After I published my book Mama Doc Medicine, I toyed around with the idea of writing tiny little books inspired by a favorite short story publication, One Story. Literally I was thinking that the way to consume ideas about parenthood was not in book form but in pamphlet-sized publications on parenthood, vaccines, & general tips for feeling awesome while raising children. I haven’t entirely tanked the idea (please weigh in if you think you’d read them!) but it’s not at the top of my to-do list. That being said, I realized after publishing years of blogs and a whole book of stories about my boys and science and parenting and the general overwhelm we all feel, that I could have perhaps just published five tips in five pamphlets! Sure would have saved time…

Thing is, in my opinion, if you do these five things, you’re wildly decreasing the likelihood of death for your child and pretty much preforming at the top 99%, parenthood-wise. All the rest is gravy. As a mom and pediatrician, I think if you do these things well you should feel like a ROCK STAR. The rest of what we all read about is a smattering of parenting “style” advice. There will continue to be books on grit and food selection and poop and sleep forever. And reading up on new ideas and new data can be great ways to bolster our confidence. But really, I’m saying, do these 5 things out of love and with ongoing daily respect for who your child is as an individual, and I think you’ll be a master.

This is the cousin to my recent “5 Things To Stop Worrying About” blog. In my mind, there are five non-negotiable pediatric parenting must-dos. If you can make these things a top priority, you’re pretty much nailing it. Congrats. Check this off on your life list as an awesome new start to spring. Listen to the podcast, please but little notes about it are below, too. Love up your children and love up yourself for doing all of this so well!

1. Move Outside, Every Single Day

  • Go outside and get your children outside and move every single day — be without a ceiling. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends getting 45 to 60 minutes of activity on as many days as possible, even if it is broken up into 15-minute segments. This doesn’t have to be making sure you’re a slave to the gym. Walk to school here and there, bike around the block with your children, go sledding or play whiffle ball at the beach. Play in the backyard or get a pogo stick…just get outside.
  • Know that not all of this outside movement has to be on your watch! Check in with your child’s daycare, preschool, and school providers on how they are helping. Preschoolers spend 70 to 80% of their time sedentary when at child care. The Center for Public Education found that nationwide the average amount of time in recess in 2006 was 24 to 30 minutes. So kids aren’t necessarily getting what they need physically during a typical school day — but they are getting some!

2. Get Children Their Vaccines On Time

  • Simply put there isn’t a more powerful way to protect against illness and death than getting children their vaccinations. And not a single research study finds a delayed or spaced-out vaccination schedule is safer. Keep your children up-to-date & on-time with their immunizations. We know that 9 of 10 parents are following the recommended schedule, so most of us are already checking this off the list!
  • In addition to standard vaccines, get your entire family a flu shot every year. The flu vaccine is an every-year, essential vaccine recommended to all babies and children age 6 months and older.
  • Speak up and ask about immunization rates at your children’s schools and child care centers. Help make sure you’re sending your child to a school that won’t expose them to preventable diseases.

 3. Prioritize Family Sleep, Not Just Kid Sleep

  • Prioritize sleep for your children and your entire family (including yourself). No question that we do a better job getting our children the rest they need but family sleep is the ultimate key to a lifetime of benefit here.
  • Sleeping the number of recommended hours on a regular basis is associated with better health outcomes including: improved attention, behavior, earning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.
  • Children who consistently don’t get recommended sleep accumulate sleep deficiencies into an earnest sleep DEBT. That sleep debt has consequences like decreased attention, increased risk for challenges with weight, dangerous driving, bad mood, injuries, hypertension, diabetes and decreased performance at school.
  • Sleep matters for teens, too: In teens, insufficient sleep is associated with increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm.
  • The AAP suggests that all screens be turned off somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 to 2 hours before bedtime so as not to interfere with falling asleep.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Consistency here may be the secret sauce in parenthood.

4. Car Seats

  • 2 is the new 1. Keep your baby rear facing until they are at least 2 years of age. Keep them in a booster seat until they are 4 foot 9 inches tall.
  • Your baby is 5 times safer and 75% less likely to die or have serious injury if rear facing, when between age 1 and 2 years of age. Don’t turn them forward early!!!
  • A 2014 AAP study found that 93% of parents to newborns incorrectly positioned and buckled their infants into their car seat on their first trip home. Get your car seat checked before you head to the hospital. You’ll feel like a rock star.
  • The middle back seat is the safest place in the car for a car seat if you have that choice.

5. Nutrition

  • Try to ensure your child’s plate is comprised of 50% fruits and veggies. Your job is what is offered, if you offer awesome fresh food half of the time you’re doing A WHOLE LOT RIGHT!
  • Nearly 80% of kids between 1 and 3 exceed 1500 mg/day sodium intake. So watch the salt as salt-love is acquired. Like creating a sweet-tooth, we can also create salt-lovers in our young children. Packaged foods are typically the villains for the salt in our diet (crackers, snacks, soups, pre-made meals).
  • I love the Ellyn Satter Institute as a resource for healthy eating and nutrition. She’s the genius who coined the “division of responsibility” — basically a parent’s job is to provide the food, the child’s job is to chose what to eat and how much of it to eat.
  • The AAP also has a simple 5-Step Approach:
    • Choose food from the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, and quality protein sources, including lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs.
    • Offer a variety of food experiences.
    • Avoid highly processed foods.
    • Small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils are okay! Use them with nutritious foods to enhance the eating experience.
    • Offer appropriate portions. Grazing is okay! For toddlers, plan on serving mini meals throughout the day, instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner.