Children grow quickly over the first 18 years of their life. In addition to cognitive, social, and emotional development, children evolve physically at a rapid pace. Very young children learn gross motor skills — figuring out how to move their arms, legs, and bodies — before progressing to fine motor skills.
As a parent, you can encourage your children as they discover how to control their bodies. You can also help promote development by encouraging and modeling healthy habits. Each child matures at their own pace, but each needs the same healthy habits and environment to foster this growth.
Here is how you can support your child's physical development during their early years.
A child's diet will provide them with the proper nutrients they need to develop physically. Nutrition can also play a role in helping kids avoid common health issues, such as obesity and diabetes, which could hamper development. Furthermore, healthy eating habits help children combat cancers and heart disease later in life.
While babies need human milk or a suitable substitute during their first year of life, those over 12 months need a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods. The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans report suggests the following approach.
- All types of vegetables;
- Grains, at least half of which should be whole grains;
- Low-fat dairy or fortified dairy alternatives;
- Lean meats and plant-based protein sources like peas, legumes, and nuts.
It is also appropriate to limit specific foods, such as processed foods, edibles containing saturated and trans fats, and refined sugars. Candy, sweetened beverages, ice cream, and other "treats" are fine in moderation but not as a regular part of a child's diet.
In addition to providing nutrient-rich foods and a balanced diet, caregivers can model healthy eating behaviors.
Though calorie requirements increase as a child grows, the need for a balanced, nutrient-rich diet remains constant. Therefore, parents and their children can eat most of the same foods.
Sixty percent of the average person's body weight is from water. If you do not ingest enough water, your body has trouble with basic functions. It has a hard time regulating temperature, digesting food, and fighting off illnesses. Because it affects health so much, it is essential to get enough water.
Children need to remain hydrated during all stages of physical development. In addition to affecting short-term health, water is necessary for cellular growth and the proper metabolism of nutrients. Because a child is developing so rapidly, these functions are essential. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends up to five cups (40 ounces) of water per day for children between two and five years old.
Unfortunately, getting your kids to drink water can be challenging. Parents can supply their kids with water bottles so that they always have liquid on hand. Some of these vessels will also help you track how much your kid drinks during the day. You can also use colorful or fun cups and mugs to make drinking water an activity instead of a duty that they'd rather avoid.
Finally, you can start at an early age by providing the child with water and making sweetened beverages an occasional treat. A water drinking habit is a healthy practice that a child can carry through their whole life.
Children need to approach fitness differently than adults. Older people benefit from regular, high-intensity workouts such as jogging, aerobics, cycling, or lifting weights. For younger children, fitness needs to focus on remaining active daily.
Daily activity, including playing, organized or casual sports, or just being outside, can help normal muscle and bone growth, motor skills, and physical coordination. Furthermore, active children are less likely to develop weight-related problems, such as obesity.
Instead of an organized exercise routine, you can encourage outdoor activities and even engage in them with your children. These activities will promote fitness but also allow the kids to have fun. Younger children might like playing in a sandbox or chasing bubbles. Some might respond better to taking walks and exploring nature.
Through trial and error, you’ll find the fitness-promoting activities that your child likes. Then, make them a part of your routine. If they are having fun, children will consider the activities “playtime” instead of “fitness time.”
Chronic illnesses can hamper physical and mental development. Young children who have a chronic disease when they start formal education are up to 34% more likely to experience developmental delays.
Parents can help their children develop robust immune systems by ensuring proper nutrition, sufficient daily exercise, ample sleep, and adequate hydration. They can also take their child for regular checkups and ensure they have all the necessary immunizations to protect against diseases that could damage their immune system in the long term.
A physician can also check for deficiencies or chronic conditions that could compromise the child's immune system.
Children can avoid dangerous illnesses by getting the necessary immunizations on time. Regular visits to a physician will also screen children for diseases, chronic conditions, and developmental disabilities. According to the CDC, one in six children has a developmental disability. Once diagnosed, physical or cognitive therapy can help reduce the impact of these conditions on a child's overall development.
How often should a child go to a doctor for checkups and screenings?
Children should go for checkups every two to three months until they reach 18 months of age. Then, they need to visit the doctor every six months until they reach age three. After that, annual wellness visits are appropriate.