6 Health habits you can break & 5 you absolutely can’t
Some health habits do more harm than good, some are pointless and others are vital. Discover which ones really matter.
Baby washing hands

Somehow, when it comes to our own health, we find it perfectly acceptable to skip or ignore a healthy habit or two. But when it comes to our children, habits seem to be the golden rules by which we measure our parenting skills. We get so hard on ourselves about these seemingly important rituals that we don’t stop to consider their real importance. Well, the truth is that there are a few habits that we don’t have to follow to the tee. 

Health habits you can be flexible on

1. Bathing your baby every day

When your baby has puréed butternut rubbed into his hair, or has managed to empty the entire contents of his juice bottle onto his clothes, a bath is unavoidable. But if he’s had a relatively ordinary day just lazing around in his cot, pram and in your arms, then there isn’t a great need to soak him in a bath. In fact, a daily bath can actually irritate his sensitive skin by washing away the natural oils that help to keep it moisturised. Washing with soap every day can deprive his skin of this layer of moisture, and actually dry it out. A top-n-tail or quick rub-down with a damp, lukewarm facecloth will rid him of any excess dirt without stripping his natural oils. Be sure, though, to wipe down your baby’s hands, feet, face and any folds that can trap dirt - like his neck, armpit and genitals. 

2. Giving your child a daily vitamin

As long as your child is getting all the nutrients he needs from his daily diet, he needn’t take a multivitamin. A healthy diet is one that includes meals, snacks and drinks. The amazing thing about children is that their body naturally increases the absorption of vitamins and minerals from their food if and when necessary. So don’t be worried if your toddler gets fussy for a few days – his body should adjust just fine.   But if your child is a very fussy eater, he will benefit from a daily multivitamin. If he only eats a limited diet, consult your doctor for a suitable supplement.  

3. Never skip a naptime

Routine certainly is important in a small child’s life, and a nap does help when it comes to a cranky baby, but there’s no reason at all for your child not to be able to occasionally skip his 40 winks. Many children go through a stage of resisting the afternoon nap, and many toddlers even drop it completely. But your child does burn up a lot of energy during the day and skipping his nap can lead to him being overtired and difficult at bedtime.

Instead of becoming overwrought at his resistance to a nap, suggest some quiet time on the couch or a “lie down” (not a sleep) on the bed. This should be more than enough to help him replenish his depleted energy resources. Additionally, try moving his bedtime up by about 30 minutes on the days that he refuses to have a nap. This should help keep his biorhythms in check.

4. Brush after every meal

Dental hygiene is certainly important, and it’s good to encourage a healthy dental regime in your toddler from a young age. It’s impossible, though, to expect him to brush his teeth every time something passes his lips. Instead of after every meal, encourage him to brush his teeth in the morning and thoroughly before bedtime. You may have to help him reach all the hard places, but getting rid of all the bacteria and food particles that have built up helps fight cavities. 

5. Three square meals a day

Your toddler may seem like he constantly wants something to nibble on, and with good reason, as his growing body craves energy constantly. He also has a relatively small stomach, which means that he can only eat small amounts at a time. This is why snacking throughout the day is perfectly acceptable when it comes to his diet.   In order to get the most out of these snacks, ensure that they are healthy and packed full of the nutrients that your child’s growing body needs – chips and chocolates may keep him happy, but certainly won’t help in the long run. Yoghurt and cheese slices, blocks or wedges will help boost his calcium needs, while fruit or vegetables are packed with vitamins and fibre (a substance that we’re all lacking in our modern diets).   Toddlers really enjoy finger food, so cut up a few carrot sticks, peppers and cucumbers and feed them to your child with a yummy dip – he’ll love it! Also, by letting him snack when he’s hungry you’re teaching him to follow his own hunger cues. By feeding his body when it’s hungry and stopping when it’s full you’re fostering a healthy attitude to eating for life. 

6. No dessert until he’s finished his meal

Withholding sweets from your child, or even using them as a reward could teach him some seriously bad attitudes towards food that could be to his detriment. By forcing him to finish his supper before he can eat any dessert, you may also be forcing him to associate yummier types of food with happy times, and nutritious food with conflict. Instead of focusing on how many bites of broccoli are left on his plate, offer him a variety of healthy and tasty food, and let him decide how much of which kind he eats. Focus on the general quality of his overall diet and don’t ban sweets and desserts completely. Rather offer them as occasional treats in small portions. 

Habits that can't be broken:

There are, of course, a few habits that we absolutely can’t break when it comes to our children. The funny thing is that we often take them for granted. They are: 

1. Always use a car seat

This is incredibly important as more children are killed in car accidents than adults. To minimise your child’s risk of injury, or even death, always buckle him up before going anywhere – even if it’s just to the shop down the road. A properly fitted car seat keeps your child in his seat, which means he won’t be thrown around in an accident. Ensure that you’re using an approved, age-appropriate car seat to maximise its effectiveness.  

2. Wash hands regularly

We use our hands for everything, and as they are constantly coming into contact with various surfaces, and ultimately germs, regular handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent illness. Just think of how your baby touches almost everything in sight and then shoves his hands in his mouth. The best way to encourage handwashing is to lead by example – wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, after touching animals and playing outside. It’s also a good idea to keep wet wipes in your bag and car to wipe away any germs. 

3. Wear sunscreen

In our harsh climate this is especially important. Your baby has extremely sensitive skin and using sunscreen on him every day will help prevent sun damage that could cause cancer later on in life. It will also create a lifelong habit. There are some great sunscreens on the market that are specially formulated for your baby’s skin. 

4. Follow the immunisation schedule

Getting your baby off to the clinic for those scheduled jabs may seem like an impossible feat sometimes, but it’s important that your baby receives his immunisations.

5. Finish off antibiotics

Even if your child seems much better before the antibiotics are finished it’s important to continue with his dosage until the last pill is taken. This is because not finishing the dosage can lead to strains of bacteria continuing to live in his body and becoming resistant to antibiotics – which could lead to even more serious infection.

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