I remember when one of the kids broke her leg while playing outside. Thankfully, kids bounce back quickly and she was back on her feet in about four weeks. During that time we made lots of gelatin-rich foods and gave her some extra nutrients to help her recover quickly.
This was our first experience with a broken bone or injury in any of our children and I realized throughout this experience that children naturally do a lot of things correctly that adults often stop doing when we get older.
We are often so busy trying to teach our kids that we don’t realize how much we can learn from children.
In general, children are often healthier than adults and perhaps these natural healthy habits make some of the difference. Here are just a few of the things I’m going to try to remember to learn from my little ones:
Sleep is so important for health and many adults just don’t get enough. I’ve often joked that they should let pre-schoolers stay up and play and let high school students nap (this especially seemed like a good idea when I was in high school) but there could really be something to that idea.
The body repairs itself during sleep time and studies have shown that even one night of too little sleep can create a temporary pre-diabetic state, not to mention influence cortisol and leptin levels. Children are (typically) healthier and they also usually sleep for a longer period at night and take a nap during the day.
I’ve written about ways to help improve sleep quality and optimize sleep but none of these make up for getting too few hours of sleep in the first place.
What We Should Learn: Prioritize sleep and be as uncompromising about it as we are about our children getting enough sleep. Realize that this is an important part of staying young!
I noticed this especially when seeing how our little one had to be still (for once). Children don’t exercise but they are always moving! They don’t go to gyms or run endless miles but they sprint, climb, race, squat, and do many other functional movements constantly.
Another thing kids don’t do for long periods of time (unless we make them) is sit. We now have science that shows just how bad sitting is and these problems don’t go away just because a person makes time for exercise. Especially when our kids were toddlers, they had two speeds: full throttle and asleep. They played hard and rested hard. As adults, it is easy to be sedentary for a large part of the day, never get our heart rates up, and not move enough.
Children are also great at moving functionally. They don’t lift weights but can usually climb, crawl, squat, and move like an Olympian. Many adults can lift weights or master weight machines but would have trouble climbing a rope. This has been a personal goal for me: to learn how to move more functionally as these movements are great for health but are also the ones that can save your life if you ever have to climb, run, or jump to avoid some kind of danger or situation.
What We Should Learn: Get moving but don’t focus on exercise. Move functionally, move fast, and move often. As adults we may not be able to avoid our work and other responsibilities, but we can modify our workspace, take breaks, and challenge ourselves to engage in movement-based activities in between.
Children are often excellent at showing emotion and very much in touch with how they feel. As adults we often learn to suppress or avoid emotions which can create stress. Certainly, children do have to learn to express emotion in a responsible way but we can learn a lot in the way they vividly feel and express their emotions.
Children don’t hold grudges. If they are hurt/angry/sad, they cry. If they are happy, they smile or laugh. They are also masters of social interaction until we teach them not to talk to strangers. Babies are especially good at social interaction and I think that this is one of the reasons that people often gravitate to babies and talk to them. They listen to others when they talk. They watch how other people move. They respond with a smile when someone smiles at them.
Even in times when a child’s ability to express emotion frustrates us as adults (temper tantrum anyone?), there is something to be learned. Children often have a very intense but short-lived expression of emotion and when they have dealt with that emotion, they move on. Adults are more likely to dwell on an emotion or spend time reflecting on it for an extended period of time.
What We Should Learn: Express emotion in a healthy way. Be fully engaged when speaking to others. Deal with emotions and move on.
I often get emails from parents who are worried that their children are eating too much, not eating enough, or not eating the right foods. We are likely to obsess about what our children eat and how often, but most children have a very innate sense of hunger before we train it out of them.
They eat when hungry (even if it isn’t a meal time) and often refuse to eat if they aren’t hungry (even if it is a meal time). This is actually a very healthy thing and one that we as adults should pay attention to and take note.
I truly believe that if we provide children with high-nutrient sources of food and make sure they are well nourished, it is important to let them stay in tune with their natural hunger cues. Many adults have lost these natural cues and this can definitely make life more difficult! These food guidelines helped our family learn how to eat nourishing foods and stay in touch with their hunger cues.
What We Should Learn: Listen to our bodies and eat when we are hungry and don’t eat when we aren’t.
Anyone who has ever had a four-year-old knows that children ask questions. I once read that the average four-year-old asks more than 400 questions a day… and my experience backs this up!
This is a natural way that children learn, but it is also a beautiful representation of their constant curiosity and desire to learn. As adults, it is easy to just accept things at face value or to know that something works without understanding how. The act of learning a new skill (especially a new language or musical instrument) sharpens the mind and keeps it young.
What We Should Learn: Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Pick up a new skill or hobby or area of research and learn it with the openness and mind of a child.
Any mom who has ever had a one-year-old knows how fearless children can be. They jump to see what happens. Throw things to learn about Newton’s laws (and social interaction if they hit someone). They are on an insatiable quest to see, to learn, to move.
Newborns only have two fears: loud noises and falling. We tend to program all the other fears into our children with constant admonitions to “be careful” and “don’t get hurt,” when in actuality we should encourage them to take calculated risks, especially when they are young and the risks involve jumping off a playground ladder and not high-speed vehicles.
What We Should Learn: Let our children be adventurous but also rekindle this trait in ourselves. Take on a new adventure or sport. Try new things. Let kids play outside (yes, even unsupervised).
You get a child a fancy new toy for Christmas and what are they playing with an hour later? The box.
Children have a natural fascination with the small things. They aren’t born wanting a fancier diaper or a more decked out stroller. They have a natural creativity to play with simple things and make them interesting with their imaginations.
How much happier could adults be if we could remember even a small amount of fascination for the mundane?
What We Should Learn: Don’t sweat the small stuff, but enjoy the small stuff. Learn to truly appreciate the little things and what we have and not always be focused on the next thing.
Play is the work of children and it is important for a child’s development. It turns out that play is important for adults too! I love this quote from this article:
“The only kind (of play) we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.
But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids.
“We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D, vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play.
Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.
Trust me, I know it’s not easy to step away from all the things that “have to get done,” but in the name of better health and a strong family life I’m learning to put down the phone, close the computer, and take time to recharge.
What We Should Learn: Find things that are fun and enjoyable for their own sake and do them! Moms’ night out, here I come!