Developing the Whole Child
January 24, 2011 ~
As your child grows up, he or she will start to venture out into the world independent of you. Experiences from these journeys will shape your child into an adult. It’s true. One day your child will stand before you as an adult, no longer a child, and perhaps even have children of his or her own. So as your child is still developing, it is crucial for you as a parent to help strengthen the skills he or she needs to become a well-rounded, confident and successful adult. Developing the whole child as well as the academic child is vital to his or her growth.
Following are tips for parents about three main areas of a child’s development that parents can nurture to prepare a child for adulthood.
Physical Development and Nutrition Growing a child’s physical capabilities is often overlooked once first steps are taken, riding a bicycle is mastered and learning to swim is accomplished. For some children, today’s sedentary lifestyle fueled by video games has replaced the challenges of the great outdoors. Adding to this is the absence or reduction of physical education programs in school. These two cultural realities require parents to take the initiative to ensure that their child exercises regularly and eats a proper diet.
Children who exercise regularly and eat balanced meals are reported to exhibit better behavior, suffer fewer absences from school and have an easier time maintaining focus in the classroom than those who do not. Exercise isn’t just for the body; it is for the mind as well. A Harvard study proved that 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day would have a positive impact on the health of our children. This much exercise burns, on average, as many calories as a standard can of soda contains. That is a significant amount of calories, if the exercise is done every day. Obviously, with time restraints and busy schedules, this might not be possible every day, but children as well as adults truly need to be physically active daily. As an adult, being active might feel like a “to-do” list item – workout – but to a child, it’s playtime. Children should never think of exercise as a burden, but as a joyful activity. Instilling a love of moment and physical play early will help your child get into the routine of getting outside daily.
Even weekly exercise can make a difference in your child’s attitude, behavior in class and overall success in school. Don’t feel that you have to turn into a gym teacher or drill sergeant overnight. Instead try something simple, such as playing hide-and-seek outside every weekend, and slowly build your child’s strength and endurance by gradually extending the length of your playtimes. A neighborhood capture-the-flag game each Saturday is another fun way to get your child motivated to move. Over time, the extra physical activity won’t feel like a burden, but rather like a cherished time of family togetherness – not to mention that your child will soon experience the pleasure of natural endorphins. While we can’t say your child will forget the good feelings he or she gets from sugar, we can guarantee he or she will learn to enjoy physical workouts with a similar level of pleasure. Speak to your child’s school nurse or physician to learn new techniques and ways to educate your family on healthy eating and exercise habits.
You Are What You Eat Introduce more nutritious snacks such as carrots, apples and fruit instead of potato chips and help children get the nutrients that they need to grow. If you don’t buy junk food, it can’t be eaten. This can be a tricky task, so start small. Don’t change the family’s diet upside down overnight. Slowly introduce healthier alternatives to sugar-packed snacks. For example, instead of a candy bar, try granola bars this week. Next week, you can try adding dried fruit to lunches and forgo fruit snacks that don’t have the same natural goodness as real fruit. Healthy foods, also known as brain foods, give children real energy and nutrients to help them steadily progress through their day – both in and out of school. Teach your children that the food they digest will impact their mood, behavior and energy. Good food will produce healthy bodies and minds.
Social Development The older your child becomes, the more social he or she will become. The word “society” originates from the word “socius,” which means “companion.” At a very basic level, our society is dependent on relationships, and maintaining relationships is part of what makes a person able to succeed in the work force as well as in his or her personal life. Whether with teachers or other classmates, it is important that your child learn to establish close relationships with peers and elders so that he or she can work well, share confidently and become more self-aware. School is a buzzing hive of social experimentation and cliques. Everyone wants to belong somewhere, and at times the grass can seem greener within the other clique. This can be very challenging, especially for young girls. While boys and girls are exploring who they are, they are also exploring who they want to be and who they want to accept them. Naturally, this takes children down a path of wanting to please, and without open communication between parents and children, it can be easy for younger children to fall into behaviors that aren’t in sync with your family’s values. Share with your child your own experiences in school; let your child know that he or she isn’t alone – share your personal challenges and victories in your school’s social “beehive.” Explain that it is a person’s character that is important, not the quality of his or her clothing or how high they sit on the “coolness” chart. Place an emphasis on manners in social settings, such as parties or get-togethers. Make sure your child greets people politely and courteously. Teach your child how to shake hands, look people in the eye when talking and thank the hostess. Learning these skills early in life will take your child past the schoolyard and into the world outside with social graces that are admired and respected.
Communication Skills Good communication skills will impact a child’s self-esteem. When children can clearly articulate their ideas, they will feel good about themselves, while children who struggle to explain something will feel frustrated and shut down. Encourage your child to ask questions when he or she is having a conversation. If your child does not understand something you or the teacher has said, he or she should feel comfortable asking questions to get clarification. Good communication results in an understanding between two people. If your child tends to get frustrated trying to explain something, have him or her slow down and think about what he or she is trying to communicate. Once your child has thought it through, coach him or her to proceed with what he or she was intending to share. Remind your child that it is better to take your time and communicate clearly than to rush through words and leave the listener confused. Don’t forget that good communication is also built upon having a strong vocabulary. A fun way for your child to learn new words is to open a dictionary, find an unfamiliar word and proceed to read the definition and practice using it in a sentence. Just imagine how large your child’s vocabulary will be if you play this game together every day for one year.
Students need more than just solid arithmetic skills or reading comprehension to succeed in this world. Students need to develop social and communication skills and learn how to take care of their bodies in order to truly thrive. With a little practice and a lot of determination, any child can reach his or her full potential.