Good health should never be taken for granted – even where children and young people are concerned.
Most children are naturally resilient; however, they will need the support of the adults in their lives if they are to remain healthy and fit throughout childhood and beyond.
Expectant mothers are encouraged to eat healthily and avoid alcohol, cigarettes and certain food types throughout their pregnancy to give their baby the best possible start in life. Breast-feeding is now recognised as having important health advantages for both baby and mother.
Immunisation is particularly important for babies and young children because their immune system is immature, making them more vulnerable to infection and serious complications. Vaccinations are quick, safe and effective and enable a child to fight a disease more effectively if they do catch it.
A good night’s sleep is essential for a child’s physical and mental well-being, with a lack of sleep linked to issues like co-ordination problems, hyperactivity, mood swings and difficulty in retaining information.
A combination of poor diet and physical inactivity has resulted in child obesity rates increasing rapidly in recent years. Being overweight or obese can have a detrimental effect on your child’s physical and mental health, while they are growing up and in adulthood.
There is plenty that you can do to help your child lose weight healthily, including cutting out sugary snacks and drinks, and encouraging them – and perhaps the whole family – to lead a more active lifestyle. Even young people who dislike team sports at school may discover they enjoy other outdoor activities like cycling, water sports, orienteering or climbing. The key is encouraging them to try out new foods and activities.
A positive attitude towards life and its challenges is just as important in staying healthy as food and exercise. Children form relationships with those around them from an early age and it is those positive relationships which enrich their lives and contribute to their overall well-being.
Conversely, relationships that make a child or young person feel bad about themselves or guilty, depressed, angry or stressed are unhealthy and should be avoided or ended.
It’s not only negative relationships that can cause anxiety and it is natural for young people to experience stress when faced with challenges, e.g. important exams, big changes or decisions about their future. If your child is struggling to cope with their level of stress on a day-to-day basis, then it’s time to talk to them and perhaps seek professional help.
When your child reaches adolescence it becomes much harder to keep tabs on their whereabouts and what they are doing. Many young people will go through a rebellious phase when they experiment with risky behaviours like smoking, drugs and alcohol. Highlight the dangers without appearing to lecture them.
Young people embarking on their first sexual relationships should be able to make informed decisions about birth control and know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases.
Of course, the best way of ensuring your child stays healthy is to be a great role model. Children who watch their parents eating healthily, exercising and drinking in moderation (or not at all) are far more likely to heed the lesson.