A friend of mine who I don’t see very often came to visit today and asked what my secret was to raise healthy kids. My initial response was to chuckle a little and say “oh they get sick too sometimes!” but to that she instantly said “sometimes!!!!!!??”
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Other people’s lives can look rosy when compared to your own because you don’t see all the behind-the-scenes details. But this is actually a question that people ask me occasionally and I usually don’t have a great answer for them.
I’ve never raised anyone else’s kids so I can’t really tell if my kids are ‘healthier’ in comparison or not… but it is true that they rarely get sick!
Health is compromised of so many facets, it can’t always be pinned down to just one or a few elements.
It’s genetic, it’s a blessing, it’s luck, it’s a choice, it’s influenced by environment and so much more, so I hesitate to ever imply that I am the reason my kids are or are not healthy.
But on the other hand I do believe that our choices have both positive and negative consequences, and to be honest, my kids’ health is something I have thought a lot about!
I am and have been attempting to make conscious choices in the way that I care for my kids and run my house, and I am proud of that! So today I wanted to share these 6 ways I am trying to influence my kid’s health positively.
How to Raise Healthy Kids: 6 ways I parent intentionally
1. Home Birth
To me, there is no better way to start off kids on the right foot in this world than to have a calm and uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. That is why I love midwifery care, and homebirth.
While some complications can’t be avoided and every birth is unique, I have found that home births offer the kind of benefits that help me and my child instantly bond and start off our relationship in a low stress and healthy way.
Home birth is a great way to facilitate lots of important things a newborn benefits from, such as:
- Delayed cord clamping
- Immediate skin to skin contact
- Breastfeeding as soon as possible
- Not being exposed to unfamiliar germs
- High physical contact with the mother
- Low stress and Low cortisol
You can read more about the benefits of home birth, here.
In one of my favorite parenting books, “The Baby Book”, Dr. Bill sears says:
Related: Planning a home birth? Make sure to read my very first blog post: 100 Ways To Prepare For Home Birth!
2. Breastfeeding on demand, for an extended period of time.
Breastfeeding has so many amazing benefits besides nutrition (although the nutrition aspect is also huge!)
Breastmilk is specifically designed for your baby! It changes as they grow, supplying them with the exact vitamins, fats, and nutrients they need. It also acts a defense system, passing along the mother’s antibodies and protecting the baby from illness.
Breastfeeding on demand teaches the mother how to read and respond to a baby’s signals, allows the baby ample skin to skin contact, and provides needed emotional care too.
The World Health Organization, American Academy of Family Physicians, and other health organizations recommend that children be breastfeed for up to age two and beyond.
For us, this meant bed sharing and night nursing for as long as I could physically handle it. (Pregnancy always changes our breastfeeding relationship a bit!)
3. Healthy Foods
Can I tell you a secret? I don’t feed my babies. They feed themselves!
I have fallen in love with what is now popularly called “Baby led weaning”, which is the practice of offering your baby appropriately prepared foods when they are developmentally ready for them.
At our house, this means the baby is feeding themselves a lot of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, fish, and whole grains from about the 6 month mark.
Instead of starting off life with highly processed or refined foods as their gut’s first food experience, providing them with healthy whole foods teaches them to have a great variety in their diet.
The older my kids get, the more they are exposed to processed treats and snacks at places like family functions, community gatherings, and birthday parties. I let them partake of these snacks in moderation. However, at home we eat well, which for me means whole foods from scratch as much as possible.
I try as hard as I can to buy raw, local, organic foods for my family, but we do make compromises based on our budget and other factors. To me, a conventionally farmed carrot is better than no carrot at all. 🙂
Cooking from scratch helps us get more healthy foods in our diet. My kids love plain yogurt that we make at home, or granola made from organic oats that I buy in bulk from Azure Standard. I also have a pretty strict no juice policy at home. Milk or water it is!
While we can’t control everything about our health, we can control what we put into our bodies. I believe that healthy food is a major factor to over all health!
Touch is a basic human need, especially for babies! Touch aids in the release of oxytocin, and helps babies grow and develop.
Babywearing has been a vital part of my parenting efforts, not only because it helps me get more things done while simultaneously holding the baby, but because it is SO good for the baby!
I love babywearing because it is a smooth transition from womb to world. It keeps the baby comfortable and snug, close to the mother and happy. Babywearing helps babies cry less, help babies observe the world around them, promotes breastfeeding, skin to skin contact, and more.
I’ve also noticed that babywearing helps my babies be observant. The La Leche League says
“Experiencing a wide variety of stimuli helps babies’ brains to develop to their full potential. “La Leche League
For my older children who I no longer wear, I try to make sure I give them lots of hugs, snuggles, and sit close to them while playing or reading books to offer some of these benefits of physical contact.
5. Reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and ingredients
If anything is going IN or ON my kids, I try to stop and think about what it is, and if I could improve my choice of product.
This is a difficult one and it is easy to fear monger about this. My personal opinion is to try to be conscious and intentional, but not to be anxious about it.
For example, I try to find ‘greener’ options of shampoo, lotion, toothpaste when I need to purchase them. Otherwise I try to make what I can myself. I make homemade diaper cream unless the rash is so bad that I just feel like I need something else, which has happened.
When my kids get sick, I do not jump for the medicine cabinet. (We don’t keep much medicine on hand anyways, actually. It usually expires before we need it!)
If my kids have the flu or a cold, I start with supportive care first. Then I move on to natural remedies that I am comfortable with such as gentle herbs and perhaps a supplement of magnesium lotion, or a tea.
I will of course increase in my interventions if and when they need it. They rarely need advil or antibiotics, but I have given them before when I feel they truly could benefit from medicine.
I don’t think giving kids unnessesary medications is a good idea, but I happily will use them if it does become necessary!
There is growing concern about antibiotic over use, especially regarding children.
In an interview from the University of Utah, Dr. Cindy Gellner explains that:
“While antibiotics absolutely have their place…health officials have been warning that the overuse of antibiotics is helping to breed resistant bacteria.
In kids and adults, most coughs, sore throats, sinus issues, and diarrhea, they’re mainly caused by viruses… and will resolve on its own “
Other medications once thought to be safe for kids are now raising questions as well, such as aspirin or Tylenol. I don’t think the science is settled on a lot of these chemical and medication topics.
There is still so much we are learning about many of these drugs and chemicals we use every day. I prefer to take it slow and only use what is needed, as needed.
I think sometimes we just have to learn to live in the environment and time we were given. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t attempt to improve, but to be honest although I am in the process of making my own beeswax wraps, I’m not about to go and throw away all my plastic containers, and you better believe I use a microwave.
We also are not too afraid of nail polish. Except when the kids bite their nails, then I get slightly paranoid. That’s a topic for another day. 🙂
6. “Authoritative” parenting.
This item is more about my children’s mental, emotional, and social health. But it is very important none the less.
What is authoritative parenting and why does it matter? I’ve heard this explained as parents who have high expectations for their kids, but who also provide high responsiveness and input (as opposed to parenting that is low expectation or low input.)
This is not the same thing as authoritarian parenting, which can be defined as high expectations, low responsiveness.
Who came up with these terms and labels? I don’t know. Humans love to label things. It drives me nuts, but sometimes it’s the best way to get your point across.
This matters because the way parents behave around and treat their kids models how kids learn to interact with themselves and the world. They learn what is right and wrong by watching their parents, especially their mother. They learn what constitutes healthy environments and behavior by our example, so we need to set a good one.
Kids need boundaries, limits, rules, and duties. They need to feel like they have a place in the family, that they are wanted, needed, loved, and also that they contribute importantly. These can all be things that are achieved with authoritative parenting (which in my opinion begins with “attachment parenting”.)
People have commented since babyhood on both of my kid’s ability to observe, sit quietly when needed, but also be highly engaged in imaginative play and creativity.
My kids love to move and learn new things. They also learn how to work from a very young age. They learn how to interact and make amends when needed, and they have age appropriate expectations and duties in our home that give them not only a way to learn about the world around them and how social interactions work, but they also derive a sense of self pride in a job well done.
Related: Read My Guest Post at “Stay Sane Mom” To Find out 5 Ways To Make Cleaning Fun For Kids!
I want my kids to communicate to me when they have needs they need met. I teach them how to tell me what they are thinking and feeling, instead of just allowing whining. (Although they of course still occasionally whine.) 🙂
My kids are not perfect, they do all sorts of annoying and childish things. But in my opinion, they are really really good kids!
I can’t take all the credit, it takes a village to raise a child. But I’m also not willing to say that I didn’t do anything to influence how they are beginning to shape themselves 😂 moms gotta get some credit!
I thought it would be helpful to list a few specific examples of ways I try to parent my kids in an “authoritative” manner:
Some high expectations I have for my kids include:
- low, limited, or intentional screen time
- independent play daily
- Teach them to take a “no” answer with grace
- age appropriate inclusion in house work
- understanding that we can’t have everything we want all the time.
- expectation that they treat each other and their parents with kindness and respect, and right any wrongs they have made.
Some ways I try to be highly responsive with my kids include:
- Apologize to them when I am in the wrong.
- Listen to them when they have a counter argument, and if they are right, I am willing to modify.
- I play with them when I can tell they need a refill of mommy time.
- I pray with them
- Hug them when they cry.
- I say “yes” sometimes even when I really don’t want help making dinner or sweeping the floor 🙂
- I take them outside
- We read books.
What does it take to raise healthy kids?
Obviously these 6 items are not the only answers to how to raise healthy kids. There are many, many more things I have read about, prayed about, fretted about, that I could add to this list. But these are the initial first ones that jump out to me when I try to answer the question “why are my kids the way they are?”
The interesting thing about kids and people in general is that they’re extremely adaptable and hardy. We can thrive even if we are not in ideal circumstances, and we can improve.
Ultimately, kids don’t need perfection. But they do need pure intention by their caregivers, and love. I talk about this a little in my post “What even counts as natural parenting.”
And most of all they need faith.
I want to leave with this thought: my kids are not perfectly healthy. They have bad habits and sleep issues and all sorts of childhood fun. But they are growing and thriving, and they are happy and loved.
I hope this list was helpful, it turned out to be a much longer post than I intended. Ha! I learn so much from other mother’s I want to pass on what I have learned to help someone too.
What are some ways that you try to raise healthy kids? Let me know in the comments below.