Rais­ing healthy kids

To­day is Global Hand­wash­ing Day. Here’s how your kids can en­joy the great out­doors with­out you hav­ing to worry about dirt and germs.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE -

WITH their seden­tary life­styles, chil­dren to­day are be­ing de­prived of fun in the sun.

First it was tele­vi­sion. Then came the com­puter that of­fered end­less games, YouTube, Face­book and more. And now there’s the smart phone, which not only pro­vides telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices but also serves as a mo­bile mini com­puter.

With such won­der­ful technology around, it is lit­tle won­der that chil­dren are not play­ing out­doors any more. What’s worse, par­ents are not en­cour­ag­ing their chil­dren to play out­doors.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent world now. We worry about safety, traf­fic and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion when our chil­dren play out­side,” ad­mits Sara, a mother of two chil­dren aged two and seven years.

With more peo­ple lead­ing ur­banised lives, par­ents are also in­creas­ingly re­luc­tant to let their chil­dren get dirty, wor­ry­ing about the germs that they might come in con­tact with when play­ing out­side.

“I don’t like my sons to get all hot and smelly play­ing in the hot sun,” says Ju­liani, mother to fouryear-old twins, Johan and Jamil. “But I don’t have a choice be­cause

Play­ing out­doors ex­poses chil­dren to the sights, smells and tex­tures around them. my hus­band is an out­doors per­son and he loves tak­ing them with him.”

Yet out­doors play holds mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits for grow­ing chil­dren. It was not ob­vi­ous in the be­gin­ning but the dif­fer­ence be­tween Sara and Ju­liani’s chil­dren started to man­i­fest it­self when the chil­dren went to pre-school.

Sara’s chil­dren, who spent most of their lives in en­closed spa­ces, safe from the out­side world, caught in­fec­tions eas­ily. They would get ill if they were caught in the rain or got too tired.

Johan and Jamil, on the other hand, were sel­dom ill or re­cov­ered fast ev­ery time they had a cough or cold. They had a good build and had lit­tle trou­ble eat­ing or sleep­ing.

What Sara had not re­alised is that her over-pro­tec­tive na­ture had pre­vented her chil­dren from de­vel­op­ing nat­u­ral im­mu­ni­ties in the hy­gienic con­di­tions of her home.

Chil­dren need to sweat out ex­cess en­ergy, ex­plain ex­perts from the Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia in Penn­syl­va­nia and Prince­ton Math­e­mat­ica Pol­icy Re­search, Inc, in New Jersey, the United States.

Re­search pub­lished in the Archives Of Pe­di­atrics & Ado­les­cent Medicine 2005 showed that par­ents who of­ten com­plained that their chil­dren were de­struc­tive and naughty in the house were usu­ally pleas­antly sur­prised to find that their chil­dren were bet­ter be­haved af­ter a day out.

This is be­cause they will have “let off steam” by run­ning or play­ing out­side, and are able to sleep and eat bet­ter.

Get­ting more rest and a bet­ter diet con­trib­ute to the gen­eral health of chil­dren, mak­ing them more even-tem­pered. It also stops them from putting on ex­cess weight and be­com­ing a statis­tic for chil­dren with obe­sity.

Out­door play is an im­por­tant part of grow­ing up, as it al­lows the body to reap Vi­ta­min D from sun­shine.

Vi­ta­min D is a cru­cial el­e­ment in the metabolism of cal­cium, which helps form healthy bones and teeth.

Cal­cium needs to be ac­cu­mu­lated in the early years of life, as bone mass peaks at the age of 30. Hav­ing good cal­cium stores would help pre­vent os­teo­poro­sis and os­teope­nia in the golden years.

Fre­quent con­tact with pathogens in the en­vi­ron­ment helps chil­dren de­velop a nat­u­ral im­mu­nity to them. This is why Ju­liani’s chil­dren have bet­ter im­mu­nity than Sara’s, al­though both sets of chil­dren lead ur­banised life­styles.

Books and the In­ter­net may be won­der­ful re­sources, but noth­ing beats ex­pe­ri­enc­ing life first-hand. That’s where out­doors play is im­por­tant to ex­pose chil­dren to the sights, smells, tex­tures and colours in any­thing and ev­ery­thing.

A study con­ducted by the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois and pub­lished in the Au­gust 2008 Jour­nal Of At­ten­tion Dis­or­ders found that a 20-minute walk in the park can make a big dif­fer­ence in con­cen­tra­tion lev­els in chil­dren with At­ten­tion Deficit Hy­per­ac­tive Syn­drome (ADHD).

The re­searchers say the find­ings re­in­force a pre­vi­ous study which shows a link be­tween spend­ing time with Na­ture and re­duced ADHD ef­fects.

Learn­ing through play

Apart from that, the for­ma­tive years are the most im­por­tant for char­ac­ter-build­ing. Be­ing able to run in the park, climb trees, catch but­ter­flies or roll on the sand helps chil­dren cul­ti­vate a sense of won­der, cu­rios­ity and courage.

Ju­liani says her chil­dren are not afraid to pick up worms and even keep spi­ders as pets.

She notes how out­door play helped Johan and Jamil de­velop re­la­tion­ships and com­pas­sion.

She saw how they made friends at the play­ground or foot­ball field and was sur­prised when they brought back a stray cat for adop­tion one day.

“Be­ing in con­stant con­tact with God’s other cre­ations makes them more open to new ad­ven­tures,” she says.

Like any other mother, Ju­liani also wor­ries about germs and hy­giene, es­pe­cially when her boys are spend­ing so much time out­doors. That’s where hy­giene ed­u­ca­tion comes into play.

“I tell them that they must al­ways wash their hands af­ter play­ing and to get a bath as soon as they come home from play­ing out­side. No watch­ing tele­vi­sion, rest­ing or din­ner un­til they have cleaned up!” says Ju­liani, who packs hand-sani­tis­ing moist wipes for them ev­ery time they go out. The moist wipes come in handy at places where wa­ter and soap are not read­ily avail­able.

Un­der doc­tor’s or­ders, Sara is now start­ing to en­cour­age her chil­dren to play out­doors more and spend less time on the com­puter, tele­vi­sion or smart phone.

“When I men­tioned my con­cern about hy­giene and catch­ing germs, my doc­tor rec­om­mended al­co­hol-free sani­tis­ing moist wipes that are safe for use even for ba­bies.

“They make a lot of dif­fer­ence as I can now let them en­joy the ben­e­fits of out­door play with­out wor­ry­ing about in­fec­tions and dirt,” adds Sara. – Ar­ti­cle cour­tesy of Kleenex®

A sense of won­der:

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