By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

When we think of New Year’s resolutions, we’re more likely to think of how soon we’ll break them than to imagine we’ll keep them throughout the year. In fact, we hardly hear of such resolutions for more than a week at the turn of the year.

But we want to offer some resolutions for 2007 that parents need to think seriously about keeping, because families who adopt these habits over the course of many weeks will improve overall physical, social, emotional and mental health of the whole family.

Resolve to:

· Agree on sensible sleep practices for the family. Remember to place babies on their backs to sleep to lessen the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Older kids, adolescents and even parents will find that the family’s emotional weather will be less stormy when everyone gets a good night’s sleep. School and work performance will improve when tasks are approached with a rested mind.

· Teach children about the value of hand washing before eating or preparing food, when suffering from a cold, and after going to the bathroom. Don’t forget to have kids wash hands upon leaving the doctor’s office or daycare centers, which see lots of kids with colds who leave their germs behind.

· Encourage kids to brush and floss teeth to prevent cavities and gum disease. The worst dental damage occurs later in life, when teeth rot from decay and gums and bone lose their grip on a tooth. While not everyone can afford expensive dental reconstructive care, we can all afford dental floss, a brush and toothpaste.

· Make your home a healthy environment for kids. Make it smoke-free. Keep household poisons and chemicals in a securely locked cabinet, and invest in a gun locker to safeguard firearms.

· Protect kids against sun damage with a lotion containing sun protection of 15 or greater. Protect eyes with brimmed hats and sunglasses with ultraviolet protection. Cancers and retinal damage in later life can almost always be traced to sun abuses in childhood.

· Practice safe driving habits. Always buckle up when driving. Keep children less than 14 years of age in the back seat, and in a car seat or booster appropriate to age and weight.

· Practice helmet safety. Statistics from accidents clearly show that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of brain injury to cyclists of all ages by 88 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that infants less than 12 months of age have necks too weak to ride in bicycle seats or be carried on bicycles in backpacks or frontpacks.

Above all, resolve not to be a parent who says “Do as I say. Don’t do as I do.” Children adopt adult behaviors long before they learn to make reasonable decisions. Much of good parenting is learning to lead by following the best advice you can give your children.
 

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.