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Every parent wants to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child. MilParents are no exception. Since most healthy behaviors are developed in childhood, you can help your child develop good habits, actions and choices that promote health and well-being. Here are some ways to help your children get healthy and happy.
Start with nutrition
Health and well-being begin with good nutrition. Healthy foods provide the building blocks for a healthy body and can even help us fight disease. As a parent, help your child develop healthy eating habits as early as possible.
Encourage your children to establish healthy habits that include the following:
- Five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. The Mayo Clinic recommends the 1-2-3 approach — one serving of fruits or vegetables at breakfast, two servings at lunch and three servings as part of dinner or snacks throughout the day. Center your meals and snacks at home around fruits and vegetables, and teach children how to make healthy foods.
- Whole grain breads and cereals that are high in fiber. Make healthier, less processed alternatives like whole-wheat bread and brown rice available at all meals and for snack time.
- Beverages such as water and low-fat milk instead of sweetened beverages. Sweetened beverages, such as soda and sports drinks, add extra sugar and calories to the diet and are the number one source of added sugar in American diets. Encourage children to eliminate sweetened beverages and reduce juice consumption as well. Avoid giving juice to infants under 6 months. Add berries or slices of lemon, lime or cucumber to water for added flavor.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Low-fat milk, yogurt, string and hard cheeses, and cottage cheese are great sources of calcium and protein.
- Lean proteins, such as eggs, poultry, unsalted nuts and seeds. Expand your child’s diet and introduce hummus, quinoa, nut butters, beans, legumes, lentils and tofu, in addition to serving leaner meat.
Breakfast is especially important for children. Hungry children tend to have shorter attention spans and can have difficulty with problem solving, math skills and memory recall. Help them start their days right with a nutritious breakfast.
If financial restrictions are impacting your health and wellness goals for your family, tap into these resources to help manage financial stress. Need more nutrition ideas? Schedule a health and wellness coaching consultation, a free resource for eligible service members and family members. Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat.
Encourage physical activity
It’s important to keep your body moving throughout the day, whether it’s a family walk or a quick game to get the blood pumping. Increase physical activity to one or more hours a day and decrease recreational screen time to two or fewer hours per day. Explore the essentials about fitness, nutrition and active living.
Exercise for your child can include school recess periods, hiking, playing sports or walking to and from school. It’s also important for children to build exercise into their virtual learning and homework routines. Being physically active and playing with your child is a wonderful opportunity to get exercise while being together. Take frequent breaks. Have a backyard relay race or play freeze tag, walk the dog, toss a Frisbee, schedule a 10-minute virtual dance party with a few friends, play a game of Duck, Duck, Goose or take a short bike ride to get the blood pumping and refresh your concentration.
Explore these other kid-friendly resources:
- Morale, Welfare and Recreation offers many options for local activities on your installation.
- Installation youth centers are safe, youth-oriented environments available on almost every installation where families PCS. Military Youth and Teen Programs offer a variety of special-interest education and activity options for your children and are designed to support military children as they transition from childhood into adulthood. Centers are staffed with trained professionals who understand how to connect with youth, support them in their teen years and recognize the signs of stress.
- Boys & Girls Club of America Military Partnership offers great activities for military children both on and off installation, as well as virtual events and programming to keep your child engaged.
- Sesame Street for Military Families offers a wonderful 90-second dance break for young children with the You’ve Got a Body dance video.
- ZERO TO THREE offers the Babies on the Homefront app, with suggestions for parent-child activities during playtime, as well as A Year of Play, offering fun play ideas for each month.
- Check out Fitness, Nutrition and Active Living — The Essentials for suggestions for overall health and activity for the whole family, as well as Fun and Fitness — The Essentials to help you and your family get moving.
- Explore how to make active living a priority to improve family fitness.
- Add a Defense Department summer camp to your child’s summer lineup for added fun, activity and peer engagement. Find 4-H Military Partnership camps and Military Teen Adventure Camps, or visit your on-installation youth program to obtain details on summer programs offered.
Promote good sleep habits
Sleep is critical to good health. Developing and maintaining good routines throughout the day and into the evening will help set the stage for a good night’s sleep. According to the National Institute of Heath, sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels, and chronic sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of disease. For better sleep habits:
- Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends
- Be sure to have your children stop using their electronic devices two hours before sleep as blue light has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns
- Plan an hour of quiet time before bed
- Develop bedtime rituals
- Make sure the bedroom is comfortable and is a positive environment
If you have an infant or toddler, there are things you can do to help your young child develop healthy sleep habits. See the ZERO TO THREE program for tips for sleep as well as safe sleep recommendations.
Learn how to communicate
Talking to your children — even from infancy — is one of the most important parts of parenting. The way your child communicates will change substantially between birth and 5 years of age. Knowing what to expect can help you understand and respond to your child in meaningful ways. The ZERO TO THREE program has lots of parenting tips on many subjects including including how to support communication skills.
Staying in touch and communicating well remain vital as your children grow up. Check out additional parenting articles and resources on Military OneSource for more ways to connect with your children.
Take advantage of support
It truly “takes a village” to raise a healthy, happy child. As a service member, you have access to a host of tools and programs to help you along. Military OneSource offers a variety of articles and parenting resources with information and tips on raising children. You can also contact our Military OneSource specialty consultants for help with challenges like education, adoption and special needs. Call Military OneSource 24/7 at 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat.
Other Defense Department resources
The New Parent Support Program provides supportive home visits to expectant parents and parents of young children. For more information, contact your local Military and Family Support Center or Family Advocacy Program. Find your local contact information for New Parent Support at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.
4-H Military Partnerships bring the resources of the land grant universities to military youth programs. These resources include youth development professionals, research-based curriculum and high-quality training and technical assistance for installation youth programs staff. Military youth can join 4-H clubs in their community, and they can also participate in summer camps around the country. 4-H offers a wealth of resources in STEM subjects, healthy living, citizenship, public speaking and other military core program areas providing valuable life skills, curriculum and resources for military youth and teens across the country and around the world.
Boys & Girls Clubs: Mission Youth Outreach links military families with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in communities around the country for children who may not live near installation services. The U.S. Armed Forces has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 30 years to help support children of military families with youth development programs, curriculums and activities.
Finally, the Defense Department and TRICARE have teamed up to offer the Knowledge Management for Pregnant and New Parents Program which allows you to sign up to receive pregnancy, parenting and breastfeeding digital education on a regular basis. Take advantage of this program for a healthy start.
Raising happy, healthy children demands dedication — but there’s no more rewarding job. Learn all you can and take advantage of the resources around you to get your military child off to a great start. Call Military OneSource 24/7 at 800-342-9647, view international calling options or schedule a live chat to get answers to your answers and the resources you need.