Tips for Raising Healthy Kids

She may look (and even act) like your Mini Me, but kids aren’t little versions of adults. Here are pint-size guidelines for diet, sleep, exercise, and more.

 

  • Maya Kukes

Growing up is hard work, and a child has a special set of requirements to get the job done. “Kids have to be treated as their own entities with unique needs,” says Laura Jana, a pediatrician in Omaha and a coauthor of Food Fights ($15, amazon.com). That’s because your little person is still developing, of course, from her brain to her bones. Here are a few ways in which she’s different from you—and how you can give her what it takes to get big and strong.

She Dehydrates More Easily

There are a few reasons for this: Water makes up a greater proportion of a child’s body, and children have faster metabolisms, which means their systems need more water to run smoothly. You’ve heard “eight glasses a day” for the average grown-up, but for kids there’s no magic number. The amount of water depends on a child’s weight and activity level; as those increase, so does the quantity needed, says Jana. At a minimum, younger children should drink about 32 ounces, or four glasses, of water daily, and older kids, about eight, says Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta and a coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn ($16, amazon.com).

Stay-healthy tips: Young children may not ask for a drink until they are very thirsty, which means they are already beginning to dehydrate. Make sure to offer water throughout the day, especially if they are active. If plain water doesn’t go over so well, try adding frozen fruit slices (such as lemon, lime, or strawberry). The best way to know that a child is getting enough water is through her bathroom habits. “When kids urinate every few hours and have pale yellow or clear urine, chances are they’re well hydrated,” says Shu. If your kids are doing a lot of sweating, watch for signs of dehydration, which can include light-headedness, nausea, and weakness. And when she is sick and is losing fluid through diarrhea or vomiting, consult your pediatrician, who may recommend a replenishing electrolyte product, such as Pedialyte.

She Needs More Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that kids and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of age-appropriate physical activity each day. (Adults should log about 30 minutes of cardio five days a week.) According to a number of studies, exercise can strengthen kids’ growing bones. Most effective are weight-bearing exercises, like running around, dancing, and strength training—and hanging from monkey bars counts.

Speaking of monkey bars, there’s even more incentive for getting outside: A study last year led by a physician from the University of Cambridge, in England, found that for every extra hour a week that a child spent doing an outdoor activity, his or her risk of nearsightedness declined by approximately 2 percent. Researchers aren’t sure why, but it could be any of the following reasons: When kids are outside, they may be more likely to focus on distant objects (and less likely to focus on things up close, such as a computer screen) and get more exposure to natural ultraviolet light. Another factor could simply be the physical activity.

Stay-healthy tips: “Now that many kids do year-round sports, overtraining can be an issue,” says Joel Brenner, M.D., the medical director of sports medicine at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, in Norfolk, Virginia. “Watch for fatigue, trouble sleeping, and a general lack of motivation,” he says. Brenner advises against focusing exclusively on one activity, which could lead to overuse injuries, especially for kids approaching puberty.