Play Fit Families

In last month’s research section, we described the ways that what happens in a baby’s brain in the first few years of life put them on a pathway that leads well into adulthood. This month’s research section added an explanation of how nutrition and physical activity in early childhood also have implications that reach into adulthood. Children who are inactive in their early years are at greater risk for health problems as adults.1 From getting enough sleep, eating well, and establishing a foundation for a physically fit lifestyle, early childhood physical wellness is important for the child and can be fun for the family. Promoting a healthy lifestyle for young children begins with setting family routines, especially around sleeping, eating and activity.

Sleeping Routines

Newborn babies need more sleep then adults. Some infants will sleep up to 18 hours a day. Sleep helps young children grow and develop. By their first birthday, most babies still need more than 12 hours of sleep a day, and even at ages 3 or 4, they should be getting 12 hours of rest. Sleep makes up most of a child’s time in their first three years. Setting consistent sleep routines is an important way to support your child’s development. Try to stick to consistent bedtimes and nap times.

Parents can help by:

  • Having a consistent, daily bedtime ritual that includes things like a bath, and some calming songs and stories to familiarize your young child with words and language. (Click here for more information on creating a bedtime routine that works for your family.)
  • Creating a quiet, consistent, and safe sleeping environment for baby. Watch this video to see how one mom learns to prevent against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by making sleeping more safe for her baby.

Healthy Eating Habits

Even in the womb, what goes into a baby’s body is very important for their growth and development. Experts have found that even our preferences for certain food are determined at a young age.2

  • Breast-milk provides all the nutrition an infant needs for the first six months and should continue through the first year.
  • “Healthy eating,” means something different for adults than for young children, and some healthy adult diets may be lacking certain nutrients that children need to grow. An infant’s diet should be much higher, for example, in certain kinds of fats. It is important to look into what healthy eating means for very young children (Read this article for more information., or click here to see sample meals plans and nutrition information for young children.)
  • Establish healthy eating habits including fruits and vegetables before age 3 to help your child understand what a healthy meal looks like.

Babies On the Move

Children, even very young children, need to be physically active. From learning to push up and roll over during tummy time as an infant, to crawling and eventually walking, even the first year is packed with activity, and parents can help their child’s physical development and coordination.

  • Learn about key developmental milestones, and what it is reasonable to expect a child of a certain age to be able to do. The more you know as a parent, the easier it will be to know what to look out for if your child needs a little extra help in a certain area. (Click here for more information on understanding your child’s motor development.)
  • Make play time active time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers have 60 minutes of unstructured, active free play each day, so clear a safe place for your toddler to run, jump, climb and actively explore.
  • Be creative. Active time can be fun for the whole family and can be good for brain as well as body development. Put on some fun music and dance around as you do chores together. Take family walks, or play at the park together.
  1. ASPE (National Association for Sport and Physical Education). 2002. Active start: A statement of physical activity guidelines for children birth to five years. Oxon Hill, MD: Author.
  2. Roberts, S. B., & Heyman M. B. (2000, August/September). How to feed babies and toddlers in the 21st century. Zero to Three, 24-28. Available here.