Fostering open communication between you and your children, regardless of their ages, is critical for helping them develop lasting health habits. A study found that child-parent connectedness featuring positive, two-way communication reduces the likelihood a child will make risky choices that could impact their health. Opening the lines of communication by actively discussing potential health-related issues in an age-appropriate way is key. Explore how you can discuss healthy habits at every age.
Tips for Talking to Children Ages 3 to 6
Although young children may not be ready to have in-depth discussions about health, it’s important to start the conversation early, even if your child has special needs.
Keep It Simple
Young children have an incomplete or vague understanding of health, so simple conversations are best at this stage. There are many picture books and television shows available that introduce young children to basic concepts about how the human body works and how to care for themselves. Read to them about their bodies and other health topics, such as brushing their teeth, while stopping to add your personal input.
Parents should strive to normalize discussions about health. And part of everyday health is getting sick or feeling “unhealthy.” Parents shouldn’t omit information about a loved one feeling unwell. Helping young children understand the cycle of health and how illness fits into the cycle is a good foundational step towards future, more in-depth conversations.
Help Them Overcome Fears
Children around this age are afraid of going to the doctor. But doctor’s appointments will be vital to their health, now and in the future. If a parent can help a child overcome that fear early, they’ll reduce the chances the child will avoid dental, medical, or orthodontic appointments as an adolescent and adult.
Some ways to help allay a young child’s fear of doctor’s visits are by choosing kid-friendly pediatricians with bright and lively doctor’s offices that offer kids plenty of activities while they’re visiting. Making a doctor’s visit a normal part of life and not an extraordinary event can take the anxiety out of going to the doctor. Taking your child out for a treat or ice cream after the appointment gives them something to look forward to after the visit.
Tips for Talking to Children Ages 7 to 11
Children at the age of seven or older begin to develop a better understanding of health, illness, and the human body. A child’s brain at this age has developed closer to an adult’s — they’re capable of reasoning and understanding the world around them. You can harness their curiosity in a few ways.
Explain the Science
Children at this age may be more curious or excited about science and how the body works. They’re likely to ask “why” questions about everything and anything. Answer their questions with simple scientific and fact-based explanations.
Help Them Understand Emotions
Children may have emotional responses to the conversation about health and illness. Parents may need to help their kids process this aspect of health by allowing their children to express and explore their feelings without judgment.
For example, if a child feels fear or sadness about a grandparent’s Alzheimers, allowing the child to vocalize their feelings while a parent compassionately listens can be helpful to the child in understanding his or her emotions better.
Work on Healthy Habits
Kids seven or older are starting to become more self-reliant. Parents can successfully help their kids work on developing healthy habits, including personal hygiene and being more germ-conscious at this age. A health and hygiene routine should start early and be encouraged. Some routines could include:
- Packing healthy snacks for school;
- Making sure they’re drinking enough water throughout the day;
- Taking vitamin supplements;
- Brushing and flossing regularly.
Tips for Talking to Children Ages 12 to 18
Children of this age range are known as young adults. They’re capable of understanding concepts similar to how an adult would. They can make connections between concepts and often have a good grasp of cause and effect, such as how oral health can affect overall health.
Young adults are striving for independence and are more likely to push back against too many rules or restrictions. Although parents still hold significant influence over their pre-teen and teen kids, friends take on a more important place in their lives. A parent’s role at this age should be more passive and collaborative.
Parents should develop good listening skills about their kid’s health concerns and questions, especially as they encounter new and stressful events and issues such as puberty, sex, and drugs. It’s tempting to step in and lecture, but it’s best to step back, listen, and pose questions the teen or adolescent should think about.
Respect Their Privacy
Tweens and teens may become closed off. They’re at an age in which they may want privacy from their family members, especially about topics they may find awkward, such as health and their changing bodies.
Issues that could be pointed out normally before may now be a sensitive topic, such as how they look with braces, or whether they have skin breakouts or acne. Respecting your young adult’s need for privacy while keeping abreast of their health is possible — parents need to be patient and broach certain topics during the few opportunities they get, such as when driving them to school or having dinner together.
If the opportunities for one-to-one conversation in a relaxed atmosphere don’t arise, consider taking them out for a special afternoon shopping or hiking outdoors to approach certain topics.
Keep the Conversation Open
As mentioned, respecting privacy and being patient about when health-related conversations are appropriate is essential at this stage. Letting your child know you’re available to have an ongoing conversation about health anytime they have something on their mind, even after the child becomes an adult, is part of the lifelong parent-child bond.