The moment my first child was born, my view of the world changed forever. But of all the perceptions that changed, one thing took me especially by surprise: the health lessons kept rolling in. As a health professional, I thought I had "good health" all figured out. And somehow, my children were inadvertently schooling me!
But children are constantly teaching the adults around them extremely valuable lessons. That is, if the big people can stop, notice and be humble enough to take it all in.
Here are five major health lessons we could all learn from our children, if we just tuned into their innate wisdom!
1. Let it out, because you'll feel better.
Babies are expected to cry, but as children get older the tolerance for crying and whining diminishes. Adults often demand a child "stop crying," and may even punish the child for it. Other times parents try to make the child feel better with food or toys. But all this teaches children is that bad feelings are bad (I better keep them in) or they need something to make them feel better (I need some cookies).
Here's the health lesson: people need to get bad feelings out. Kids teach us this because they are terrible at hiding their feelings. So help your child release her pain and try to do the same yourself (without getting too worked up, of course). You'll both feel lighter and be much healthier over the long haul.
2. Make enjoyment the center of your kitchen table.
Ever watch a kid eat something they like? There's no guilt, just pure enjoyment. But what happens when parents intervene with, "You need to eat your veggies," or, "Unless you eat more meat you can't get dessert?" Their enjoyment disappears.
So take a lesson from kids and make enjoyment the center of your kitchen table.
3. Don't sit still!
You're at a party and the kids are running around, jumping and playing while the adults sit and talk. Even in the house kids are jumping on the bed and running around. Adults don't always like kids' constant movement, but children need it.
Kids remind us that activity helps our bodies and mind function optimally. Plus, research shows too much sitting isn't good for health, and weaving in physical activity during the day can even increase productivity. So instead of snapping at children for being unable to sit still, take it as a reminder to move your own body more.
4. Realize that sleep is nonnegotiable part of self-care.
When children don't get enough sleep, their behavior takes a hit. This is why many parents make early bedtimes a priority for kids, only to stay up late themselves to get more stuff done.
Every time you see the negative effects of sleep on your child, remember that the amount of sleep you get affects your mood and energy. Just because adults are better at hiding the effects of a lack of sleep doesn't mean it's any less detrimental. Maybe an earlier bedtime is in order for you, too.
5. Listen to your tummy.
Even the most calm parent gets rattled when their child just picks at a meal or inhales it. Parents feel it's their job to make sure children eat "just the right amount" at meals. Whether they push a small child to eat more or refuse requests for seconds from a big eater, all this does is teach children to disconnect from their body's internal cues of hunger and fullness.
While variations exist, research suggests that young children are generally able to regulate their food intake if parents set the feeding structure and provide balanced meals. So look to this annoying behavior for the health lesson it teaches: the gift of listening to your tummy.
Because kids don't have the same type of baggage adults do, they make the perfect health coaches. Ultimately, they teach us what we really need to be healthy is simple and enjoyable. What health lesson is better than that?