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Whole Health

  • What does whole health mean?
  • Why is it important to pay attention to both physical and mental health?
  • How can I support my child’s physical, emotional and mental well-being?

The idea of whole health is that well-being involves not only physical health, but mental and social/emotional health, too.  A lot of research has been conducted around the connection between physical health and mental well-being, and we now know that the way we treat our bodies has an effect on how we think and how we feel.  For parents and caregivers of small children, it is important to take this holistic approach to their health and understand what it means to be “healthy” on all these levels.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) , mental health is defined as our “emotional, psychological and social well-being.”  It includes how one manages stress, relates to others and makes healthy choices about themselves and their bodies.  Physical health is all things related to the body and how it feels and functions.  Below are some descriptions of people who have good physical and mental health.  Please note that this is not a comprehensive list.

A physically healthy person….

  • does regular exercise
  • eats nutritious foods
  • maintains a normal weight
  • has healthy skin and hair
  • is free of disease
  • is strong and flexible
  • gets adequate sleep

A mentally healthy person….

  • can cope with stress
  • feels good about themselves
  • feels comfortable around others
  • makes their own decisions
  • doesn’t get overwhelmed by strong emotions
  • can hand lifes’ frustrations and disappointments
  • have lasting and supportive relationships
  • are resilient, flexible and adaptable 

Why It Matters

Most children will develop their health habits by the age of nine. Adults can take advantage of this time in early childhood to instill positive habits around exercise, nutrition, and social/emotional learning. Children will also learn by the ways their parents take care of themselves, so modeling healthy food choices, physical activity, socializing and mental health will go a long way in showing your child how to prioritize themselves. While not adult achieves perfect physical or mental health all the time, it is important for your child to see you trying and making progress.

When children are able to thrive in their bodies, hearts and mind they are more resilient and have a more optimistic outlook on life.  This can help prevent depression and anxiety. Keep in mind that children should also have a work-play balance and not be overbooked with too many extracurricular activities. When they have too much going on and not enough down time, there may be more strain on the family, its resources and could be detrimental to their overall development.

Check In:

There are many habits that can contribute to a child’s overall well-being.  Read through the list below and note the ones that describe your child.  For the ones that do not relate to your child, think about ways you may want to start incorporating them.  Remember to start small and not do too many at one time.  Developing habits gradually will help your child maintain them in the long-term.

My child

  • gets regular exercise outside of school
  • eats a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins
  • gets the recommended sleep for their age group
  • has coping strategies for dealing with stress
  • can handle disappointment and frustration
  • can adapt to change
  • can label and express their emotions
  • has strong and supportive friendships
  • has social skills that allow them to make and keep friends
  • can stay focused on a task like homework or doing a project
  • has interests and hobbies outside of school
  • has a balance between school, home, friends and extracurricular activities

For a more detailed checklist on physical health, click here for exercise and nutrition and here for sleep.

For a more detailed checklist on mental health, click here.

Fore more information about social and emotional health, click here.

Connect & Communicate:

The best way to help your child build healthy habits that will support their physical, emotional and mental well-being is to model it in the home. The more you demonstrate taking care of yourself in this way, the more likely you will be able to instill these habits  in your child.

Discuss what you do for exercise and why. For example, “I am going to the gym to get strong.  I love the way my body feels when I finish a workout. I also want to be fit so that I can continue to do things with you. What kind of exercise makes you feel good?”

Explain the role of food and what different types do. You can do this while you are cooking or eating a meal. For example, “Avocados are so good for your brain.  The healthy fats are really good for mental focus and it also helps keep you full for school.”

Help them observe how they feel after eating certain foods.  For example, “Do you notice the difference you feel at school after having a donut for breakfast instead of eggs and toast?”

Model trying new things.  Bring home a new fruit or vegetable for the family to try.  Show your children that you are willing to taste things that you are not used to. 

Take them grocery shopping and explain what foods you are buying and why.  Allow them opportunities to make healthy food choices for themselves as well.  Be willing to buy new fruits and vegetables for them to try. 

Make time for friends and discuss your experience with your child.  Talk about the friends you have in your life, why you like them and why you think it is important to spend time with them. For example, “I really love being friends with…….because she is always kind to me, she is a good listener and she makes me feel better when I am down.  What good friends do you have in your life?”

Demonstrate and talk about how you handle stress (or frustration, disappointment).  For example, when you are stressed out from work, you can say, “I have had a very stressful day at work today.  I think I need to take 20 minutes to myself before I make dinner and meditate or take a bath.”  

 Take time to yourself and talk about the benefits.  For example, “I know it is sometimes hard when I am not around to play or take care of you, but when I take time to myself I have more energy for you and I am a better parent. “

For conversation starters on your child’s physical health, click here.

For conversation starters on your child’s mental health, click here.

Contact & Collaborate:

Your child’s pediatrician will have a lot of information and resources to help you better understand whole health and how to approach it. The school counselor, nurse and psychologists may also have some information for you.  In addition to that, here are other places you can help your child develop their overall well-being:

  • Sign up for a sport or extracurricular activity after school
  • Look into the local YMCA or Boys and Girls club for classes and activities
  • Find a Boy Scout or Girl Scout group in your area
  • Get tutoring for your child if they seem to need support 
  • Take a cooking class with your child either online or in person
  • Set up playdates with your child’s friend outside of school so that they have time to play
  • Find a local pool for swimming in the summer
  • Sign up your child for a summer camp that has activities they might enjoy
  • Get your child involved in a form of volunteering

Continue Learning:

Whole Health Resources

Whole Health 4 You (website) Videos and articles for kids, parents and caregivers.

Action for Healthy Kids (website)  Resources for parents and caregivers (as well as educators) about whole health.

Very Well Family (website)  How to Teach Your Child About the Mind Body Connection has many different types of courses. Some are made for elementary school children.  Here are some to get you started:

  • Stress Management Lesson for Kids
  • Health and Wellness Lesson for Kids
  • Nutrition Lesson for Kids

Extra Curricular Activities

Child Mind Institute (website) FInding The Balance with After School Activities

Splash Learn (article)  Over 100 Extracurricular Activities for your Child

Building Habits

Family Doctor (website)  Passing Healthy Habits on to Your Children

How to Build New Habits (website):  You can receive weekly tips for building new habits. You can also buy his book Atomic Habits by James Clear.

New York Times (article): How to Build Healthy Habits

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