By Erica Stacy
|Feed regularly; proper nutrition is essential. Clothe appropriately. Organize a schedule for rest to reduce malfunction. For optimum results, provide stimulating interaction often.
Wouldn’t it be nice if children came with a set of operating instructions?
When I brought my first child home from the hospital, I was certain that I would quickly master the art of parenting. Three children later, I am less certain and every day is a new adventure.
Unfortunately, just when I think I have things under control, one of my children unexpectedly changes the rules. Who knew that green vegetables are only for green people? That the shoes that fit perfectly in the store yesterday are suddenly cutting off circulation? That movies rated PG-13 by experts may be
less than acceptable for many 13 year-olds. That playing actively outside isn’t something that comes naturally, but rather requires parent creativity and involvement?
Fourteen years after learning of my first pregnancy, I am still learning. I understand now that my degree in parenting is a lifelong pursuit with no pretty paper diploma to mount on the wall. Everyone who takes an interest in children supports the future. Setting examples in good health and community values is a responsibility we all share.
Here are a few tips to make the trip more enjoyable and to ensure that we arrive at our desired destination: a healthy, happy future for all children and families.
Before baby arrives
Raising a healthy child actually begins before
the baby even enters the world. The choices
parents make during pregnancy and in the
hours immediately following birth lay the
foundation for the future.
“Educating new mothers is the first step,” says Patrick E.B. Egbe, M.D., a pediatrician with Choice Pediatrix
in Rockingham. “New mothers should have a basic understanding
of newborn care before baby leaves the hospital.”
Dr. Egbe encourages parents to participate actively in their pregnancies.
“Ask questions,” he says. “Read. Use the time to learn as
much as you can.”
For example, “one of the single greatest gifts a mother can give
her newborn is to make the choice to breastfeed,” Dr. Egbe says.
“Yet many mothers, particularly young mothers, have not even
considered the possibility before the baby arrives.”
Dr. Egbe encourages all new mothers at least to try to nurse their
infants. “When I point out the benefits and really try to work with
mothers, I find that most are open to at least trying to breastfeed,”
he says. “There are benefits for mother and baby that cannot be
In addition to choices with immediate implications such as housing
and feeding, families should take time to discuss the values they
wish to instill in their children. Methods of discipline, religious
affiliation, health priorities and education are just a few of the topics
new families need to consider. For example, while your immediate
family may not smoke, how will you handle friends or family members
who do? Although strategies may change as the child grows,
families who foster a climate of open discussion early set the stage
for future interactions and healthy decisions.
See how they grow
The family member or guardian who takes responsibility for planning
meals and grocery shopping is critically important to establishing
healthy eating habits in children and young adults. “What the
family consumes every day is important,” Dr. Egbe says.
As soon as the child is old enough to join the family at the table,
he or she begins to recognize the normal food patterns of the
group. “The family table should be the ideal table,” says Dr. Egbe.
“If sodas, juices and high-fat content or sweet foods are not readily
available, children do not miss them. Ice cream, cookies and soda
should be infrequent treats—not daily expectations.”
Unfortunately, across the nation, poor nutrition and lack of
exercise are taking a toll on youth. According to a 2005 Institute
of Medicine report: “Over the past three decades, the childhood
obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2
to 5 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, and it has more than
tripled for children aged 6 to 11 years. At present, approximately
nine million children over 6 years of age are considered obese.”
In response to growing requests from area pediatricians, teachers
and other community leaders, the FirstHealth Center for Health
and Fitness-Pinehurst has designed a program to help parents
encourage active lifestyles and healthy food choices for their families.
Moore Healthy Kids is available free of charge to all interested
“Our goal is to help families understand that making the right
choices for their children makes a difference in their health for a
lifetime,” says the center’s program manager, Kari Garbark.
Through the program, parents and children participate in educational
activities to learn more about healthy snacks, eating out, meal
planning and moderate exercise.
“Children need to see their parents being active and making
good lifestyle choices,” Garbark says. “It isn’t necessary to be a
member of a gym or even involved in organized sports to get
moving. Kids can help with yard work or walk with pets. Visiting
area parks to enjoy outdoor activities or simply playing catch in the
yard are convenient, inexpensive activities that families can enjoy
together.” (For more information about Moore Healthy Kids, call
A relationship you can count on
One of the best sources of information about your child is his or
her health provider. Establishing a relationship with a pediatrician
or family health professional that you trust is key to ensuring your
child remains healthy from infancy through young adulthood.
“Yearly examinations offer an excellent opportunity for parents
and providers to discuss lifetyles, developmental changes and any
other health-related topic,” says Dr. Egbe. “We are often in a
position to target a potential problem before it begins to affect
As children grow and change, parents often neglect routine
physicals. “If the students are up to date on immunizations and
seem healthy, parents delay routine well-care” Dr. Egbe says.
“Adolescents are particularly fragile, and providers are trained to
recognize symptoms that parents may overlook.”
Equating the health status of a teen to that of a newborn, Dr.
Egbe suggests that parents remain diligent in seeking health care
during this time of transition.
Parents should also be open to enabling their teen child to speak
privately with his or her physician or provider. “We like to think
that we know everything about our children, but they often share
information more freely when Mom or Dad are not present,” Dr.
Dangerous and counter-productive behavior will be discouraged,
he says, and appropriate interventions will be put in place.
“Ultimately, the teen is encouraged and supported to involve
the parents in the process,” Dr. Egbe says. “We always try to
earn the trust of teens and will work with them to get the parents
It takes a village
Encouraging good health in children is something that extends
beyond the home. Teachers, coaches, church representatives, child
care providers and other community leaders also play an important
role in the lifestyles children choose.
Funding through the NC Health and Wellness Trust has
enabled FirstHealth to implement FitTogether, a program
targeting elementary school children, in four area communities.
Through FitTogether, FirstHealth has partnered with area
schools to promote awareness and understanding about healthy
eating and physical activity. Just as no two children are exactly
alike, each participating school has adopted unique methods of
“We have provided resources and tools to Moore, Montgomery,
Hoke and Richmond school systems and classroom teachers,” says
Amy Hamilton, outreach manager for FirstHealth Community
Health Services. “The creativity they have used in sharing the
materials is inspiring.”
Each school combines classroom education with field trips or
special activities to encourage health awareness. For more information
about FitTogether or other children’s health programming,
call (800) 213-3284 or visit www.healthwellnc.com.