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Getting Better and Staying Healthy

Dad: When you wash your hands, you wash away the germs. | Boy (washing hands at sink): This sink is just my size!

Turn Healthy Habits Into a Game

"If your young child resists washing her hands, or washes them too quickly, find ways to make it fun. Sing a favorite short song like Happy Birthday, recite a favorite nursery rhyme, or simply count to 20 together."

Dr. Elizabeth Goldman

Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City

A child who is sick with a lingering cold or injury may start to feel as though she'll never get well. Experts recommend that you reassure your discouraged child that she will get better and that you will help her do it.

"Developing a positive attitude about getting well is extremely important. You can communicate that to each child differently, based on her age, stage and personality," comments Dr. Stanley Greenspan, author of Building Healthy Minds. "Some kids can talk about getting better with you. Others, particularly younger kids, can work it out through play. Older kids may already have a plan in place that you can support."

Of course, it's also important to communicate how practicing healthy habits keeps kids well. Physicians recommend that parents become healthy role models by example. "Don't just talk about it -do it yourself!" recommends family practitioner Dr. Benjamin Kligler. So, if you want your child to eat breakfast, eat breakfast with her. If you want her to cross the street safely, wait for the light when you cross. The younger you start, the easier it will be to help your child develop healthy habits for life.

Here are some ways to put healthy practices into action:

Turn hand-washing into an regular routine. Pediatricians recommend that everyone wash his or her hands upon coming home and before eating. Use warm water and soap and wash for at least 20 seconds. Explain to your young children why this is important by saying, "When you wash your hands, you wash away the germs that can make you sick." This is one of the most important ways to prevent colds and illnesses from spreading.

Encourage kids to take pride in brushing their teeth. You might encourage a young child by saying, "When you brush your teeth, you brush away the germs and keep your smile happy and beautiful." Then, ask her to show off her smile. Many very young children will feel so proud that they may want to brush by themselves. "If young children want to do it themselves, let them do the morning brush," advises pediatric dentist, Dr. David Levine. "The most important brushing with young children is the nighttime brushing."

Set a teeth-brushing timer. Dr. Levine also recommends you give a child her own timer (or set one). This makes it fun for kids to brush longer and keeps them at it. For an exact timing, consult your dentist. Young children might need 30 seconds, older kids might need two minutes.

Let children choose their own healthy foods. Set up a snack cabinet filled with items you and your doctor deem healthy, such as nuts, healthy crackers, cereals etc. Let your kids help themselves within reasonable intervals (not right before dinner). This way, they will learn to make healthy choices on their own - without nagging.

Exercise together. Most children love to run around and exercise. But if your child doesn't, start by focusing on the fun factor. "If your child is spending too much time on video games and is not getting enough exercise, explain that exercise feels good and gives you more energy. Relate it to what feels good," says Dr. Benjamin Kligler. "If your child is afraid of a sport (for example swimming), get in the pool with her and take classes together."

Talking About Getting Well

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