6 Steps To A Healther Child

Keeping active is good for your little one’s development, but make sure you support her with the right nutrition, sun protection and even regular downtime.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Make sure they are adequately hydrated

It’s important for your children to be well hydrated, especially if they spend a lot of time in the sun. Dehydration is common among kids because most children don’t recognise the early signs of thirst and don’t drink enough water to begin with, says Pooja Vig, a certified functional medicine nutritionist at The Nutrition Clinic.

Even slight dehydration can make them irritable,  prone to fatigue, headaches and dry skin, as well as poor concentration and mental performance.

“Water is essential for most physiological processes and also to rid the body of waste,” says Pooja.

“Remind your kids to sip on water regularly throughout the day, more often if they’re outdoors in the sun.

“Kids aged four to eight years need 1 to 1.5 litres a day; those aged nine to 13 year olds, between 1.5 and 1.7 litres; and kids 13 and older, about two litres.”

Bonnie Rogers, a functional medicine certified health coach at The Nutrition Clinic says that if your children turn their noses up at plain water, add berries, pineapple chunks or kiwi slices to make it more palatable.

Alternatively, give them coconut water, served as is or diluted with water to reduce the sugar content.

“Limit your kids’ intake of juices and sports or energy drinks, otherwise they’ll get used to the taste,” Bonnie adds.

Some of these are packed with sugar – up to 10 teaspoons per serving – despite having labels like “healthy”, “packed with vitamins and minerals” and “contains only natural sugars”.

Feed them well so that they perform well

Physically active children need foods that not only give them energy but also keep them feeling full for longer.

Bonnie recommends protein and high-quality fats as opposed to foods that contain a lot of sugar, like ready-made or processed snacks.

Such processed food may give your kids an initial energy hit, but cause their blood sugar levels to come crashing down a few hours later, leaving them feeling hungry and tired.

“Make sure they eat well-balanced meals before they start their activity, so that you won’t have to rely so much on snacks to keep their energy levels up,” says Bonnie.

“Their meals should have sufficient protein, like lean meat, fish, eggs, beans or lentils, and good fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, butter, oily fish or avocado, to keep them going.”

Some ideas for healthy snacks:

• Apple slices with nut butter
• Rice crackers with mashed avocado or hummus
• Minced meat patties
• Mixed nuts and seeds
• Boiled eggs

• Yogurt with berries

If your kids are fussy eaters and you’re concerned that they may not be eating enough to perform well in their physical activities, Pooja suggests giving them a super-food boost once a day instead of relying on supplements (although she believes that supplements can help kids who are deficient in specific vitamins and minerals).

“A super-food boost is packed with nutrients,” she explains.

“I recommend smoothies made with yogurt, or dairy or non-dairy milk, blended with any combination of fresh fruit, green leafy veggies like spinach, nut butter, avocado and even steamed or frozen cauliflower.”

Bone broth is another good option. “Boil bones – organic and hormone-free if possible – with celery, carrots, onions, garlic and herbs for extra flavour,” says Pooja.

“The key is to boil the bones for at least four hours or overnight in a slow cooker. The broth can be stored in the fridge for three months or frozen for a month. Use it to make soupbased dishes, such as noodles or congee.”

Shield their skin from the sun

Young skin is delicate and therefore more vulnerable to the sun’s dangerous UV (ultraviolet) rays than adult skin, says Dr Low Chai Ling, founder of SW1 Clinic.

“Twenty to 30 minutes before your kids go out in the sun, have them apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30,” Dr Low says.

“Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays. If your children are swimming, they should use water-resistant sunscreen and reapply the product every three or four hours.

“Remember, too, that the sun is most lethal between 11am and 3pm, so try to minimise outdoor exposure during this period.”

Don’t forget to extend the protection to their ears and neck or use a hat or cap to cover these areas. Using a UV suit or a rash vest and shorts will protect their shoulders, back, chest and the tops of their thighs.

To prevent damage to their eyes, they should wear sunglasses, too.

If your kids have sensitive skin or you worry that regular sunscreens may be too harsh, Dr Low suggests products with physical blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, rather than chemical blockers like avobenzone.

Physical sunscreens deflect UV rays before they can enter the skin and tend to be gentler on children’s skin.

Keep mozzies and other insects away

Most insect repellents contain an ingredient called Deet (diethyltoluamide). It’s safe for use on children, but if you prefer products that are Deet-free, Dr Low suggests looking for ones containing plant oils like citronella, lemongrass, peppermint or cedarwood.

She adds that natural-based repellents need to be reapplied more often than Deetbased ones.

But don’t confuse “natural” with “safe”, she adds. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is sometimes used in natural-based insect repellents, and while it isn’t harmful if swallowed or applied to the skin, it can hurt the eyes, causing temporary but substantial injury if it somehow finds its way into the eyes.

“Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus are not approved for use on children under three years old, while products containing Deet can be used on children as young as two months,” she points out.

Another ingredient to look for is picaridin, a chemical based on piperine, a compound in black pepper. Although not widely used, it may also cause low levels of eye and skin irritation. Picaridinbased repellents can also damage clothes and leather.

On the plus side, it’s just as effective as Deet at repelling mosquitoes and significantly safer, and it’s not associated with the serious problems linked to Deet, such as seizures. And, unlike most insectrepelling chemicals, it’s virtually odourless.

“Remind your kids to cover all areas of their skin when applying insect repellent, and to wash their hands right after so that the product doesn’t get into their eyes,” Dr Low advises.

“Most repellents remain effective for a while so reapplication is not necessary for the next several hours.”
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Protect them from common illnesses

Not surprisingly, your kids may feel rundown at times, especially if they’ve been more active than usual.

When this happens, their immune systems may be compromised, leaving them more vulnerable to certain infections.

A healthy immune system will help protect your little ones from common illnesses and infections. That’s why it’s important for them to have balanced meals, regular exercise and adequate sleep.

As viral infections are common among children, good hygiene habits are also essential, says Dr Vidya Ramasamy, specialist in Paediatric Medicine and consultant at Raffles Children Centre.

Make sure your kids wash their hands thoroughly with soap, before and after meals and after using the toilet and playing outside. If they have an acute infection like a severe cough, infectious rash, ulcers and so on, keep them at home, away from public areas.

Vaccines can also help protect them. Besides the routine vaccines your children get as part of the national immunisation schedule, Dr Ramasamy says you may want to consider giving your kids the flu vaccine.

Give them downtime

Even though sports and games are a great way to relax, your kids should also devote some time each day to unwind emotionally.

According to Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, downtime may include a few minutes of deep breathing, reading, drawing or doing crafts.

They could also do deep musclerelaxation exercises that involve sitting in a quiet place and tensing and relaxing each muscle group from head to toe.

You could even lie down with your kids and talk about fun things you wouldn’t normally be able to do together, like fly on a magic carpet.

And of course, make sure they’re sleeping enough every night. “Don’t allow them to do anything else in bed other than sleep,” Dr Lim says.

“Your kids shouldn’t be studying or using their devices in bed. Give them about half an hour before bedtime to wind down and prepare to go to sleep. And set regular times for them to go to bed and wake up.”

"The sun is most lethal between 11am and 3pm, so try to minimise outdoor exposure during this period."