All most of us want (besides a decent night's sleep) is for our
kids to be happy and healthy. But with today's constant stream of
health information, some of it changing by the day, it's easy to get
lost in the noise. So we asked Dr. Lisa Thornton, a
pediatrician on the faculty of the Comer Children's Hospital at the
University of Chicago and a mother herself, for the five things she
thinks every parent should know. Consider them crib notes, a cheat
sheet for the most important job you'll ever have.
Listen to the full conversation or get the highlights below:
1) Nutrition and exercise. Unless you've been
living under a rock for the past decade, you know that obesity is
the fastest-growing health problem among children. For the first
time in history, kids today have a shorter life expectancy than
their parents, and that's due in large part to what they're
"The first thing I'd tell parents is how important it is for
their kids to be eating a balanced diet," Thornton says.
"That doesn't mean the child doesn't eat a whole bunch of
things. It's not about restriction, it's about making sure the chid
eats tasty foods in sensible proportions."
2) Get out and play.
The benefits of play are numerous: It encourages creativity,
social skills, problem-solving, and the ability to follow
direction. Kids should get a good mix of structured play (organized
sports, board games) and unstructured play (backyard roaming).
"Just to be outside in the backyard, digging up sticks, making up
games, being expansive in thought ... is so important for children
and their development," Thornton says. "Play at every age - even
3) Physical safety.
When it comes to keeping your kids safe, think big picture,
Thornton says. "It's usually not the small, complicated stuff,"
Thornton says. Keeping up with the latest recalls is important, but
it's keeping an eye on the big, obvious things - falling out of
windows or down stairs, car crashes - that are most likely to save
your child's life.
How safe is your home? Check out Dr. Thornton's podcast on
household hazards hidden in plain sight.
4) Don't skip check-ups.
Most parents are diligent about check-ups in the early years,
but as kids get older and schedules get more hectic, sometimes they
slip a little. Bad idea, Thornton says. Things like lead poisoning
and anemia can go undetected but can cause major health problems
down the road. In addition, doctors are trained to look for subtle
markers of development that will help you spot problems before they
They might say, "Mom, you're smothering me!" but kids really do
need what Thornton calls the "adult protective shield." "Children
have to feel like their parents are superman," she says, and that
when bad things happen, you'll be there. It's as simple as saying
it out loud. This might be the kind of thing you assume your kids
know, but unless you say it -- early and often -- the message might
not get through.
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