The Healthiest Gift

By Beth Cline

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, parents begin their quest braving the treacherous weather, congested parking lots and stores swarming with shoppers. Searching high and low until it’s found, the last one in the last store, only to wait in a marathon line before finally taking it home. What are these parents so desperate to find? The perfect gift for their child.

While parents seek the look of sheer joy on their child’s face when tearing open that great gift, achieving this look can be simpler, more enjoyable and even healthier. One of the greatest gifts a child can receive is the gift of time with their parents. In the busy holiday season, parents should look back over their favorite childhood memories, and they may be surprised to find it is not tangible gifts, but experiences with family they cherish most. Why pass on this wonderful gift?

Making it a point to spend time with children gives parents the chance to promote healthy habits in their kids, while letting kids know they are a priority even with today’s busy schedules. It is important for parents to remember that children are natural imitators; they will copy parents’ habits, good or bad, so utilize time together as an opportunity to demonstrate healthy habits.

Children benefit from parental interaction emotionally, physically and intellectually. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Children who are engaged in positive activities are better able to meet the demands of daily physical activities, gain greater self-confidence, school achievements, social connections and positive family relationships.” Parents receive positive benefits as well, such as stress relief and the chance to engage in physical activity with their children.

The list of activities for parents and children to do together is endless. Here are some ideas for healthy together time:

  • Engage in free play with children. Children’s active imaginations can create games from even the most mundane activities. Give them a chance to get creative.
  • Try a new activity with a child. This gives both parent and child the chance to learn a new skill with each other. Try anything from tennis to dance classes, hiking or fishing.
  • Many local events promote the introduction of physical activities to children in a fun family environment. Rick Nealis, Marine Corps Marathon Race Director explains, “ Events like our Healthy Kids Fun Run held each October give active parents an opportunity to introduce their children to the joys of running and cultivate a love for an active lifestyle.”
  • Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity for children each day. Fulfill this requirement by swimming, jumping rope, playing on a swing set or even playing catch. It is important to remember children are naturally interval exercisers- getting energy in big, short bursts with rests in between. Instead of coercing children into keeping up with adults, allow them to set the activity pace.
  • Shoot hoops, take a walk or go for a bike ride. Relating to your child can be free and fun.
  • On colder, snowier nights, take advantage of the one to two hours of television time experts say is acceptable by watching a show or movie as a family. This gives parents the chance to monitor what children are watching and keeps children’s viewing time limited.
  • Read to your children or talk to them about their day. These are great ways to show them they are important to you while building stronger communication bonds.
  • Make meal time an extension of your healthy lifestyle by having dinner as a family at least three times a week. According to ABC News, “Children are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and dairy products when dining regularly with their parents.” Let younger children have some say in the meal. Let older children take turns making dinner.
  • If dinners are too tough to fit in the busy school week schedule, try making breakfast on Saturday or Sunday. Having meals at home not only allows parents time with their children, but also saves money and provides the opportunity to teach kids how to eat healthy. Set a positive example by choosing healthy meals low in fat, sugar and salt, and served in smaller portions than in restaurants.
    It is also important to remember children benefit from one on one time with both parents. While the focus tends to be on mother/child bonding, recent studies have found kids who have special time with their fathers have stronger social skills, are more likely to be adventurous, do better in school and are better at problem-solving. They even have a higher likelihood of attending college.

Spending time with children promotes healthy habits in parents and children, as well as produces mental and physical benefits for both. So as the quest for the perfect present sweeps in with the holiday season, remember the best gift can be as simple as your time.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run. The Healthy Kids Fun Run is held every October in Arlington, VA on the day prior to the Marine Corps Marathon. Visit  Beth Cline is a member of the Marine Corps Marathon marketing staff.

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