Reach for your best (R4YB): Tips for parents
Healthy children come in different shapes and sizes. A healthy weight for your child is the weight their body is naturally when they regularly enjoy a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle includes eating well, moving well, sleeping well, and supporting mental wellness. Weight is only one marker of health and a healthy weight is different for every child. There is no need to weigh your child at home. Your health care provider will weigh and measure your child to see if they are growing as they should be for their own special pattern.
How can I help my child reach for their best?
Parents and caregivers play an important role in raising healthy, happy children. Focus on health, well-being and fun instead of body weight or measurements. Make small changes that you feel you can continue. Think of changes you can make to behaviours and to your surroundings that will help children to eat well, get moving, get enough sleep, and support their mental wellness. This will increase your child’s resilience and help them reach for their best.
Tips to help children eat well, move well, sleep well and support their mental wellness.
As a parent, you have the chance to shape your child’s eating habits for life. Kids learn through what they see and hear, so it’s important to role model healthy eating habits. This means being positive and flexible about food choices and offering healthy foods to your child as much as possible. This will help your child enjoy eating and will make sure that they get the nutrition they need.
Help your child learn to enjoy eating a variety of foods
- Offer plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains foods, and protein. Choose protein that comes from plants more often.
- Choose healthy foods that reflect your cultural preferences and food traditions.
- Remember that your child will learn to like food by being exposed to it over and over again, and sometimes it may take many tries before they enjoy a new taste.
- Enjoy a variety of healthy foods yourself. Your child will learn to enjoy foods by watching you.
- Limit highly processed foods (Health Canada), such as deep-fried foods, sugary cereal, and prepared or packaged meals and snacks. If you offer them, do so less often and in small amounts.
- Be positive about all foods and eating. Offer foods that are minimally processed more often. Avoid labelling foods as “good” or “bad”. All foods can fit in a healthy eating pattern.
Make water your drink of choice
- Satisfy your child’s thirst with tap water. If you are breastfeeding, continue to offer breastmilk on cue up to two years and beyond.
- Limit sugary drinks like pop, flavoured milk and water, sport drinks, and juice. Offer water, unflavoured milk, or fortified soy beverages instead.
Plan, cook, and eat meals together
- Canada’s Food Guide (Health Canada) is a useful tool to help with menu planning. Include your child in the meal planning process. For example, bring them grocery shopping, have them wash vegetables, or have them help set the table.
- Use budget-friendly ideas (Health Canada) to help you offer a variety of nutritious food on a regular basis.
- Plan meals using foods your family enjoys. To help your child try new foods, serve well-known foods with new foods, and favourite foods with not-so-favourite foods.
- Keep meal times pleasant. Eat meals together (Health Canada) as a family and use this as a chance to connect with your child and model healthy eating behaviours.
- Regular family meals help kids develop the social and emotional skills needed for their everyday lives.
- Try to keep meal times distraction free. Develop family rules together about not using electronics such as TVs, phones, and tablets at meal times.
Offer meals and snacks at regular times each day
- Eating regularly is important to ensure your child is getting enough nutrition. Aim for three meals per day with two to three snacks in between. By spacing meals and snacks throughout the day, children will come to the table hungry.
- Give your child enough time to eat. Around 20 to 30 minutes is usually enough time.
Teach your child to listen to their natural hunger and fullness cues
- Just like adults, children’s hunger changes day to day. Some days your child may feel hungrier than others.
- Allow your child to listen to their body and decide how much to eat based on their hunger and fullness cues. Trust their ability to know how much to eat.
- Follow the “division of responsibility” (Ellyn Satter Institute) rule. You are responsible for deciding what, when and where your child will eat. Your child is responsible for deciding how much to eat, or whether to eat at all.
- Avoid pressuring or making comments about what or how much a child eats.
- Food should not be used as a reward or punishment.
- Model mindful eating practices (Health Canada) to your children. Taking pleasure in the food you eat and how you eat it is part of healthy eating.
- Show your children how to use their senses to enjoy the aromas, textures, flavours, and taste of food.
Learn about Canada’s Food Guide (Health Canada).
Learn how to help your toddler or preschooler eat well.
Learn how to help your child or adolescent eat well.
Being active every day will encourage healthy growth and development in your child. Be a role model. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active too. Try making physical activity part of your family’s daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together. Make physical activity fun!
Live actively together
- Plan “active family time” each week. Schedule active time just like you would other important appointments like a doctor’s appointment or a swimming lesson.
- Make time every day to be active as a family. Try taking a family bike ride or skating at the local rink together.
- Show your child that being active is fun and feels good. Encourage and be positive about the physical activities your child enjoys. Support your child’s independent play. Encourage them to have time for free play and time for organized physical activity and sport.
- Kids play some of their most interesting games outdoors. Look for places where you and your child can explore nature, like local parks, lakes, and trails.
- Make being active easy for your child by keeping active gear near the door instead of packed away in cupboards.
Take advantage of affordable physical activities
- Encourage non-organized neighbourhood sports and free-time play. Walking, running, skating, swimming, and using the playground are great low-cost choices to keep active.
- Public parks, baseball fields, basketball courts, trails, and your own backyard are great places to get active with your child.
- There are programs, such as Jumpstart, that provide money to help with the cost of activities for kids. Make sure you ask about help with costs when registering your child for organized sports or activities.
- Include physical activity in birthday parties, family visits, and when your child’s friends come over to play.
- Turn music on to get bodies moving while indoors and to liven up household chores.
- Balls, chalk and skipping ropes are great “grab-and-go” options to help you get moving.
- Try second-hand stores or community programs such as the Bike Exchange and Skate Exchange for low-cost equipment options.
- Walk or bike whenever possible (e.g. short trips to buy milk, walking to school).
Limit sedentary time
- Instead of watching TV, encourage your child to be active on their own or with friends and family.
- Introduce rules and limits on your child’s screen time (e.g. not during meals, TV-free times).
- If needed, use positive discipline that does not limit the chance to be active.
Sleep can be described as “nutrition for the brain.” Sleep is important for kids to stay healthy, grow, learn, do well in school, and function at their best every day. It can be difficult for parents to know what to do when their child won’t go to sleep at night or has trouble falling asleep. These tips give some suggestions on how to put your child to bed, fall asleep, and get a good night’s sleep.
How to help your child get to sleep
- Have a regular sleep schedule. Make sure your kids go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Bedtimes between 7 and 8 p.m. are appropriate for most babies and children up to school-age.
- Bedtime gives you a chance to spend quality time with your child. Develop a relaxing routine together. Ideas include bath time, listening to music, and reading.
- Bedtime routines can start 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime, depending on your child’s needs.
- At the set bedtime, take your child to bed and check your bedtime routine list together. Your checklist can include: Have you brushed your teeth? Have you said goodnight to everybody? Did you go to the bathroom?
- Create a “sleep-friendly” bedroom that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool. If your child is afraid of the dark, have a night light in the bedroom or hallway.
How to help prevent problems at bedtime
- Being active during the day can help your child sleep at night. Some kids who are active too close to bedtime have a harder time falling asleep at night. For other kids, activities close to bedtime don’t affect their sleep. It is important to find what’s right for your child.
- Avoid screen time 1 to 2 hours before bedtime to give your child time to “wind down”. The light from electronics tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime.
- Try not to eat a heavy meal at least 2 hours before bedtime. Eating a heavy meal before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Try removing or limiting “sleep-stealers” like cell phones, computers, televisions, and video games from your child’s bedroom.
- Promote independence by letting your child suggest changes in sleep routines. This can reduce bedtime problems your child might have such as refusing to go to bed, getting out of bed, and crying after being put to bed.
- Give your child some freedom at bedtime. Letting your child choose which pajamas to wear or which book to read can make a difference in how much fight they put up to go to bed.
- Children should avoid caffeinated drinks, such as pop and coffee-based beverages. The caffeine in these drinks stimulates the brain making it difficult to fall asleep at night, even if it is consumed early in the day. Energy drinks are never recommended for children.
Other helpful tips for a good night’s sleep
- Practice and model good personal sleep habits. Children pick up on your behaviours and attitudes about sleep.
- Involve your child in setting sleep goals, like going to bed 10 minutes earlier, and keeping track of their own progress to help motivate them to get enough sleep.
- Praise your child in the morning if they follow their bedtime routine the night before. At first, you might also want to reward your child for following the routine. Suggested rewards include stickers, a small toy, or stamps.
- Watch for and make note of any abnormal sleeping patterns in your child, such as a pause in breathing, and seek advice from your health care provider if they continue.
- Talk with your child about the importance of sleep for their health.
- Napping during the day depends on the age of your child and their sleep needs. During the first year, your infant may nap 3 to 5 times a day. As your child grows they might only nap twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. If your child has difficulty sleeping at night, try limiting naps to less than 20 minutes.
Support Mental Wellness
Mental health is about how we feel, think, act, and interact with the world around us. It’s also about helping your child realize their potential, to cope with the normal stresses of life, and giving them the chance to be involved in their community. There are many parts of mental well-being that link to physical health. Your child can’t truly be healthy without it. Good physical health helps to protect mental health and well-being. Talk about and model healthy lifestyle choices. Help your child to understand that eating well, moving well, and sleeping well will help support their mental wellness, and vice versa!
Help your child build healthy connections
- Let your child know you are a caring adult in their life that they can trust and feel safe with. Spend some time together every day. Dinner time and bedtime routines are great chances to make that happen.
- Show your child how to create healthy, trusting relationships with people who accept and support who they are. Teach them how to make friends. Show them how to understand and share another person’s experiences, and to be sensitive to another’s feelings. If your child has a hard time making friends, practice with them how to go up to new kids and ask them to play or encourage them to have friends over to play.
- Make sure your child has a safe place where they can talk freely about things that are bothering them.
- Help your child learn to name their feelings and deal with them in positive ways. Sharing happy news with a friend, writing in a journal or reaching out when they feel sad can help. Teach them that physical activity can help them feel better and deal with anger or anxiety, and that funny stories or cartoons can cheer them up when they need a laugh.
- Give your child the chance to volunteer and get engaged in their community.
Foster positive self-esteem
- Show your child you love them by spending time together, giving hugs, and showing affection.
- Help your child find something they are good at and enjoy. Know and respect that they will be really good at some activities and not as good at others.
- Set goals with your child and encourage them to work towards their goals. Help them get started by breaking the goal down into smaller steps or an action plan.
- Encourage your child to try new things, and tell them you are proud of their efforts, whether they were successful or not. But don’t over-praise every accomplishment, because it will only take away from the things they succeed at and which took real effort.
- Encourage your child to problem solve and develop action plans to address difficult situations. Teach them the 5 steps of problem solving: be clear about what the problem is, brainstorm possible solutions to the problem, chose the best solution, try out that solution, review if the selected solution worked, and make changes if needed.
- Good physical health helps to protect mental health and well-being. Talk about and model healthy lifestyle choices. Help your child to understand that eating well, moving well, and sleeping well will help support their mental wellness, and vice versa!
- Teach your child that their self-worth is not related to how they look or how they move their bodies. Explain that their body will change naturally as they grow and that healthy bodies come in different shapes and sizes.
Reduce weight bias1 and discrimination2
- Encourage respect for every body.
- Listen for jokes and putdowns at home. Step in to point out negative talk. Remind kids that everyone deserves to be respected and accepted.
- Always step in to stop bullying, including teasing or bullying someone because of their weight, shape or size. Remember, this can also happen at home with family members.
- Teach your child how to act in situations of weight-based teasing or bullying. Show them how to be assertive. Give them the chance to practice and encourage them to say “stop bothering me” and walk away.
- Think about your own attitude. Pay attention to the ways that you may be sharing a negative point-of-view about people’s weight.
- Use sensitive and appropriate language. Avoid making negative comments about your body or other peoples’ bodies. Try not to say things like “these pants make me look fat”, or “that person is too fat to be wearing that”. Be careful not to make negative links between a person’s weight and their character. For example, that being overweight means someone is lazy, sloppy or has no discipline.
- Help your child to use media in a positive way. Talk about internet safety and family rules around media use (e.g., no cyberbullying, what kind of pictures get posted and shared, etc.).
- Media is everything from TV and movies, to internet, music videos, magazines, and video games. The things we see in the media can affect how we feel about ourselves. They can also lead to weight bias and weight discrimination. Teach your child to be smart about using and participating in media (media and digital literacy – MediaSmarts).
 Weight bias is the negative attitudes, beliefs and judgments toward people who are affected by overweight or obesity. For example, people affected by excess weight or obesity are often thought of as less competent, lazy and undisciplined.
 Weight discrimination is more than negative attitudes. It’s the unfair or unequal actions or behaviours towards people with excess weight. These actions can range from accidental hurtful comments to avoiding, ignoring, rejecting, and intentional insulting remarks, cyber-bullying or physical attacks.
Active for Life (2016). http://activeforlife.com/physical-literacy/
Best Start (2015). It Takes A Village: Taking Action for Healthy Children. Building Self-Esteem in Children. Retrieved from http://www.beststart.org/TakingAction/pluginfile.php/84/mod_scorm/content/4/story_content/external_files/Village_tip_sheet_Self_Esteem.pdf.
Best Start (2015). It Takes A Village: Taking Action for Healthy Children. Creating a Healthy Food Environment. Retrieved from http://www.beststart.org/TakingAction/.
Canadian Sleep Society (n.d.). Children Patient Information Brochure. Retrieved from https://css-scs.ca/resources/brochures/children.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2016). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. Retrieved from http://www.csep.ca/en/guidelines/get-the-guidelines.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canada’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0-4 years). Retrieved from http://www.csep.ca/en/guidelines/guidelines-for-other-age-groups.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2014). Best practice guidelines for mental health promotion programs: Children (7-12) & youth (13-19). Retrieved from https://www.porticonetwork.ca/web/camh-hprc/resources/best-practice-guidelines-for-mental-health-promotion-programs.
Canadian Mental Health Association (n.d.). Mental Health for Life. Retrieved from https://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/mental-health-for-life/.
Canadian Sport for life (n.d.). Sport for Life Parents. https://canadiansportforlife.ca/parents.
Satter, E. (2008). Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/.
Murphy, J., Pavkovic, M., Sawula, E., Vandervoort, S. (2015). Identifying areas of focus for mental health promotion in children and youth for Ontario public health. A locally driven collaborative project 2014-2015. Retrieved from https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/eRepository/MentalHealth_FinalReport_LDCP_2015.pdf.
National Eating Disorders Information Centre (n.d.). Beyond images: A self-esteem and body-image curriculum. Retrieved from http://beyondimages.ca/
National Sleep Foundation (n.d.). Healthy Sleep Tips. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips
Physical Activity Resource Center (2016). http://parc.ophea.net/resources.
Public health agency of Canada (2012). Tips to Get Active. Retrieved from https://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/pa-ap/05paap-eng.php.
Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (n.d.). Ways for Parents to Combat Weight Bias. Retrieved from http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/files/Pdfs/Parents-WaystoCombatWeightBias.pdf.
Weiss, S. (2005). Canadian Sleep Society: Sleep in Children. Retrieved from https://css-scs.ca/files/resources/brochures/sleep_children.pdf.
This item was last modified on January 14, 2020