Encourage 45-60 minutes of exercise daily.
Exercise is a natural antidepressant and helps modulate stress. It also promotes strong bones, reduces osteoporosis risk later in life, reduces obesity and heart disease risk and positively impacts academic performance and self-esteem.
Mix organized kids' sports with family hikes and bike rides. Kids and teens involved in strenuous exercise need extra calories, iron, potassium and sodium (electrolytes) to replace what's lost during practices and workouts.
Limit television, computer and video game time.
These sedentary activities frequently replace healthy physical exercise.
Sign kids up for after-school sports, take them to the library for homework (walk or bike if possible) or walk the dog together. Be creative—you're competing with the marketing strategists of the latest video games!
Limit kids' exposure to violence.
Exposure to violence has been shown to create stress, anxiety and other symptoms in children, and to be a factor in children's own hostile and violent behavior.
Check warning labels and age recommendations on video and computer games. Use blocks on computers and televisions so young kids can't view inappropriate sites or channels; monitor what kids are viewing.
Talk about significant world and family events.
Children may blame themselves for divorce, accidents or even deaths, and often misconstrue what they overhear but don't thoroughly understand. The result can be stress, insomnia or other negative symptoms.
School-age children shouldn't watch disturbing news coverage alone. They need your adult knowledge and experience to put things in perspective, and assurance that you are there to protect and care for them. Practice and encourage open communication.
Exemplify the behaviors you seek.
Kids do as you do, not as you say.
Surround your children with role models whose lives you respect and admire—your kids will have many resources to draw from.
Sources: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, www.mayoclinic.com; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov; Women's Sports Foundation, www.womenssportsfoundation.org; Fit Kids! by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999).