By Peter N. Landless and Zeno L. Charles-Marcel
We are the grateful and somewhat frightened parents of our first baby. We would value your counsel on how we can ensure that our son enjoys the best possible health, and how to lay foundations for a healthy life.
Raising a child is an awesome responsibility! James Dobson popularized this by titling one of his books Parenting Isn’t for Cowards. Yet centuries before Dobson the Bible and inspired counsel not only highlighted this but also promised courage.
What is done during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood is significant in promoting lifetime health—involving total, not just physical, well-being. As concerned, loving parents who desire to be proactive, please note that habits influence health and that good health habits can be taught, but are better caught through modeling.
Your circumstances before and during pregnancy, even at childbirth, all influence your child’s health. Since you already have an infant, providing a physically, socially, and emotionally safe and secure environment is next. Psychosocial and physical nurture are important during infancy, so breastfeed your child, cuddle him and be close, play, avoid accidents, and handle him cheerfully and carefully. Well-baby checkups and medical preventive measures are part of the package, but your presence, love, correction, consistency, orderliness, and predictability should not be underestimated.
Age-appropriate affirmation and positive discipline and progressive responsibility favor well-being. Avoid anything that the child may perceive as disruptive of family harmony, neglectful, violent, or abusive, since their presence may increase the risk of future heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, hypertension, depression, smoking, alcohol and drug use, promiscuity, and suicide. They may even decrease scholastic performance and emotional intelligence throughout life.
The socioeconomic status of parents, their education, culture, social circle, and the child’s neighborhood and school characteristics also affect health. Whatever your circumstances and means, do the best you can to create an environment “rich” in hope, opportunity, wisdom, faith, and constant learning to help the family engage in healthful behaviors and avoid unhealthful ones.
Regular church attendance and maintaining a wholesome relationship with God positively influence physical health and well-being and may lessen the effects of negative factors. Regular, consistent, and appropriate parent-child, child-child, and group activities promote health. Show your child that he is loved and valued, set positive and high expectations of him, allow him opportunities to be heard and to participate in family matters. Encourage Christlike character building; these improve resilience.
We are counseled to learn the lessons of self-control, patience, forbearance, gentleness, and love to qualify ourselves to educate children properly; so, by God’s grace, acquire these. Be interested and involved in your child’s world (home, church, school, and play), and teach him survival skills and resourcefulness in making good choices. Practice optimism, hygiene, forgiveness, and compassion, and live a disciplined, honest, gentle life. Your child will follow suit.
Show that you value and respect elders, peers, and strangers, and that you appreciate beauty and simplicity. Be environmentally conscious as you enjoy the outdoors, and be involved in useful labor and physical and mental fitness. Continue to develop your talents, and be quick to serve others. Take time for adequate rest and appropriate social interaction. Provide and enjoy a wholesome plant-based diet; avoid overeating; and make clean, pure water your beverage of choice.
Your child is likely to follow your example. Show him the benefit of being temperate in all things, as this is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Live peaceably with everyone. Above all, show your delight in knowing and loving the One whom to know is life eternal, and live a life of faithful obedience to the One whom He sent.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.