With the school term in full swing, many parents may be contemplating how best to support the physical and mental development of their children to help them maintain momentum in the year ahead.
Dr Wayne Jones, a paediatrician practising at Netcare Greenacres Hospital in Gqeberha, suggests that parents will see the most effective results by keeping it simple and consistent with basic healthy habits and staying emotionally connected with their kids.
See the full picture of daily nutrition
“The importance of good nutrition cannot be overemphasized in maintaining adequate energy levels and ensuring that your child’s physical as well as mental development remains on track. Many children start the day with cereal, snack on processed foods at lunch break and eat mostly carbohydrates at night,” says Dr Jones.
“This paints a picture where the child is regularly experiencing energy highs and lows during the day, making it difficult for them to sustain concentration. Furthermore, this type of diet can lead to severe constipation, iron deficiencies and being overweight as well as feeling tired and miserable on an ongoing basis, which impacts their school and social lives.”
Dr Jones notes that the healthiest habits are simple enough to include in a busy schedule and to maintain throughout the year. These include:
- Using the plate model to help you visualise – half the plate is taken up by fresh fruit and veg, one quarter is taken up by wholegrains, and one quarter by lean protein, such as chicken or fish.
- Keeping it colourful on the plate – lots of colourful, natural foods mean a good mix of nutrients.
- Replacing sweetened spreads and jams with unsweetened nut butters, dried fruit with fresh fruit, and swapping fruit juices and flavoured waters with natural water.
- Monitoring milk intake – one or two cups per day is good for the health, but more than this can begin to impact appetite and water intake, affecting their nutrition and hydration.
- Sticking to low GI foods – especially for children who are not big eaters. Nuts, apples, raw carrot sticks and plain yoghurt are good examples of snacks that will provide energy throughout the day.
A balanced routine
“It is no secret that children thrive on routine and this is especially important when it comes to four things in particular – sleep, screen time, physical activity and family time. These aspects of a child’s life are all interrelated and it is important to get the balance right,” says Dr Jones.
“Sleep is a fundamental building block for development and if you watch TV or are busy on your mobile phone shortly before bed time the brain remains active for quite a while, even if you are asleep. Winding down in a calm, screen free environment is necessary for the rest that children need. Insufficient sleep and poor quality sleep can result in concentration and behavioural issues.
“Screen time can also impact physical activity levels. Children need to spend time playing outside where they are moving their bodies and interacting with their environment. It is necessary for the development of creative thought for them to spend some time being bored, as this is when they really activate their imaginations. This is yet another reason why setting daily limits on screen time is a priority.”
Dr Jones points out that, on the other hand, it can often be the case that a child engages in too much physical activity, especially as they start to become more serious and competitive about sport. “Extramural sports have numerous benefits but it is best to be selective about just how much of your child’s time is committed to this. Too much sport can result in exhaustion so if you notice they are falling asleep in the car on the way home from practice, it may be time to cut back. An excess of sport can certainly impact academic performance, as energy is needed for the brain to function optimally.
“Finally, there has to be regular time carved out for your family to connect – breakfast and dinner present the ideal opportunities for this in the daily routine. This has the dual benefit of being able to ensure that your children eat healthy food at least twice a day and gives you the opportunity to touch base and converse with your children. This plays a major part in their social development, not to mention that it affords precious time for you to be together as a family and for them to feel that connection,” says Dr Jones.
“Putting healthy habits in place is not only beneficial to the health and development of your children now, it also lays the foundation for their future and teaches them to make healthier and smarter choices as they grow older. Ultimately, having structure and lifestyle balance makes children feel secure and allows them to thrive, now and well into the future,” concludes Dr Jones.
Notes to editor
Looking for a medical appointment? Netcare appointmed™ will make appointments for YOU with specialists practising at Netcare hospitals, GPs and dentists at Medicross medical and dental centres, and specialists at Akeso mental health facilities. Simply request an appointment online at www.netcare.co.za/Request-a-medical-appointment or phone Netcare appointmed™ on 0860 555 565, Mondays to Fridays between 08:00 and 17:00.
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