Between the ages of 4 and 8 your child is growing and developing rapidly. They need food to provide energy and the essential nutrients to help them grow physically, as well as lots of activity and opportunities to develop their sense of self and self-worth.
Habits established at this age will last, and will help prevent future health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.
A healthy lifestyle
It is recommended that children aim to have 60 minutes of activity a day. Being more active can:
- improve behaviour
- raise self-esteem
- support development of good social skills
- improve sleep patterns
- strength muscles and bones
- support improve coordination
Activities to try with your child:
- Family walks. You can make these more interesting by creating a treasure hunt with things for your child to spot on the way.
- Swimming together. Many pools have family sessions with in-pool activities.
- You can get active in the garden – get creative.
- If your child has a games console, look for games that get them physically active and that you can join in with.
The Change4Life website has great ideas for activities both indoors and outdoors.
Get to know the facts about your food
Involve your children in finding out about:
- Food labels. These can support you and your family to make healthy choices. Download the Change4life Scanner App and your child can explore and learn about food in an interactive way.
- Five a day. Learning which fruit and vegetables count towards their five a day and what a portion size is.
- Reducing the levels of salt and sugar that your family is eating. Too much can cause long term health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
- Processed foods. Cut down on processed foods, which may contain higher levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats. Find out more here.
- How much sugar is in the drinks they like? You can download the Change4Life food scanner app to engage your children in some detective work and make healthier choices.
- New recipes. For example, try making smoothies or juices together. These can be fun and healthy. Try this banana and blueberry recipe for starters.
- Ideas for healthy snacks. Getting into good habits and routines when children are younger can support them to make healthy choices as they become adults.
- Healthy and unhealthy fats. Some fats are essential whilst others can cause serious health conditions in adult life.
- Grow what you eat. Even if you don’t have a garden you can grow herbs and vegetables in containers in your kitchen. Find some great ideas here.
Have a look at the Change4Life website - they have some great food swaps and information that is presented in a fun way for you and your children to learn together.
Be your child’s role model:
- Get moving with your children - going for a family walk, going to the local park or playing in the garden are great ways of having some family time.
- Chose healthy snacks and treats.
- Reward your child’s positive choices and behaviour with your time and attention. Your children will love it!
- Eat together as a family, without distractions from phones or tablets.
- Get cooking together – children are more likely to try new foods if they have helped to prepare them.
- Encourage good sleep for you and your children. For further information on sleep see the NHS Live-well website.
Have a look at the BBC food website for some great recipes to cook with children that the whole family will like.
Looking after your child’s teeth and going to the dentist
NHS dental care is free for all children but going to the dentist may be frightening, especially if your child needs treatment. Getting good tooth brushing habits established at this age will help your child’s teeth last a lifetime.
By the age of 7 your child should be able to clean their teeth independently but may need some support to clean all their teeth. Younger children will need more support and supervision.
- Support your child to brush their teeth at least twice a day
- Clean for two minutes – using a timer can be helpful
- Be positive about going to the dentist, identifying any problems early could prevent a painful experience
- Attend regular check ups
Did you know that over 26,000 children aged 5 to 9 were admitted to hospital due to tooth decay in 2017-2018 (Royal College of Surgeons England)? For further support look at the NHS website which also has a link to help find a local dentist.
Fizzy and sugary drinks can be a major hazard to healthy teeth so cutting down on these is really healthy. Encouraging drinking water, or natural fruit juice that is watered down, is healthiest for your child’s teeth and their physical health.
At age 4 your child will need about 11.5 hours sleep a night. By the age of 8 they still need about 10 hours 15 minutes! Establishing good bedtime routines are essential and making sure your child has time to relax before bed can aid a good night’s sleep. At this age your child might be resistant to bedtime so the advice here can help.
If anxiety or nightmares are preventing your child from sleeping you can find support at Young Minds.
Need some support?
It can be challenging sometimes to establish healthy habits. Here are a few ideas to help out:
- To start with, try to make small changes that you know can be achieved
- Discuss the changes you want to make as a family
- Set simple family goals to achieve
- Praise and encourage each other
- Be consistent with any new family rules
- Try to make changes fun and enjoy spending time together
Change4Life - aims to ensure parents have the essential support and tools they need to make healthier choices for their families.
The Eatwell Guide - shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
NHS app library - this can help you track your family’s progress
Five to Thrive: Healthy Eating
Ensuring your child eats a healthy diet can be really stressful. Likes and dislikes change on a daily basis!
If you become stressed, your child will become stressed with you. In fact the more you are upset that your child won’t eat their greens, the more their stress will stop them from trying to eat them.
Try to stay calm at meal times. This may not be easy but as your pulse, breathing and blood pressure stay down, so does your child’s.
Children’s brains work well when they have your attention; so why not try to have meal times together with no television or electronic devices.
At one of our groups, carers and children cook and eat meals together. Families tell us that they enjoy this quality time and their children often try new foods. You could try this with your child.