Middle: Healthy Habits
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building healthy habits
March 2022

Promoting children’s physical health and well-being in the middle years lays the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. 

Children who feel healthy are more likely to be engaged in school, feel a connection to their teachers, perform better academically, and less likely to be involved in bullying behaviours. Being physically active also promotes children’s mental health.
Children benefit from parental guidance that supports the development of healthy habits - such as regular physical activity, quality sleep and healthy meals - that they can carry forward into adolescence and adulthood.
Middle Years development instrument
All data included in this Snapshot is from the Greater Victoria School District 2021 Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI).

MDI is a survey completed by students. It is designed to assess children's wellbeing inside and outside of school. 

Sleep wonderful sleep!
Getting a good night‘s sleep may be one of the first things to fall off your radar given the competing demands of a busy family life. But sleeping well is a game changer for children and youth. It supports their mental and physical health, and allows young minds and bodies to develop and function properly. 
42% of students report that they get a good night sleep 4 or less nights per week 
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According to studies teens who say they get more than seven hours of sleep on most nights report being happier. This makes sense as sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for both physical and mental health issues.

Here are some tips to help everyone in the house sleep a little easier:
Shift into family wind down mode before bedtime. Sleep is more inviting when everyone slows down before bedtime. Turn off the TV and engage in calming activities such as reading, listening to soft music, etc.

Dim the lights after dinner to help your family wind down from a busy day, or while your child goes through their nighttime routine.
Try having the whole family avoid screen time one hour before bedtime. Even a little screen time before bed, like a quick check on social media, can disrupt sleep. 

Have a common area for everyone’s phones to be plugged in at night, outside of the bedroom.
Establish a consistent time that your child goes to bed each night Keeping a regular sleep schedule maintains the timing of the body's internal clock and can help them fall asleep and wake up more easily. 
32% of students report going to bed after 10pm
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Food wonderful food!
Eating meals together as a family is related to increased self-esteem and school success, and decreased chance of eating disorders, substance abuse, violent behaviour and symptoms of depression.

Here are some tips to help make mealtime a positive experience.
Make mealtime family time by reducing distractions. While it’s tempting to turn on the TV or use devices it’s beneficial to take this time to enjoy conversations and check-in with each other.
Make it a habit to have everyone eat at the dinner table. Skip serving them in bedrooms, or separate spaces. It can be a difficult adjustment at first. But doing so helps children learn the positives of mealtimes and build healthy habits.
Aim for 30 minutes for mealtime. Many children and youth find sitting still for long periods difficult. This can be even more challenging for children living with ADHD. 
Family meals can be something your child looks forward to. Visit Better Together BC for inspiring ideas on eating together, family friendly recipes, and tips for getting children to help out in the kitchen.

81% of students reported eating meals with their adult family members 5 or more times per week 
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Healthy food
As children begin puberty, they often feel hungrier and eat more. That’s because their bodies go through a major growth spurt in the teenage years. Extra food gives them extra energy and nutrients to support growth and development.

Due to changes in the brain during puberty, children are more attracted to junk foods that contain high amounts of fat and sugar. It’s common for them to start eating fewer fruit and veggies and more junk food. 
Other reasons for this may be because your child’s friends are into junk foods, because they have their own money to spend on food, or because they want to explore their own values about eating.

The way you talk about food has a big effect on your child’s eating habits. Try to emphasize all of the good things about healthy eating, instead of focusing on the effects of unhealthy eating.

These ideas might help:
Avoid restricting foods or describing them as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘naughty’ and so on. Instead, aim for balance – eat healthy most of the time, and every now and then you might like to eat ‘sometimes’ foods.

Teach your child to eat when they’re hungry and to stop when they’re full. This helps your child learn to recognize whether they’re eating out of true hunger or eating out of boredom or tiredness. But you can expect your child to eat a lot more while they’re growing and developing.

Talk with your child about how food can help with concentration, school, sports performance and wellbeing. This can motivate your child to make healthy choices, and it’ll probably mean more to your child than information about longer-term health risks.

Talk about your enjoyment and interest in the healthy food you’re eating. This can encourage your child to enjoy eating healthy food too.
21% of students reported eating "junk" food 5 or more times a week
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move your body
Make time for regular, daily exercise – take the dog for a walk, walk to school or engage in a backyard game such as mini soccer or baseball.  Physical activity increases endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline. These are all brain chemicals associated with feeling confident and capable while feeling less anxiety and stress. 

Short bursts of physical activity even for five minutes, increases blood flow to the brain, which increases focus and attention. 
60% of students rated their general health as medium to low 
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Here are some tips to make moving part of your family routine:

Try a range of activities across the week. Perhaps your child participates in sports twice a week, and on the weekend you go on a walk together, or head to the swimming pool. 

Movement is more fun when you do it as a family. Make sure your child gets a turn in choosing the activities. They can pick a route on the usual family walk. Or get creative and set up a “jar of family activities” where they pick a favourite physical activity once a week.

Arrange a date with friends to go skating, swimming, roller skating. Encourage a weekend meet-up at the skateboard park. Have them meet a friend for a walk instead of a communicating with them by text. 

Getting into a consistent, active routine early on, sets everyone up for a lifetime of healthy habits. 
Managing Stress   Seeking Help
Seeking help for emotional support from adults at school, parents, family members, health professionals and counsellors can promote positive mental health and resilience, and serve as a protective factor for mental illness.
77% of students reported that they would seek help from a family member and 60% from friends.
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Here are some recommendations to help children learn to deal with stress and handle change. 

A weekly meeting is an opportunity to check-in and talk about how everyone is doing, including what stress they may be feeling. It can be a time to brainstorm solutions together and help coordinate busy schedules.
Review everyone's schedules and plan for the week ahead. Rather than keeping an always full, packed calendar for your child, leave some room for play and down time. Together, discuss if you have to free-up space by letting go of an activity.
Make time to connect regularly to relax and talk. When children feel connected, they‘re more likely to reach out for help. Enjoy watching a movie together, playing a game in the backyard, going for a walk, or sharing some laughs over a fun, healthy snack.
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Give yourself permission to focus on your own self-care — and practice a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy snacks and meals, exercise, and get quality sleep to help keep stress at bay. By showing your family you care about your own well-being, you‘re teaching them how to respond more positively to stress and even build up their own resilience to it. There‘s nothing like getting outdoors to recharge and help de-stress. Play, move and have fun!
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