Wellness in Kids: How Early is "Too Early" to Start?
by Live Better
There are a few foundational questions that should be asked first before deciding when to teach our youth about self-care and wellness.
1) Who is responsible for teaching our youth about wellness?
2) What is the appropriate "curriculum" to teach? What does it include?
3) How do we make the wellness strategies sustainable for children so that they carry this education into adulthood?
There is a reason we are teaching adults how to take care of themselves mentally and physically; they weren't taught these skills well at an early age. We aren't math and literature teachers. Our children are becoming increasingly sedentary because the proper education doesn't exist early enough; bad habits are already ingrained, and old dogs just don't learn as quickly.
A few caveats to influencing our youth, though:
On passions, we don't want to push too hard
On sports, we don't want to specialize too early
On relationships, we don't want to force our experiences
On careers, we don't want to pass on our mistakes
Quick question: Why isn't 'kindness, compassion, and empathy' taught in school as an actual class?
Do the teachers assume this should be taught at home? Do the parents assume their children will develop these social and emotional skills from simply growing up?
We certainly tell them to..."Oh, just grow up would you?!" Unfortunately, not everyone is taught to treat people with respect. Not everyone is taught to treat themselves with respect (the biggest issue). Manners are a side show to passing your kid an iPad with YouTube Kids, and sore thumbs from video games have overtaken dirty hands from playing outside.
Fundamental wellness lifestyle factors have been forgotten. If we take a look at the world's "Blue Zones" (areas of the world which contained the longest lived humans and communities), we don't see "get a job that pays a lot of money" - we see things like "Move Naturally", "Purpose", "Stress Management", and ideas of surrounding yourself with people that care for you and share your values. It's all well and good to live a life of luxury and abundance, but external factors will only get you so far.
I'm willing to be that if you ask a majority of your friends if they like what they do for a living they'll either answer, 1) "Yeah, I like my job okay. I like the people I work with" or, 2) "Not particularly. But, I'm staying busy and it pays the bills."
Why do we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, and then totally disregard their ideas when they actually come of age to decide? "Oh no sweetie, Accounting has great job security as written by USNews in 2019." Yeah, that went well (...not).
This is why your friends (or...you) have found themselves in this position for making excuses about their job and well-being. True "wellness" includes much more than simply working out or swapping salad for pizza; it extends deep into the way we treat our internal and external environments.
Without wellness woven into the fabric of growing up, it will fail to provide the fuel we need to reach our potential. Like investing, it's never too late to start (and never too early to start).
Topic #1: Who is responsible for teaching our youth about wellness?
Remember health class in high school? Yeah, neither do I (because it sucked). The only topic they likely covered you remember was sex (and even that education has largely failed the majority of people, clearly).
What about healthy eating habits? What about actually changing the (poor) quality of food we feed children? What about getting back outside again to play? What about encouraging sports at an early age for both girls AND boys EQUALLY?
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of any "coach" or mentor, from parents at home to teachers in classrooms. We don't care what you teach them; if they aren't well, they won't (be able to) apply it. Same as with our adults, wellness is the sustainable fuel to do whatever it is in life you want to do, better, whether that's color inside (or outside) the lines to run a successful Fortune 50 company. Our public figures are responsible for setting a good example with their platform; athletes, musicians, politicians, and business "idols" alike.
We must take a top down approach, and it starts by setting this good example. Even if children don't fully understand what you say, they certainly pick up on what you do.
Topic #2: What is the appropriate "curriculum" to teach? What does it include?
There are two obvious subject matters that should be covered; as to how much, when, where, and ultimately "why", that will depend on the kid (this is the skill of the parent or mentor to decide the "dosage").
We know this resonates even with the youngest of children. We've led an assembly with 200+ 5-7 year olds practicing yoga and "meditating" together. The delivery has to be unique, fun, accessible, and aspirational to children. Movement at an early age is supposed to be fun; exploring the capabilities of your body, what you like to do for fun, playing a wide variety of sports, trying martial arts (if not team sport-oriented), or a multitude of other exploratory activities not based on scoring (hiking, yoga, skiing, etc).
Financial resources are the constraint in this area, especially for under-served populations. In Chicago, we are focusing a lot of efforts on behavioral modification and stress management techniques for children who live and grow up in volatile environments. We must find way to make movement, healthy food, and a healthy mindset (see below) a way out of negative circumstance; it should provide energy to pursue a better life. We all benefit from being able to control our emotional health, from stress to relationships to work.
This is the responsibility of us all.
This is a much more complicated area of education. Due to a wide variety of external and internal factors, everyone develops differently. Some are spatial learners, others logical, other visual, etc. We have our fears, doubts, motivations, likes and dislikes; this is what makes us human (and, complicated).
A few commonalities that will serve every child well (beyond receiving love, which is a fundamental need of every human being):
stress developing a positive way to think about the world
surround them with strong social support, from school to role models to friends
encourage the pursuit of multiple passions, especially those physical and creative
practice stress-management techniques early on, such as meditation and gratitude practice
develop an outlet for important (and/or difficult) conversations
EQ takes a while to develop; our reasoning skills and life judgment don't fully kick in until our mid twenties...even then! It is a continual, lifelong pursuit to be a better human being. These skills, however, can flourish much earlier than we let on. We can't expect them to develop on their own, especially in an age where technology and connection is happening much faster - our "software" must be upgraded earlier to handle and manage the increase in pressure.
Topic #3: How do we make the wellness strategies sustainable for children so that they carry this education into adulthood?
We must weave wellness into the culture of everyday life. It can't be something we seek out, like a fitness class when we feel inspired, but a daily way of life. Encouraging walking or biking to driving, taking the stairs to the elevator, voting with our dollars to eat healthy and local, volunteering to those less fortunate, and setting a good example for our children and peers alike all the way up to changing the importance of wellness in corporate culture.
Big dollars change the conversation, as do big voices.
We believe wellness is the foundation for doing anything well. With more energy, a positive mindset, and healthy social support, output goes through the roof (age 5 to age 105).
It is our responsibility to start with our own health. Then, it is everyone's responsibility to encourage, teach, and support our youth to do the same. It starts with better education, and stays for the long haul with a positive attitude on being able to achieve our potential.
Everyone gets to have the best day ever, every single day.