Hey there, fellow mama. To tell you the truth I am not one of the healthiest people around. My kid eats far too many chicken nuggets and mac n’ cheese, and if we are being honest I have let him have juice since he was a year old. He spends plenty of time in front of the tv when I just can’t handle him anymore and he doesn’t always go to bed in a timely fashion.
But every time I take him to the doctor I hear about how healthy and smart and active he is. So, I realized I had to be doing some things right! If you have or have ever had a toddler, you KNOW how draining it is. Unless you are super mom (and if you are, kudos to you!) I doubt you are doing everything by the book. With a picky eater who drives you insane on a daily basis, it’s pretty difficult to do everything perfectly.
As a fellow toddler mom who knows just how exhausting they can be, here are my top tips to keeping your toddler healthy while still staying sane and not spending a fortune!
In my experience, I’ve seen that the #1 factor in getting a child to love water is loving it yourself. Since I was a child, I literally drink water like my life depends on it. I’ve carried around a big insulated water bottle with me everywhere I go for as long as I can remember. To the grocery store, to church, to family events, on dates… everywhere. It even moves from room to room with me. I don’t go ANYWHERE without it.
I started my son on water when he was about 8 months old. From 6-8 months he was still fully formula fed, so didn’t really need any extra fluid even though he was starting some puree foods. At 8 months when he started weaning off formula a little I began replacing it with 1-2 oz of water in his bottle while he was eating solids. He didn’t like it at first, so I would do 1 oz juice and 1 oz water. It worked like a charm! I slowly added less and less juice until at 1 year old he was drinking 6 oz bottles of water and toting them around everywhere he went. 🙂
Now whether that’s the way to do it or not, I don’t know. But introducing the taste of water early really helped us out. He also watched me carry my water around and said “Mmm! Ahhhh!” when I took big sips after being thirsty. Now he makes the same sounds just to be silly sometimes and it’s so cute.
Another tip if you have a picky drinker: take them to the store and let them pick out their own water bottle. You know those cute little plastic ones with straws and handles (a.k.a. the expensive ones)? Let them pick their own water bottle and then tell them it’s only for water. This worked for us for months until my son got tired of it. Then he noticed that I used ice in my bottle and he wanted some too. Now, if I noticed he isn’t drinking much one day, I’ll make a big deal about adding some ice and he gets excited again!
Remember when they were newborns and we had to watch their diaper output? The same thing still applies as toddlers. They aren’t old enough to be aware of these things all by themselves, so pay attention to how much your toddler is peeing. Every two hours is good. Every hour would mean they are drinking more than enough, but don’t discourage it! If you have an older child that you can’t keep tabs on their peeing all day, pay attention to other signs of dehydration such as dark urine, dry skin, cracked lips, sunken eyes, fast breathing, dry mouth, bad breath, and exhaustion.
My first and easiest tip is to give them vitamins. I get the Smarty Pants multi with Omega-3 and D3. I would get the kind with probiotics, but my babe already eats 1-2 homemade granola bars full of flaxseed every day! He also loves yogurt, so I don’t find this to be an issue. If you have a really picky kid, you might want to use the full dose and get vitamins with every possible supplement. If you have a fairly good eater like mine, aim for 1/2 a dose each day and look for the things your child doesn’t get on a daily basis. Why a 1/2 dose? Because most kids DO get plenty of nutrition from their food! But in our culture, there are a lot of more nutrient rich foods we aren’t eating, so 1/2 dose makes sure that they are getting what they need without overdosing and those vitamins just coming out in their pee ($$ down the toilet…. literally haha)
My babe eats so much crap food. Hot dogs, mac n cheese, chicken nuggets, tons of cheese. But one thing I do every single day is aim to give him at least one veggie a day. For us, a lot of days that looks like a baby food squeeze pouch with some fruits and veggies in it. Some days that’s all I’ve got. He eats plenty of fruit, so I don’t even worry about how much fruit he gets. Basically, it’s one veggie a day and I feel like I succeeded. If you get in more, FABULOUS! If not, don’t feel guilty.
Maybe you have a super picky kid who won’t even look at a veggie. The best thing you can do is try to hide veggies in dishes that they love. My favorite ways to hide veggies are in pastas, mexican dishes, breads/muffins or smoothies. Just look up ideas on the web and you are sure to find some that your little one will like! He will also miraculously eat sweet red peppers (and only red…) if I give him “cream” (ranch). I’m okay with that!
While I’m all about healthy food, I also want my kid to be balanced. He eats tons of protein every day, which often included hot dogs or chicken nuggets. Dairy, meats, breads, and fruits are part of all his meals. I also don’t want to forbid tasty things. I let him have fruit snacks a couple times a week, and I limit juice to once a day (or never if he doesn’t ask for it! we call it “happy juice” because I usually save it for when he’s having a REALLY hard time and just needs to chill out). I aim to do table sugar once a day (aside from 1/2 sippy cup of juice). So whether that be fruit snacks, a cookie or ice cream I do my best to watch and make sure he isn’t getting too much. And we ALWAYS save it for after a real meal.
Last, but certainly not least… be a good example to your little one. I know I’m not always the best. One of my best tricks is to play up when I eat good food (“Mmm! Ooooh carrots are so yummy. Num num num.”), and wait until he goes to sleep if I want to enjoy junk foods or desserts. This actually helps me as well with my diet, because my child is awake all day! He goes to sleep about 1-2 hours before I do, so this doesn’t leave me a lot of room to be sneaking crap food.
For many toddlers, this isn’t hard to facilitate. My child acts like he’s just inhaled cocaine most of the days as he bounces off the walls. But I know there are also kids that aren’t as active and we need to pursue a little bit.
When I’m working (sitting), I encourage him to play independently. If I can, I try to make that outside. If I’m doing housework, I ask him to “help” me and he loves it! I also try to do a lot of walking to the park.
Basically, involve your kids when you are doing something active. If you aren’t doing something active, encourage them to do something active while you are not! Some great ideas are:
- Highly encourage outside play, in all weather! You can even be inside depending on their age. Make sure you can talk to them and see them from where you are and get fun outside toys that encourage them to be creative.
- Have them help you with chores. This is also a great way to teach them to be proactive adults. Make chores fun! Explain to them what you are doing and have them help you in any little way that is safe for them to do at their age. It’s a good way for them to keep busy, and also great for their little minds that are soaking up everything.
- Encourage playing sports. Some kids won’t be interested, but it doesn’t hurt to introduce them to it. Find ways that your children can participate in physical activity and do it regularly.
- If and when you exercise, encourage them to copy you! I’m not a huge workout person, but when I do yoga or a short workout video on youtube, I do it when he is awake and have him do it with me! Of course, he can’t do any of it properly, but he has so much fun and is moving his little body.
- Go on walks together. There aren’t many other words that get my kid more excited than “walk to the park”. He LOVES getting in his stroller and rolling through town with mommy. I get my exercise from the walk, then I get to rest on the bench while he gets his exercise running and screaming at the park. It works out great for us both. Your opportunities may be different, but walks are always a great idea. Figure out where you could go with your child that would be exciting for them.
- Dance together. Sometimes we dance together, but a lot of times this is something I can facilitate when I’m doing something sedentary. I can play some kidz bop while I’m working on my blog and he will dance around the living room and play with his toys. Kids LOVE music and are naturals at moving their little bodies. Not to mention, music is great for their development.
- Wrestle/tickle. Sometimes I love to suddenly pound my feet across our floor and roar like a dinosaur and chase my son. He LOVES it. The smile that instantly makes its way across his face says everything. If he could play like that all day, he would be the happiest kid on earth.
I know, mama. It’s HARD. And I honestly don’t have any good ideas for weaning kids OFF of screens once they are already addicted. All I know is that when I had a baby I was already terrified of having a screen/media addicted child so I did all I could to avoid it.
Surprisingly, that did not mean never letting him watch TV. That meant limited screen time, only during special times of the day, only mommy approved and I ALWAYS am in charge of what and when he watches. He only recently figured out how to control the remotes and he is 2 (and he still can’t actually get to what he wants, he just figured out that the remotes control the TV so he pushes random buttons on them).
There is no ipad, computer or phone for my child, and there will not be for a long time. But I’m not here to say what you should or shouldn’t do as a mother. Each family has their own routine and lifestyle, and do what works for you! The only thing I plead with you to do is LIMIT IT!
Whatever it is that you do with your kid for screens/media, put a limit on it! And for the love of your child WATCH what they are watching. Know what they are watching. Stop and check in. Have the volume loud enough that you can hear what’s going on. Look at the history or “watch again” to see what’s been going on.
This applies for as long as they are in your house, fellow mamas. Yes, you can back off as they get older. But safe and healthy media practices start NOW when they are an itty bitty. If you teach them now, they are far less likely to have addictions as an older child or adult.
Of course, none of these things will do any good if you aren’t loving your child. I’m assuming that if you are reading this then you do! Kids needs our love in so many ways. Here are the most important things our toddler needs from us:
- Touch – Every baby needs touched. It’s a well known fact that many orphans die, not from starvation, but from lack of touch. It’s so crazy, but it’s true. That skin to skin contact is absolutely vital for their mental and physical development. Now, some kids are more into it than others. My son has never wanted to snuggle. When they put him on my chest, he pushed up with his arms away from me. I’m not even kidding! My newborn son didn’t want to snuggle. The only time we got in snuggles was when he was breastfeeding or totally asleep. He is still this way. He is okay with high fives, wrestling and tickling, and hand holding (though it’s always just a way to lead me to playing with him). Each kid is different, but regardless of personality find ways to have skin to skin with that kid.
- Attention – Attention starved children are often the ones that seek out drugs, sex, abusive relationships, etc. I’m not saying this to scare you, I’m saying it to inform you. Good kids from good families stray and people say “Woah, what happened?”. I can almost guarantee you this is what happened: they didn’t feel valued or validated by their family, so they looked for it elsewhere. There are so many days I ignore my kid, or just give him half my focus with a lot of “uh huh’s”. But mama, these kids NEED us. They need us to validate them and tell them they are worthy and wonderful and good. If we don’t, they are going to look for it elsewhere and it’s not going to be good. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t put my child above all else. There are so many times a day I say, “Honey, mommy can’t play right now.” It’s healthy for a child to know they can’t always get what they want when they want it. But they must always know that they are WORTH attention and love, even though sometimes they have to wait for it.
- Discipline – Yes… that controversial “D” word. I’m not here to talk about methods of discipline. That is between you and your partner (though I do have an article sharing my opinion on it here). All I’m saying here is that there HAS to be some sort of discipline in your home. And whatever you choose to do, it has to be consistent. When children know what to expect, they feel safe… even if that safety makes them unhappy.
- Routine – This falls very closely in line with discipline. Routine = safety in the minds of a young child. They need to know what to expect. Since they can’t control their world at all, they love knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s so important to them developing an understanding of their world in a healthy way. It doesn’t matter what their routine is. Make something work for your family and lifestyle and keep it as consistent as you can.
- Understanding – In years past I think it was incredibly common to treat children as inferior creatures that were expected to be obedient or else. That has thankfully changed a lot in recent generations, but it can still be hard to be understanding. Children are humans too. They have bad days, just like us. It is our job to train our children to be respectful, kind and honest. But we are not more important than they are and it is important that we don’t treat them as such. Get to know the world through your kid’s eyes, or at least do your best to see how they are feeling in certain situations. If you show they they are loved when they are little, they will still come to you when they are young adults and that is worth every single “mooooomy!” and toy crises you can think of.
- Empathy – Along the same line as understanding, it is vital that we try to see what emotions our kids are going through. It was my mom who told me to listen and care even when they are worried about the most stupid things (in our perspective). It is when we show them they are worth our listening ear and love, even when they are young, that they will see how much we love them and will come to us later in life when there are life changing situations they need help with.
- Honesty – This is one of those things where if you don’t model it they won’t repeat it. if you do something wrong, tell your kids. Don’t pretend you are perfect just because you’re an adult. If you treat them wrongfully, apologize. Obviously there are many things kids won’t pick up on or understand, but when they do understand be honest and apologetic and humble. If you don’t show them what honesty looks like they won’t be honest and genuine adults.
- Encouragement – While it’s good to be honest with your kids about the places they are wrong, it’s also equally important to praise them for all they do well! Make sure and tell them when you noticed something great they did. Boost their confidence in who they are and their individual talents and strengths. Along with their unique traits, thank them for helping you, even when it’s just a daily chore. Just because they are your children doesn’t make them your slaves. Let them know they are appreciated and it will make them much more excited to be good helpers in the future.
- Play – Be playful with your little ones! Life is busy, but kids grow up fast. Take time out of your busy schedule to be present with them. Kid’s biggest love language is play and this is how you build a friendship with your child that will last forever.