Sharpening the Resolutions Eleven Steps Toward a Healthy, Safe Environment for Your Family

A new year of healthy possibilities in 2012 can await you and your family simply by making a few thoughtful and realistic resolutions, which can go a long way toward creating a more healthy and safe environment for the entire family.

If you haven’t already, take the time to consider what message your personal lifestyle has on your child’s development. Although the New Year has already begun, it’s not too late to make several resolutions, from spending more time together as a family to incorporating more exercise and healthier foods into your daily routine.

Please consider the following top 10 (plus one) New Year’s resolutions to make 2012 the most healthful and safest ever for you and your children.

Set good examples for your children. Your children are always watching you, and you are the most important teacher they will ever have. They will learn to relate to others by watching what you do. Hitting, slapping, and spanking teaches children that it is acceptable to hit other people to solve problems. Remember, words can hurt, too.
Spend time together as a family every day. Admittedly, in today’s busy, overscheduled world, this can be very hard to accomplish … so plan for it and actually schedule time together. Insisting that breakfast or dinner is always enjoyed as a family, when everyone can share their day’s experiences at the table, is a good place to start. Not only will it set good eating habits for your children, but it will provide important time for you to listen to them.
Get fit together. Get rid of junk food in the house and from your family’s restaurant dining habits. Instead, serve your family nutritious, low-fat, high-fiber foods all the time. Be sure that everyone gets plenty of exercise, and it should be something that is fun to do. A regular family backyard game session or long walk together can be an important habit to develop. Western Mass. has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country. Obese and overweight children are at high risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and many other diseases later in life. Make sure your child is not one of them by insisting that they enjoy at least one hour or more of physical activity every day.
Make sure immunizations are up to date. Children need immunizations to protect them from certain dangerous childhood diseases. Illnesses such as measles, chicken pox, pertussis (whooping cough), and a host of others are still around. Without immunizations, your child can get these diseases, some of which can be fatal. So protect your child by ensuring he or she is current on all recommended immunizations.
Provide your children with a tobacco-free environment. Indoor air pollution from tobacco increases ear infections and chest infections, aggravates asthma (which is a major health problem in the Springfield area), and even contributes to sudden infant death syndrome. If you smoke, consider quitting, and never, never smoke inside the house or car. Remember, the question of whether your child will grow up to be a smoker or not is heavily dependent on whether you smoke. Make your home a smoke-free zone.
Read to your children every day. Even though it may be as simple as talking about the pictures in a book to little ones, parents should begin reading to their children at about the age of 6 months. Reading to children is a great way to show them the importance of communication, and will motivate them to become readers. It also provides a context in which to discuss issues and learn what is on your child’s mind.
Practice safety on wheels. It’s the law. Make sure everyone in the car is buckled up for every ride, with children in the back seat placed in age-appropriate child-safety seats. All bikers, skaters, and skateboarders must wear helmets to protect them from serious brain injury.
Turn it off! Children under 2 years old should not be watching any television, and older children should have their TV time limited to only one or two hours per day. Monitor what your children see and hear on television, at the movies, and the music they are listening to, as well as the Web sites they are visiting. Children are influenced by what they see and hear, particularly violent images. Talk to your children about content. Activate the parental-monitoring capabilities of cable televisions in the home, computers, and cell phones. If you feel that a movie, television program, or Web site is inappropriate, redirect your child to more suitable programming.
Become more involved in your child’s school and education. Visit your child’s school. Become active in the school’s parent-teacher organization. Serve as a volunteer in the classroom for special projects. Be available to help with homework. Teach by example. If your child’s education is important to you, then it will become more important to them.
Do a childproofing survey of your home. A ’child’s-eye view’ home survey should systematically go from room to room, removing potential hazards that await the curious toddler or preschooler. Look for poisons, small objects, sharp edges, knives and firearms, and places to fall. Be sure little ones do not have access to swimming pools or even buckets of standing water or toilets. Remember, it only takes a few inches of water to drown a toddler.
And, most important of all … never miss the opportunity to hug your children and tell them that you love them.
Dr. Lindsey Grossman is chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital.