It can help to develop these habits yourself to be a good role model.
Private medical insurance can support your children's health by providing high-quality medical advice and treatment. Mental health services help you get support when needed. Some insurers' reward programs can help you hit your health goals and get discounts on family activities.
Yes, some insurers will allow you to just insurer your children. If you'd like a quote, please click the compare button and a broker will send you personalised pricing.
Typically, health insurance for children isn't too expensive and it only becomes more costly as you get older.