We live in a world where kids aren’t getting the things they need to find success. You hear about it all the time. Obesity is through the roof. Screen time is out of control. Test scores aren’t what they should be (the US ranks in the lower middle when it comes to math proficiency and many other core educational concepts).
This information is troubling for parents, but at the same time, it doesn’t always feel actionable. In this article, we highlight ways that you can help your child learn a healthy, happy lifestyle while reducing educational risk factors.
Create a Nurturing Learning Environment
School isn’t the beginning and end of existence for children, but it could be said that it’s their primary occupation. The education system isn’t just preparing them to acquire career-ready skills. It is also teaching them how to process information and reach conclusions. In other words— how to think.
As their parent, you can help their educational pursuits by creating a nurturing learning environment at home. Establish a space for them to do their work without distraction. You don’t need a study room to make this happen. Your dining room table can do just as well. The space should simply be:
• Uncluttered: It won’t feel like a designated study space if it is piled high with coats and overdue library books.
• Distraction-free: If they have their cell phones and music players with them, the “study area,” is just another place to unwind at the end of the day. That’s important, of course, but it’s not what you are trying to accomplish here.
• Consistent: Obviously, variety here and there is ok. However, establishing a primary location for study and homework time can help your child transition immediately into the right headspace to get work done after school.
You can’t make your child do their work. You can’t guarantee how well they will take to it. You can, however, equip them with all of the resources they need to find success when they study. The rest is up to them.
Foster a Relationship with Nature
It’s easy to forget that humans are animals. We evolved out of living within forests and other natural landscapes. Consequently, our bodies and our senses are in many ways still adapted to natural conditions.
Many experts agree that this is why the human body responds so swiftly and dramatically to time spent outside. Studies have shown that as little as thirty minutes spent strolling in the woods can clear the mind and reduce blood pressure.
That’s a significant physical and mental benefit that few other resources can imitate. Helping your child establish a relationship with the natural world early on is a gift that they can take with them into adult life.
If you have access to a forested area, that’s great. Otherwise, any time spent outside can have a similar impact. Gardening, sports, and playing in the park are all excellent ways to help your child spend valuable time outside.
Reduce Screen Time
Every parent has heard this one. Unfortunately, however, excessive screen time remains a significant problem all over the world. Experts agree that children should log no more than two hours a day in front of a screen.
The number they actually hit? Around 6-9 hours (depending on their age).
Well, my, oh my. That is a lot. But I don’t think little Timmy spends—
Are you sure? It’s possible that you stay on top of things at home, but what’s going on at school? See, that’s the problem. It’s not just the time they spend going into zombie mode with a phone in their hands. Every bit counts.
Let’s say little Timmy is given thirty minutes of screen time before school in the morning.
Sure. As a way of relaxing before class.
And then another two hours at school.
Well, for schoolwork, sure. But—
Then, another thirty minutes at home, to unwind. Followed by an hour and a half during their homework. And then two hours in front of the TV after dinner before going to bed.
That comes out to almost seven hours in total. Little Timmy hasn’t done anything outrageous with his time, but little choices add up quickly. The truth is that ever since tablets and Chromebooks found their way into schools, they have eaten up pretty much all of the daily allotted screen time.
Your household may not be ready to put a total ban on non-educational screen time, but you should at least work on dialing it back. Excessive screen time can diminish your child’s ability to concentrate continuously. That time they are logging in at the study table won’t be as effective if your kid is hooked on their iPad.
Keep Them Active
Did you notice something about the numbers we went over in the last heading? They don’t give little Timmy much time for physical activity, do they? Kids do get a little bit of exercise at school— PE and recess.
Still, it may not be enough to build healthy habits they can take with them into adulthood. Kids are supposed to get about an hour of vigorous exercise (play— particularly athletic play— can count). By prioritizing time for physical activity every day, you not only improve their health. You also build healthy habits that they can take with them into life.
Unfortunately, children in the United States don’t have a very healthy relationship with food. About 35% of children living in the United States are overweight or obese. Not only can this be bad for their self-esteem, but it sets them up for a life of weight-related health problems that can lead to early death.
Childhood is the easiest and most effective time to establish healthy eating habits. Avoid processed foods and sugars. Focus instead on finding ways to incorporate foundational nutrition basics. Fruits. Vegetables, and lean proteins.
Sometimes I can feel like you are going against the grain when it comes to equipping your child with the things they need to live a healthy childhood. When you strip away YouTube and potato chips, you become the punchline to a joke— the quintessential helicopter parent that keeps their child on a tight leash.
Your job as a parent isn’t to worry about what other people think of your decisions. It’s to equip your child with the resources they need to grow into healthy, responsible adults.
Just keep in mind that the steps listed above don’t have to be difficult. Vegetables can be delicious, and there is an exciting world beyond the screen that your child should enjoy exploring.
Don’t doubt yourself. Make the choices that feel right and watch your child thrive.