By Dr Pete Smith, GP in Kingston and Self Care Forum Co-chair
Learning self care skills from an early age is important in encouraging children to want to live healthy lifestyles and to learn about basic ideas about health looking after yourself and self reliance. This can give them the grounding to prepare them for dealing with bigger issues in later life.
It is an important part of what we call health literacy, providing children with the knowledge that will help them understand their health and its importance as they grow.
The ideas below might seem obvious, but often self care at this age is pretty simple though it may not be recognized as such.
Eating healthily and as a family and having regular meals together rather than snacks and only having sweets as special treats. Get kids used to having fruit and other snacks as treats and avoid sugary drinks completely.
Having busy lives can make it difficult but simple things like walking to the shops and trying to encourage babies and children to be active, as much as possible.
Babies in their first year might be encouraged to choose healthy foods and start to copy parents by washing their hands after a meal and holding a toothbrush to imitate parents.
As they grow through their second year these could be further encouraged along with importance of hygiene by learning to wash their hands independently and by joining in washing themselves and brushing their own teeth before bedtime.
Learning about the general need for cleanliness and hygiene can be helped by encouraging children to put dirty clothes in a wash basket (if that’s what you do) and helping wash up after meals. Mentioning cleaning off germs can be a good way of exploring the eventual question ‘why?’
The need for active lifestyle can be encouraged through getting children involved in parental exercise, even when it is just going for a regular walk or playing a game outside.
Older toddlers could be encouraged to brush their own hair and choose their own healthy food from the fridge. Again basic ideas about healthy bones and teeth can help with the question ‘why?’
Encouraging independent washing of hands and face is helped if soaps and towels are within reach.
When a child has a cold or other self-limiting condition, encouraging children to see that it is possible to look after one another and make things better without necessarily having to go to a GP.
Even learning the home phone number, address and emergency numbers are an important part of self care and understanding.
There is so much we can do to encourage healthy behavior and activity from an early age!