It can be difficult to strike the right balance when it comes to monitoring your kid’s health. While you don’t want to be the parent who leaves seven messages for their pediatrician at the first sign of a sniffle, you also want to make sure that you’re not overlooking anything major. After all, health problems that develop in kids can persist well into adulthood and, in most cases, the earlier a wellness issue is addressed, the better the outcome.
Dr. Kim Mangham, pediatrician at Cook Children’s in Keller, says that when looking at what’s important to a kid’s long-term health, “regular, annual well child visits with your pediatrician” are key. Work with your kiddo’s doctor now to build healthy, sustainable habits that create a foundation for lifelong health and fitness.
Complete this quiz to get a feel for where your kid falls on the health and wellness spectrum. This quiz has been specifically designed for ages 4–12 since younger children’s pediatricians should already be closely monitoring their nutrition, activity levels, mental health and sleep.
The questions below are formulated based on advice from locals experts: Mangham; Angela Lemond, licensed pediatric and family nutritionist and dietitian and owner of Lemond Nutrition in Plano and Rockwall; Araceli Vazquez, licensed dietitian and pediatric nutritionist at DietGenics Nutrition Consulting in Carrollton and Dallas; Tiffany Smith, licensed professional counselor supervisor and clinical director at Flower Mound Counseling in Flower Mound; and Dr. Angela Mix, pediatrician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.
For each question, give yourself 1 point for each “True” statement and 0 points for every “False” statement. At the end of each section, add up the number of points in your “True” column.
Note: This quiz should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
A tired kid is typically a cranky kid. And while the emotional effects of a bad night of shut-eye may be easy to see, the real problems associated with sleep deprivation in children run much deeper. According to the National Science Foundation, kids who don’t get enough sleep are less able to concentrate or perform complex tasks and are more likely to be sick, depressed and obese. The best way to ensure your kid is getting their requisite ZZZ’s is to establish a nightly routine and stick to it. Create environmental cues that let your kid’s brain know it’s time to settle down. “A set bedtime routine each night such as brushing teeth, taking a bath or shower, then reading books is very helpful,” Mix says.
If your child scored a total of 7 or less in the “TRUE” column, is displaying signs of excessive daytime sleepiness or has pauses during breathing while sleeping, reach out to your pediatrician or seek the help of local pediatric sleep specialists (see sidebar below).
|My child ages 3–5 gets 10–13 hours of sleep per 24 hours.
My child ages 6–12 gets 9–12 hours of sleep per 24 hours.
|My child seems relatively alert and awake during the day.|
|My child’s sleeping environment is cool, dark and quiet.|
|My child and I have an established bedtime routine that we follow nightly.|
|We turn off all blue-light emitting screens (TVs, iPads and computers) at least 30 minutes before my child’s bedtime.|
|My child avoids spending time in bed except for when trying to fall asleep.|
|My child avoids caffeine after noon.|
|My child usually stays in his own bed throughout the night.|
|My child does NOT fall asleep in school.|
|My child does NOT snore loudly or have pauses in breathing while sleeping.|
Mental health issues are not just adult problems. A majority of psychiatric disorders actually emerge before a child’s 14th birthday, according to the Child Mind Institute. That’s why you should keep an eye on your child’s mood and general well being and note any changes. “When you’re trying to gauge how your child is doing, make sure not to ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions,” Smith explains. “Instead ask open-ended questions so you give your kid an opportunity to really express what they’re trying to say.”
While we sometimes write off certain behaviors as “kids being kids” or simply “going through a phase,” it’s important not to ignore the symptoms of mental health issues. Mental health and behavioral problems are incredibly serious, and if left untreated, can be potentially fatal. According to the CDC, 1 in 7 children ages 2–8 have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. If your child scored a total of 9 or less in the “TRUE” column, reach out to your pediatrician or seek the help of local pediatric counselors (see sidebar below).
|My child feels that he is good at things, whether it is in school or in another area.|
|My child has friends or other solid ties in the community.|
|My child has personal interests or hobbies outside of school.|
|My child’s negative emotions, like anger and sadness, appear infrequently rather than continually.|
|My child tells me about positive interactions with her peers.|
|My child generally responds appropriately to pressure from school (i.e. doesn’t panic, cry or get excessively angry about upcoming tests).|
|My child doesn’t spend an excessive amount of time worrying.|
|My child says positive things about his physical appearance rather than negative things or complaints.|
|My child comes to me when she’s facing a problem.|
|My child treats animals kindly and does not harm them.|
|My child generally feels good in his body and doesn’t complain too much of aches or pains.|
|My child’s behavior and personality remain relatively constant, without major changes.|
|My child can sit still and pay attention when necessary.|
|My child generally respects parental authority at home.|
|My partner and I refrain from arguing in front of our child.|
Unfortunately, it takes much more than just an apple a day to keep the doctor away. According to the Alliance for Healthier Eating, more than 1 in every 3 Texas children is overweight or obese. To prevent health problems now and in the future, you must monitor the quality and quantity of what your child is eating. “It’s important for parents to spend some time in the kitchen,” Vazquez says. “Even if you’re low on time and can’t afford the fancy stuff, you can still make sure your child eats healthfully. For example, if you’re serving green beans from a can, be sure to rinse off the beans with water to reduce your child’s excess sodium intake.”
And that doesn’t mean you should be in the kitchen alone. “Involve your child in the process of eating,” says Lemond. “Your kid will make better choices if they learn age-appropriate kitchen skills and help with the shopping.”
Even if your child is at a healthy weight, improper nutrition could still put them at risk for health complications now and in the future, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and asthma. For questions about your kid’s nutrition, from portion size to food groups, check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s child-friendly, interactive nutrition website.
If you feel that your child is at an unhealthy size or if your child scored a total of 12 or less in the “TRUE” column, reach out to your pediatrician or seek the help of local pediatric and family nutrition experts to get your child’s eating habits back on track (see sidebar below).
|My child eats three meals a day, plus 2–3 snacks.|
|My child eats a breakfast that includes a lean protein (such as eggs, beans or low-fat cottage cheese) every morning.|
|My child ages 4–8 eats two servings of dairy (such as milk, yogurt or cheese) per day.
My child ages 9–12 eats three servings of dairy per day.
|My child ages 4–8 eats 4–5 servings of grain foods (preferably whole grain foods such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal or brown rice) per day.
My child ages 9–12 eats 5–6 servings of grain foods per day.
|My child eats five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.|
|My child ages 4–8 eats 3–4 servings of protein (such as meat, eggs or beans) per day.
My child ages 9–12 eats five servings of protein per day.
|My child eats fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines) 2–3 times per week.|
|Less than 10 percent of my child’s daily calorie intake comes from sugar.|
|My child eats less than a teaspoon of salt a day.|
|I role model appropriate dietary patterns and practices for my child.|
|A majority of my child’s meals are eaten together as family meals.|
|My child mostly drinks water or milk, occasionally drinks fruit juice and rarely drinks soda.|
|My child eats mostly home-cooked meals rather than take-out food or restaurant dinners.|
|A majority of my child’s meals are eaten away from the TV, computer and other distractions.|