National School Safety Week: Healthy Homes, Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools

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Canada Safety Council

A healthy start is the best start.

This National School Safety Week, from Oct. 17 to 23, the Canada Safety Council recognizes that schools are communities of children. Children who are mindful of health and safety can have significant influence among their peers, and help to foster healthy school communities.

Children’s lifelong value systems are significantly shaped by the role models in their lives. That is why we encourage parents, guardians and educators to emulate healthy lifestyles for their school-aged children. A healthy lifestyle includes getting enough exercise, eating balanced and nutritious meals, and developing healthy relationships.

Together, we can make our schools a healthier place.

Exercise

There are many benefits of regular exercise. Along with better fitness and strength, active kids often do better in school and socially by having fun playing with friends and learning new skills. Active children tend to be happier with better self-confidence than their sedentary counterparts.

Canadian and World Health Organization guidelines indicate that children and youth need 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day. Moderate intensity exercises include bike riding, playground activities and skating. Examples of more vigorous exercises are swimming and running.

Unfortunately, most Canadian kids are not active enough. Data from the most recent Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) indicates that only seven per cent of kids attain this level of activity. What’s more concerning, half of children and youth do not get even five minutes of vigorous activity on at least one day a week.

Inactivity has many consequences, including obesity. Obesity has been linked with many chronic diseases, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. Close to one third (31.5 per cent) of 5- to 17-year-olds, an estimated 1.6 million Canadians, are classified as overweight (19.8 per cent) or obese (11.7 per cent), according to the CHMS.

Obese children are more likely than their healthy-weight counterparts to become obese adults, making childhood obesity a significant public health concern.

Incorporating more exercise into your child’s routine can be as easy as going for a walk after supper and stopping at a neighbourhood park to play. Limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours a day and use active transportation such as walking or cycling whenever possible, rather than taking the car or the bus. It’s better for the environment and for your health!

Nutrition

Various studies indicate than more than four out of 10 Canadian children skip breakfast or do not eat breakfast every day. Skipping breakfast negatively impacts a child’s ability to succeed in school, and is a factor in challenges with problem-solving, short-term memory and lack of focus and attention.

Eating breakfast improves attention, problem-solving skills, math and logical reasoning. Consistently eating breakfast also combats obesity, hyperactivity and depression in children. Make eating breakfast a priority!

Canada’s Food Guide offers age-appropriate guidelines for children on serving sizes and the number of servings needed daily from each of the four food group for healthy growth and development.

Other tips to help your kids eat healthy include:

- Make good food fun! Children get bored of eating the same things. Chose a variety of healthy foods and don’t be afraid to experiment!

- Eat together whenever possible, ideally at least once a day. This is important in terms of building relationships, but also helps adults monitor what their children are eating.

- Make it easy for kids to choose healthy foods. Stock your grocery cart with fresh produce and prepare fruits and vegetables in bite-sized portions when you get home. That will make it easy and convenient to choose good snacks over junk food.

- If you go shopping with your kids, let them fill the cart with colourful fruits and vegetables. Leave behind (most of) the high-calorie, high-salt and high-sugar junk food at the store.

- Most importantly, model the healthy-eating behaviours you’d like to see in your kids!

To get a copy of Canada’s Food Guide and for more healthy eating resources, visit Health Canada’s website.

Healthy Relationships

Most children have some involvement in bullying as they grow up, either as aggressors or as victims. It is estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of children repeatedly bully others, and 10 to 15 per cent of children are repeatedly bullied. Younger children in elementary and middle school are more likely to bully others than older children in high school, according to PREVNet, a Canadian network of researchers and organizations working together to stop bullying.

Bullying is relational problem that arises because of a power imbalance, and it can have profound impacts on children and youth. These include mental and physical health issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders, along with poorer grades in school.

Children do not grow out of bullying on their own. Bullying that begins in elementary school, without intervention, can escalate into cyber-bullying, dating aggression and sexual harassment in the teen years. Sadly, many instances of teen suicide are linked to bullying.

Parents and educators clearly have an important responsibility to support children and youth in developing social skills, respect for themselves and others, social responsibility and good citizenship. Part of this process is helping children comprehend that their actions, words and choices leave a mark on those around them – for better or for worse. In other words, teach children to treat others the same way they themselves would want to be treated.

Bullying thrives in secrecy. Break the silence and talk about bullying.  

If you child is being bullied, coaching and role-playing can help him or her become more assertive; for example, role-play a bullying scenario where your child learns to confidently say “STOP” to the aggressive behaviour. Encourage your child to tell you or a teacher if he or she is being bullied. Make a safety plan so your child can avoid locations where bullying is more likely to occur. Tell your children they are valued and loved as often as you can.

If your child is a bully, establish that his or her behaviour is not acceptable. Consistently apply appropriate consequences for bad behaviours – these will vary, depending on your child’s actions. Encourage empathy, for example, by teaching your child how to identify emotions of victimized characters in stories or movies. Give clear praise to your child when you see him or her exhibiting positive behaviours.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is model good behaviours in your relationships. Children tend to reflect what they are exposed to.

For more information on bullying and healthy relationships, visit www.prevnet.ca .

Organizations: Canada Safety Council

Geographic location: Canada

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