The Significance of the First Five Years for Healthy Pediatric Development
As parents, you want what is best for your child. Health and happiness are at the top of virtually every parents’ wish list. Did you know that the first five years of your child’s life are critical for setting the foundation for healthy growth and pediatric development? This article will discuss three foundational elements you can start implementing today to help your child grow and develop into the adult you envision.
By nine months of age, your child develops taste patterns. Feed your child various foods with different colors, tastes and textures will help them develop a healthy appreciation for food. They will be less likely to become picky eaters later in life, which is important for healthy pediatric development. Also, offering different fruits and vegetables early on makes children more adventurous in their dietary choices as they grow. Your children are watching you and emulate what they see you do. If you avoid green veggies, they will be more inclined to avoid eating them too. Practice what you preach and set a good example for your children. Meals should be happy family time and not stressful. No food wars are recommended, meaning that it is our jobs as parents to provide healthy options and to model eating a variety of plant-based foods, and it is their job to eat what we offer them. Forcing or bribing is not recommended. If you ensure that their snacks are plant-based and not processed, they will get what they need by the end of the day.
The AAP recommends parents use responsive feeding to help children develop a healthy relationship with food. With responsive feeding, you watch your child for cues that they are hungry and full and respond appropriately and promptly. This is also later called Intuitive Eating, which is a healthy way to listen to your body and develop an appropriate relationship with food as fuel.
Avoid giving your baby fruit juice because of the increased risk of tooth decay and obesity. Research shows that offering juice early on makes children less likely to drink water later in life. The AAP recommends that children under one year of age only receive breast milk or formula. If your baby is over four months of age, water can be added as another beverage type. Milk, water, and breastmilk should be all that is offered to children between the ages of one and three. Nutritional medicine expert, Laurie Powers, PA-C also recommends homemade herbal tea after the age of one. If you decide to provide your child juice, limit it to no more than 4 oz per day, preferably watered down.
A critical component of living a healthy life and pediatric development is sleep. Many infants and toddlers sleep well; some struggle, which can wreak havoc on everyone in the house. The amount of sleep a child needs varies depending on their age.
- Birth through six months: 18 hours per day (divided equally throughout 24 hours)
- Six-12 months: 14 hours per day (two to three naps included lasting 30 minutes to two hours each)
- Toddlers: 12-14 hours per day (one to three-hour naps included)
Healthy babies do not sleep through the night until they are around three months of age or 12-13lbs. Both babies and toddlers thrive on routine. Start your evening routine with a bath, dim the lights, and put on some soft music while you cuddle with them and read them a story. When your baby begins to show signs of falling asleep, move them to their crib. Avoid holding your baby when they fall asleep, as this can develop patterns where they need to be held to fall asleep. The best sleep environment includes the door closed, all lights out, light-blocking shades, and white noise. For white noise, use either a white noise machine or a box fan if your child is hot-natured. Electronics are not recommended in the bedroom. Also, kids under five should all take naps. Naps are critical to their health and happiness (and your peace of mind). If you suspect your child may be having a sleep issue, schedule an appointment with their pediatrician. You cannot force a child to fall asleep at night or at nap time but you can provide the environment for sleep to come to them. Ms. Powers encourages quiet time for children that have a hard time with the concept of napping up to the age of 6, or later if needed, after lunch. Many children will fall asleep during this time, but if they do not, this time allows for their brains and bodies to rest. Quiet time can happen in a quiet, darker corner with calming non-electric toys.
A highly debated topic, screen time is an issue that is here to stay. The AAP reports that up to 30% of toddlers have a television in their bedroom. Research shows that children who have TVs in their bedrooms are more likely to be obese, have trouble sleeping, and have mental health issues as a teenager. We understand that screens are a bit of a necessity right now, but screens should be used very sparingly for your young child.
The AAP recommends that children under 18 months have no screen time. For toddlers 18 to 24 months, a little supervised screen time is acceptable. Toddlers between the ages of two and three should get no more than one hour of screen time per day. The maximum noneducational screen time for any child after toddlerhood is 2 hours a day or 10 hours per week.
We are here to help you raise healthy children. At any time, if you have questions about pediatric development, please reach out to us. Your child’s well visits are critical for monitoring their health and development, so please do not put off these visits. For more parenting tips, visit our Instagram and Facebook pages.