Have you ever wondered what wellness for children is? How do you define it and how do you make sure that they are not only healthy and doing well in school, but are also happy, well-rounded and balanced? Stay with me to learn more about wellness for children.
Summer break is here. Kids are excited to be off school for the summer. It is their time to recharge and play before they go back to school in September.
We, as parents, are a little anxious though – summer break means we have to entertain them for 2 months straight. We know that they deserved that break but at the same time we worry that they will forget everything they have learned so far and will somehow fall behind when the new school year begins. We don’t know whether we should be giving them problems to solve 5 days a week, make them do some household chores or just let them enjoy that Play Station/Tab/insert your own that we limited to weekends during the school year.
This worry is real – how do we know for sure what’s best for them? We want them to feel rested but we don’t want them to be wasting days in front of a TV and we definitely don’t want them to be inferior when they go back to school.
While keeping their academic strengths in check is important for successful learning in school, it is also important to make sure that your child is happy and well. A smart and unhappy child is an unhappy child first of all, while a happy child that is not that academically strong is still a happy child. Which matters to you the most?
I am not advocating against helping them maintain the knowledge they have gained, but I suggest we use these summer months to focus on our children’s wellness all-around.
Wellness For Children
Children’s or adults’, wellness still has the same multidimensional meaning and involves many aspects of your child’s life. Of course, children and adults have different means of achieving that wellness because even within the same dimension our needs differ a great deal, as well as our abilities to fulfil them. Because they are just children, it is our complete responsibility to make sure that their needs are fulfilled. It is also our responsibility to teach them a wellness approach to life to ensure that they grow up into independent, confident, intelligent and happy adults.
So let’s look again at the wellness dimensions and see how we can help children feel balanced in each of them.
1. Child’s Emotional Wellness
Children have trouble dealing with their emotions, too often because they don’t know what they are feeling. It doesn’t help them that we say ‘Calm down’ when they feel on edge, or ‘Stop crying’ when they feel sad, scared or offended. We say those things because we want to get it over with, but it doesn’t work nor help them for several reasons:
- It doesn’t solve their perceived problem. It doesn’t even get to the root of what they are feeling and why.
- It doesn’t help them deal with the emotion. They might not even know what it is.
- It tells them that it’s ok to suppress their own feelings and maybe even their needs in order to fit in.
- It tells them that they shouldn’t feel sadness or anger, or whatever it is they are feeling – and this alone makes them feel wrong or abnormal.
Instead of allowing them to grow into insecure adults who have trouble understanding and managing their own emotions, empower them to know what they are feeling and why. Talk through their anger and tears, ask them questions. Help them name their emotions and find solutions to the problems. Just give them a chance.
Talk about different situations and ask them how they would make them feel. Find ways to deal with emotions other than telling them to stop being that way.
Art helps children deal with sadness, anger and stress. Ask them to write or draw what they are feeling on a sheet of paper and then rip it in pieces. For younger children it helps to let them scribble on a piece of paper until they feel calm.
Exercise is another great way to deal with emotions and stop tantrums. Start with jumping jacks, or go on a walk. Make sure you do it together – lead by example. Exercise also boosts mood and helps managing emotions in the long run, it has been proven to alleviate depression.
2. Child’s Intellectual Wellness
Your child may feel very insecure if they feel that they are less intellectually advanced than their peers. If you suspect such a problem, make sure that you address it properly. Make time to sit down with your child and solve some maths problems, practice spelling or read books. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated – just enough to help your child develop the necessary skills.
It’s also worth mentioning that they shouldn’t be comparing themselves with other children and conclude who’s smarter or who is not. Explain to them that we all have different abilities and it matters so much more who we are as persons then our academic achievements. Tell them that if they want to be better they have to study harder, but they should only be doing that to become the best version of themselves and not to be better than somebody else.
Too often problems arise because we expect too much and make a crucial mistake of comparing our children with somebody else from their class. Make sure that it’s not your attitude that makes them feel that way. Encourage a positive attitude to learning and do fun learning activities together.
If your child has no academic problems, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t encourage some learning. Do some informal, fun activities together that are appropriate for their age. Count things, describe and discuss shapes and colours. Have Spelling Bee contests, play alphabet games and puzzles.
These were my favourite when I was a child. There are so many ways to play. Some require pen and paper, others could be oral.
- Pick one theme such as Animals, Plants, Geographic locations. One person starts the game by saying a word from the chosen theme. The next person must continue with a word that starts with the last letter or sound of the previous word. Example: Cat – Tiger – Rabbit – Turtle, etc.
- Pick a few categories such as Animals, Plants, Countries, Cities and Towns, Rivers, Movies/Cartoons, Actors, etc. and write them down on top of your paper. Let one player pick a random letter and start writing down your answer for each category starting with the letter. When any of the players finishes all the categories, the round is over (for younger children wait till they finish). Compare the answers and give 10 points for each unique answer and 5 points to matching answers, 0 points for no answer. Play a few rounds and count all the points. The player with the most points wins.
- Get a piece of paper for each player. Pick a long word and set a timer for 60 or 90 seconds. Each player must compose as many words as possible using the letters from the long word. Judge by the word count or the biggest word made.
Set time each evening to read a few pages of a book and then retell the stories in your own words and discuss them. For younger children, read with them or for them and ask them to tell what the story was about. If appropriate, discuss emotions and actions of the characters, their motifs and the morals. Not only will it help your child to develop intellectually, but also develop as a person and learn to analyze and express their views and opinions. Encourage this kind of discussions at all times, whether you watch a cartoon, a movie or read a story.
This is a strategy game we used to play as kids, back in the days when there were no computers and not much on the TV. To play, we’d get 2 to 4 people and each would draw two 5×5 grids, numerating one side of it from 1 to 5 and the other A to E. Then we would draw our ships in one of the grids (see the attached images) in a way that there’s at least 1 square space between the ships and when finished, we’d take turns ‘shooting’ by calling out the square like B2 or C5. The player you are aiming at has to tell you whether you missed, hit or killed the ship, and then both players mark the space at the corresponding grids with a dot (miss) or an X (hit or kill). The player who finishes off the rest of the ships has won the game.
3. Child’s Occupational Wellness
Occupational wellness normally relates to work place and career, but in children’s case it will be playschool, school or college. Bear in mind that not all children are of academic type, some will just not like school whatever you do, and some will be ok with the fact. For the rest of the children their attitude towards school and learning will impact their overall well-being, and if this is the case, it is your time to step in and talk to your child. Ask as many questions as you can to get to the bottom of the issue. Don’t just ask ‘why’ – these are the surface questions. Ask the questions that will get your kid talking, like ‘what does it feel like when…’ or ‘what do you do if…’
Focus on the positive aspects of going to school and learning that will work for your child. Empower them in any way you can. A child that is confident and comfortable in school is already half-way there academically. Being shy and afraid of speaking up can obscure the talent and knowledge that the child may possess, so cultivate that confidence.
4. Child’s Physical Wellness
Pretty much like with adults, this means keeping active, eating a balanced diet and getting appropriate medical care.
Healthy, balanced diet is extremely important for children for developing a strong immune system and healthy body. Excess body weight in children is linked to many diseases that may develop later in their adulthood, including cancer and type 2 diabetes.
A balanced diet is one that includes all the important food groups and macronutrients, is low in sugary, fatty and processed foods and is adequate in calories.
The exact number of servings will depend on the age and gender of the child, with lower limits required for younger children and girls and upper for older children and boys. Extremely active children involved in sports might require an upper end or 1-2 additional servings.
Whole grains: 4-8 servings (1 serving = 1/2 cup or 3 tbsp cooked grains or pasta, 1 slice of whole grain bread, 1/2 bagel or bun, 1 cup cold cereal, 1 6-inch tortilla)
Vegetables: 3-6 servings, with at least 1-2 servings of dark green, orange or red veg, 1-2 servings of starchy veg such as corn, green peas, baby lima beans, potato, and 1-2 servings of other veg like beets, cabbage, green beans, celery, mushrooms, zucchini, etc. (1 serving = 1/2 cup raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup leafy greens)
Fruit: 2-5 servings (1 serving = 1 small fruit (apple, mandarin, plum, etc), 1/2 cup chopped or sliced fruit such as banana, mango, melon; 1/2 cup 100% juice, unsweetened, not from concentrate; 1/4 cup dried fruit)
Protein foods: 2-3 servings. Look past meat and fish if possible. Lentils, beans, tofu are good protein sources that are rich in other vitamins, including Iron and Calcium. Include a small serving of nuts and seeds each day (1 oz or 30 g). (1 serving = child’s palm-sized piece of meat or fish, 1/2 cup cooked lentils, beans or tofu, 2 tbsp peanut or almond butter, 1 oz nuts or seeds, 1 glass of unsweetened soy milk)
All children, no matter the age and gender, should be active. The recommended activity level is at least 60 min almost every day. It is better to include all types of activities, such as cardiovascular – running, cycling, rope skipping, walking, sports games, aerobics, swimming; strengthening – bodyweight squats, push ups, planks, lunges, sit-ups; functional – moving objects, digging in the garden, carrying things like boxes; and stretching and flexibility – yoga, dancing, gymnastics, martial arts.
Make these activities fun by involving the whole family, making mini-competitions and races. Join a tennis club or a swimming pool together, pick up a family activity such as cycling on weekends or hiking, play soccer, tag rugby or basketball.
5. Child’s Social Wellness
Having friends and mixing with other children is very important for your child’s development. Unfortunately, nowadays children are less likely to make friends because they have too much screen time. Many teenagers spend the majority of time with their game consoles and have trouble making friends with other children. They lack social skills due to spending so much time on their own and often become victims of bullies. They may develop depression, weight problems and arising health problems, they may lack in confidence.
By playing with other children from early ages, children learn to cooperate, share things, work in teams, try things they haven’t done before or are not good at; they learn patience by waiting for their turns, they learn to listen, help, praise and follow directions. They learn to speak up and gain confidence, to be kind and respect the others; they learn equality, loyalty and conflict resolution.
You can help them learn all of these skills too by encouraging them and talking through things and issues, but you cannot substitute your parenting for a proper social life. So it is your responsibility to ensure that your child has the opportunity to socialise with other children and it is your job to help them along the way, because children are not experts, they cannot read people and their intentions, they need help identifying different behaviours, situations and their feelings about it.
6. Child’s Environmental Wellness
It goes without saying that the conditions in which a child lives matter. This pertains to the hygienic levels, quality of air, water and food, which directly affect your child’s health and well-being. But what also matters is building a foundation for your child that will ensure a further good relationship with the environment. To build this foundation, teach them as much as you can about the importance of keeping your environment clean and having quality food and water, but also teach them sustainability and care for the environment. Teach them not to litter, teach them to be responsible consumers, to reuse and recycle and buy only what’s needed. This is their future. We can already see the devastating effects of our attitudes to environment and of our consumerism.
- Start a small garden together. It could be a herb garden on your window sill or a proper veg garden in your backyard. Sow the seeds together, water your plants and care after them. If it’s fruit or veg, teach children to pick the produce, wash, cut and cook it together and share a family meal. Teach them the importance of sustainable food and home cooking – this also will benefit their physical wellness.
- Start a compost for your garden and involve your child in composting food left-overs.
- Go to local orchards or pick-your-own-veg farms if you don’t have your own garden.
- Participate in neighbourhood clean-ups or beach clean-ups.
- Teach your child sustainability by recycling and re-purposing things, making scrap art and giving things a second chance before throwing them out.
7. Child’s Financial Wellness
Though you are the one to provide for your child because he or she may not work yet and may not need to manage their own finances, it is never too early to teach them that money is not free and must be earned. There are a lot of age-appropriate activities that can help your child understand the concept of money. There are shop games that you can play to teach young children that things in life are not free and we have to pay for them, you can give them age-appropriate chores when they are a little older and pay them with coins that they can save up. If they are teenagers, make an agreement that pocket money must be earned by helping you around the house. Teach them to manage their money responsibly and not spend it straight away. Show them that by saving up they can buy something bigger and better. Teach them quality over quantity.
Kids are spoiled nowadays with all the toys that they get just because they want them and the money that they view them as a given and not something that has to be earned. Asking them to behave good doesn’t work anymore because they know they are going to get it anyway. So it makes sense to make it a little harder of them and make them ‘work’ for what they want to get. It will only benefit them in the future because they will not grow up with the illusion that they can do nothing and still get whatever they want.
8. Child’s Spiritual Wellness
This will come down a lot to what you believe in so I cannot dictate what you should do. We are all different, we have different views of the world, different values and we practice different religions or none at all. But what I know for sure is that we all have the need to connect – to connect with ourselves and to connect with something greater. Some choose God, others the Universe or nature. Some people find that connection through movement, others through music or literature. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to believe in and do – as long as it helps you make sense of the world around you and connect with yourself.
Teach yor child these ways of connecting through various activities – bring them to your church or temple, read stories to them – whether religious or just carrying messages about morals and core values, take them out on nature walks and discuss the greatness of the world around them. Teach them to respect the greater forces that aren’t visible to us but are clearly there. Help them find that sense of meaning and discover themselves. No person is complete without knowing who they are, and kids are no exception.
Spiritual Activities for Kids
- Mindfulness. At any given moment ask them to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths focusing on each. Then tell them to open their eyes and describe what they see, what they hear, what they feel, what they smell and what they taste. This exercise helps to connect with the present moment and their body in this moment.
- Gratitude. Before bed, ask them to recall their day and tell you 3 things they are grateful for and why.
- Intentions. Practice setting intentions for the day each morning and then report on progress. What they achieved? What went wrong and why? Don’t set too many intentions. Focus on just one in the beginning.
- Vision board. This is especially good for teenagers. Ask them what they want their life to look like. Take some magazines and look up pictures and words that would go with their vision (alternatively, look them up on the Internet and print out). Stick the images to a large paper (A3-A2 size) or a corkboard to create the vision. Discuss what they could do to achieve their goals.
Don’t Forget That Kids Are Just Kids
Whatever your plans for them are for the summer, children are just that first of all, and they need to play. They learn through play so much more than we tend to think, and it is the kind of information and education that they don’t get in school. So let them play and offer your gentle guidance where they need it to make sure that your child is healthy, happy and well-balanced.