Your son’s health is a priority. When he’s young, it’s up to you to take all the necessary safety precautions, and you can control his food intake and exercise so his health is in the best possible condition. As he gets older, you step back and teach your son how to take care of his health. A couple points to consider:
What Are You Feeding Him?
The first thing to think about: what you are feeding your son. It’s easy to cave when he asks you for something sweet and unhealthy — and there is nothing wrong with this from time to time. However, it’s best if the majority of the foods he eats will help him grow and live a healthy life. This means that he should be eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, with sweets in moderation.
It’s not always easy to get kids to eat vegetables because of the bad reputation surrounding them, but the earlier you start, the easier it will be. Talk with him about all the benefits of eating these foods and explain they’ll help him grow big and strong.
Is He Exercising Enough?
Children age 3-5 should be active throughout the day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and kids ages 6-17 should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Boys (even teen boys) don’t have to hit he gym or complete an intense workout to get fit and healthy. Outdoor play and work (think raking leaves, mowing lawn and chopping and stacking wood) build muscles and stamina. Sports are another way to get the body moving – while having some fun. Your son can stick with conventional sports such as football or basketball, or check out lesser known options. (Why not have him check out a pickleball blog to see what all the fuss is about?)
Does He Need A Doctor?
It’s not always easy to figure out if he needs a doctor. Your son should go in for annual check-ups, at least, and may need to be seen more frequently, depending on his overall health.
Of course, sickness and injuries can also necessitate a doctor’s visit. If you’re worried about your son’s symptoms or overall health, it may be time to for an appointment. You can check your son’s symptoms online, but be sure to look at reliable websites, such as the websites of major medical centers (Mayo Clinic, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, etc.) or professional medical organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics). Don’t hesitate to trust your gut, though. If your instincts are telling you that your son needs medical attention, call his healthcare provider or head to your local urgent care. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Is He Getting Enough Sleep?
Kids need more sleep than adults because their bodies are still growing. While adults need 7-8 hours each night, school-aged kids need 9-12 hours nightly. (Younger kids need even more sleep!) If your son isn’t getting enough sleep, his physical and mental health will be affected. His mood will definitely be impacted by a lack of sleep — as you’ve probably noticed in the past! Lack of sleep also affects learning and increases the body’s susceptibility to infection. Chronic lack of sleep also increases the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Too much sleep can also signal a problem. If your son has trouble staying awake during the day or consistently sleeps more than 12 hours a night, consult his healthcare provider.
How Is He Mentally?
Even very young children can suffer from depression and anxiety. If your son comes to you and says that he is feeling down about something, validate and accept his feelings. Do not try to belittle or downplay his emotions. Don’t tell him “there’s no reason to be upset” or “get over it.” Such dismissive statements teach boys that it’s better to stuff their feelings than share them, which can cripple their ability to emotionally connect with other human beings.
If you notice an ongoing issue (such as persistent sadness, panic attacks or loss of interest in activities that your son usually enjoys,), you may want to enlist the help of a specialist. Your son’s primary healthcare provider or school counselor may be able to point you to local mental health professionals.
It is important to listen to whatever your son is saying, without judgment. If you need support as you help your son, reach out to friends, family and other parents of boys. (Our Building Boys Facebook group has helped many parents survive their son’s challenges!)
Your son’s health is foundational to the rest of his life. Teach him healthy habits.