From the first time we’re told to “eat carrots; they’re good for you,” we are bombarded with health advice. There’s no doubt that focusing on the basics – a healthy diet, enough sleep, regular exercise, and good hand-washing habits – will go a long way toward keeping your child healthy. However, addressing bad habits to break in children is equally important. Some southeast Michigan doctors share their insights on the worst offenders – and how to fix them.
1. Taking care of your child’s self-esteem.
Dr. Marcus DeGraw from Detroit’s St. John Hospital and Medical Center stresses the importance of parents remembering that they are their children’s parents, not friends. When he was a kid, “parents focused on being a parent to their child, not a friend to their child,” he says.
Many parents, according to DeGraw, believe that “if my child is unhappy, I have to fix it.” He believes that the constant emphasis on a child’s “self-esteem” and awarding trophies and ribbons without truly earning them is turning children into whiners and complainers, which is far worse for their self-confidence.
“They win when they win,” he says. “They lose when they lose.”
2. Giving your children an excessive amount of milk.
Dairy products are widely considered a valuable source of essential vitamins and minerals for bone health and general well-being. But don’t go too far!
While milk’s calcium content is beneficial, getting too much of it could have adverse effects. Toddlers should consume no more than 16-24 ounces of milk daily.
According to Bryzik, a board-certified pediatrician at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, drinking more than that can result in iron deficiency anemia. She also mentions that kids may overeat with milk and not eat as much nutritious food.
Bryzik recommends whole milk for children aged 12-24 months but 2 percent or 1 percent milk for children aged 24-36 months.
3. Feeding your child sugar sources that are hidden.
According to Shamoon, hidden sugars in “healthy” foods like raisins or other dried fruits are major causes of cavities. This is because they stick to teeth and contain concentrated amounts of sugar, which stay in contact with tooth surfaces longer than other treats. Many popular breakfast cereals are also high in cavity-causing sugar.
Popcorn, cheese, raw vegetables, nuts, gelatin, unsweetened yogurt, and sugarless gum and candy are some alternatives to include in your child’s diet. According to Shamoon, if children must have a sugary treat, chocolate is a good choice from a dental standpoint because it does not remain in the mouth and in contact with teeth for long periods of time, as suckers or hard candies do.
Summer beverages contain added sugars. Some parents are surprised to learn that juice contains as much sugar as soft drinks.
“Fruit drinks and soda pop also have a lot of calories that kids don’t need,” Dr. Lynn Smitherman says. She is a board-certified pediatrician and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Detroit’s Children’s Hospital. “Chilled or ice water is the best drink refreshment to have available, especially during the summer months when kids can become dehydrated.”
4. Allowing your children to watch a lot of television.
Reduce your child’s TV, computer, and video game time at or near the top of nearly every doctor’s list. According to Meg McKeough, DO, a board-certified pediatrician at Henry Ford Hospital, limiting your child’s total TV, computer, and video game time to two hours or less per day will go a long way toward preventing childhood obesity and the problems that come with it. “That message is included in every well-care visit,” she says.
Prolonged screen use may also be hazardous to one’s eye health. According to Jeffrey Kenyon, O.D., chair of the Michigan Optometrists Association’s Children’s Vision Committee, “some, but not all, studies have shown that nearsightedness increases with increased near-work, such as computer use.”
He advises children (and adults) to follow the “20/20 rule” when using computer screens for better eye health. Every 20 minutes of computer use, take a 20-second break to look around the room or out the window.
5. Sleeping with your contacts in.
According to Kenyon, more children and teenagers are wearing contacts. Many lenses are designed to be discarded daily. He advises parents to “stop allowing kids to sleep in their contact lenses” and to “stop allowing kids to sleep in their contact lenses.”
Sleeping with contact lenses can result in infections that can permanently impair your child’s vision and eye health.