Wellness be­gins with the fam­ily

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - YOUR HEALTH - By THERESA BELLE

THE fam­ily home is ev­ery child’s pri­mary learn­ing ground. With life­style- linked non- com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases claim­ing more lives each year, per­haps it is time to go back to ba­sics and re­flect on prac­tices within the fam­ily unit – how can we em­bark on the path of well- be­ing from our own doorsteps?

Your Health looks at bal­anced eat­ing, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and more as­pects of healthy liv­ing for fam­i­lies based on dif­fer­ent age groups of young ones.

In­fants and tod­dlers ( up to three years)

l Go out­doors – New moth­ers are tra­di­tion­ally ad­vised to stay in­doors with their new­born ba­bies, but time out­side can be good for the lat­ter as long as par­ents take cau­tion in not ex­pos­ing their chil­dren to germs and viruses. Get­ting your chil­dren suit­ably vac­ci­nated is there­fore the first step in pro­tect­ing their health.

When un­der the sun, make sure your baby’s head, feet and hands are cov­ered and dress them in light cloth­ing. You can have a pic­nic in a park or take an evening walk to en­joy nat­u­ral sights and sounds to­gether. Ba­bies can be ex­posed to wa­ter as early as six weeks old, so you can also take a fam­ily dip on sunny week­ends. Pro­tect ba­bies with sun­screen and save pro­fes­sional swim­ming classes for when they are older than four – let them build strength by splash­ing and kick­ing around first.

l Nat­u­ral nour­ish­ment – Ac­cord­ing to Dr Loo Hui Min, res­i­dent pae­di­atric and neona­tol­ogy con­sul­tant at Mahkota Med­i­cal Cen­tre, pre­vent­ing obe­sity starts as early as in­fancy.

“Stud­ies have shown that ba­bies who are ex­clu­sively breast- fed are less likely to be­come obese later in life,” she says.

“New moth­ers must limit in­take of fats – cut down on sat­u­rated and trans fats as much as pos­si­ble. In­crease con­sump­tion of fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, whole­grains and nuts,” says Dr Tan Nu­groho Cipto, ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­nae­col­o­gist at Ori­en­tal Me­laka Straits Med­i­cal Cen­tre.

Not just moth­ers, but fa­thers too should eat healthily so they can pre­pare to feed their child well – in­clude good amounts of pro­tein, car­bo­hy­drates, fats, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als to build the foun­da­tion of a solid diet.

l Clean slate – It is com­mon for new par­ents to kick detri­men­tal habits such as to­bacco and al­co­hol abuse when their child is born, and right­fully so – ac­cord­ing to Dr Norhay­ati Awan, ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­nae­col­o­gist at Ori­en­tal Me­laka Straits Med­i­cal Cen­tre, chil­dren are more vul­ner­a­ble to en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards than adults.

She says, “Chil­dren are more heav­ily ex­posed to tox­ins in pro­por­tion to their body weight, and have more years ahead of them in which they may suf­fer long- term ef­fects from early ex­po­sure. Sec­ond- hand smoke, chem­i­cal ir­ri­tants, air pol­lu­tants and cold weather in­crease the risk of chil­dren de­vel­op­ing asthma or res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions.”

Chil­dren ( four to 12 years)

l Learn­ing to eat – Chil­dren are nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous and con­stantly ab­sorb­ing knowl­edge. Par­ents should use this time to learn how to craft bal­anced di­ets as a fam­ily.

Go gro­cery shop­ping to­gether and let your chil­dren pick out recipes and in­gre­di­ents while you teach them about types of food, colours, nu­tri­tion, bal­ance and even ba­sic finance.

Some chil­dren are fussy about eat­ing cer­tain foods, but par­ents should nip this be­hav­iour in the bud.

Di­eti­tian and owner of The Food Ex­pert Clinic In­dra Balarat­nam says it is im­por­tant to en­cour­age chil­dren to try new foods in a way that is not threat­en­ing, and in fact en­joyed by the whole fam­ily.

She says, “With small chil­dren, you may have to use lit­tle culi­nary trick­ery to in­clude foods that they typ­i­cally dis­like to hide the taste, texture and look of it. You can do this by juic­ing, blend­ing it into soups or sauces or minc­ing or ground­ing it into a form that mixes eas­ily with other food.”

To en­sure chil­dren stick to a bal­anced diet, pre­pare their school snacks and lunches at home. Only make good food and healthy snacks avail­able at home and limit eat­ing out. Re­place car­bon­ated drinks with wa­ter or fresh juices.

l At the ta­ble – Meal times should be spent away from tele­vi­sions and smart­phones be­cause they are prime bond­ing time. This is the time to catch up with one an­other and talk about the in­ter­est­ing or un­usual parts of your day.

Sit­ting down for a meal to­gether is pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment of the sup­port­ive role your fam­ily plays in your life.

“Good, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion should start when chil­dren are young. No mat­ter how busy you are, it is im­por­tant to spend time with the chil­dren and ask them about their daily ac­tiv­i­ties and lives,” says Dr Loo.

l Fun times to­gether – Ex­er­cise does not have to be a chore and an ac­tive life­style does not have to be lim­ited to ex­er­cise. For ex­am­ple, in­cor­po­rate move­ment in fam­ily clean­ing days by as­sign­ing vac­u­um­ing, wip­ing win­dows or work­ing the gar­den.

If their schools are close by, walk there with your chil­dren in­stead of driv­ing them there. On week­ends, plan camp­ing trips or treasure hunts to find new ways to en­gage with na­ture and one an­other.

“Younger chil­dren may face an in­creased risk of in­jury due to falls, so make sure your child is wear­ing pro­tec­tive gear when do­ing ac­tive sports such as rollerblad­ing or rid­ing a bike,” says Dr Tan.

Lim­it­ing time with gad­gets is also im­per­a­tive among mod­ern chil­dren – en­sure the time they spend with screens does not ex­ceed read­ing, play­ing and bond­ing time.

It is in these de­vel­op­men­tal years that par­ents must also be good role mod­els so chil­dren can fol­low their ex­am­ple.

“Par­ents play a big part in shap­ing their child’s healthy liv­ing habits, so they must show them that be­ing ac­tive can be fun,” says Dr Norhay­ati.

Ado­les­cents ( 13 to 17 years)

l In the kitchen – Healthy eat­ing does not have to be ex­pen­sive. Pro­cessed foods and drinks are the items that add up to a hefty gro­cery bill, which is why fresh in­gre­di­ents are the way to go.

Teenagers who have been ex­posed to bal­anced eat­ing through­out their child­hood should have an idea of mak­ing good di­etary choices.

Un­for­tu­nately, greasy burgers and salted chips be­come more ap­peal­ing due to peer pres­sure and in­sa­tiable ap­petites, so par­ents may need to get cre­ative in the kitchen.

“Sausages and frozen nuggets are pricey, but if you buy a fish fil­let or chicken fil­let and coat it with bread­crumbs, you can eas­ily make your own nuggets with a lot less salt, fat and preser­va­tives,” says In­dra.

Since the kids are older, they should get in­volved too. Teenagers can be tasked to pre­pare a sim­ple din­ner for the fam­ily, pick out fruits and ce­re­als for the week, or pre­pare meat and veg­eta­bles for cook­ing.

Al­low them to iden­tify and ex­plore their culi­nary in­ter­ests, whether it is bak­ing or grilling, and teach them about the pros and cons of each.

l Get mov­ing – Set­ting goals and ac­com­plish­ing them as a fam­ily can keep ev­ery­one com­mit­ted to their fit­ness regime. For ex­am­ple, cel­e­brate spe­cial oc­ca­sions with out­door ac­tiv­i­ties such as hikes or Fris­bee matches, or train for a char­ity walk or run to­gether.

En­cour­age teenagers to join school sports teams and show up to sup­port them when they are play­ing.

Take bi­cy­cle rides, sign up for a rock climb­ing class, play laser tag – what­ever ac­tiv­ity you choose, de­cide as a fam­ily and take ev­ery­one’s in­ter­ests into ac­count.

You can even turn it into a race or con­test and of­fer prizes for win­ners just to stir the com­pet­i­tive spirit.

l Two- way sup­port – Fa­mil­ial com­mu­ni­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing be­comes es­pe­cially per­ti­nent dur­ing ado­les­cence, which can be a try­ing time for teenagers.

Good men­tal health is un­doubt­edly cru­cial to well- be­ing no mat­ter the age, so how can par­ents bet­ter sup­port their chil­dren?

“As par­ents, we can say sorry ( when we are wrong) – when chil­dren watch us learn to par­ent bet­ter, they re­spond and learn how to learn,” said fam­ily and mar­riage ther­a­pist Dr John­ben Loy in a talk show on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion BFM last Au­gust.

He also talked about how par­ents can bet­ter man­age and project their ex­pec­ta­tions on their chil­dren.

The choices chil­dren make are heav­ily in­flu­enced by their par­ents’ be­liefs and val­ues be­cause they are means of gain­ing love and ac­cep­tance. If these val­ues are in­con­sis­tent or vi­o­lated by par­ents them­selves, chil­dren strug­gle to dis­cover their iden­tity and of­ten rebel.

A strong fam­ily unit is happy. Clear and open two- way com­mu­ni­ca­tion en­ables mem­bers of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions and per­spec­tives to build trust­ing re­la­tion­ships, which is key to build­ing a fam­ily healthy in body an mind.

Pack­ing lunch for chil­dren from home al­lows par­ents to keep track of their diet.

Spend­ing time to­gether is im­por­tant for stronger

fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

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