If you have children, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise them, stressing over times when they fail, celebrating their good deeds and generally wondering if you’re doing everything you can to give them the best life possible. After all, that’s the essential job of being a parent, right?
We want our children to be able to handle not only the childhood years, the sometimes dicey teen years, but also the big bad real world adult years, where the shit can really hit the fan and the amount of stressors and responsibilities increase exponentially.
I’ve never heard anyone say they want their child to be a loner, be emotionally fragile, or be susceptible to diseases and die early. We want them to not just survive, but thrive. That’s what being antifragile is all about.
Smokey was fragile. Don’t be him.
The Antifragile Pyramid — For Kids
I developed a concept of what I call the Antifragile Pyramid for kids. Follow these steps and you’ll raise a superman or superwoman.
Proper Nutrition. I think it all really has to start here. As we’ve all heard before, you literally are what you eat. If a child’s brain chemistry if off, if their hormones are out of whack, if they have weak bones, if their blood sugar is sky high all the time and they don’t feel like moving and they are already pre-diabetic, what chance do they have? How will they ever be able to succeed at school, socialize with their peers and have at least normal self-esteem? The answers is, they simply cannot. There are entire books written on diet and nutrition, but here are the basics. The more you can do of these, the better. No one will be perfect… that’s not the goal. I find that the more I’m just aware of these facts and try to integrate them within reason, the happier and healthier my own kids seem.
- High amount of fat — especially the “good fats” high in omega-3’s.
- Get omega-3 vitamins
- If your child drinks lots of milk, like my 3 year old still does, buy full-fat whole milk with extra omega-3 oils added
- Buy grass fed beef whenever possible
- Eat fish such as salmon and trout
- Eat moreuts and seeds
- Vegetables and fruit
- No need to worry about whether this fruit or that fruit has higher sugar content. Most cutting edge experts agree, if it’s a real food, it’s almost always good for you
- Greatly reduce processed foods, meaning almost anything with a label.
- Try to cook at home as much as possible with real ingredients
- Try to cut out almost all fast food
- Low(er) sugar.
- Take steps to reduce the sugar they take in. I know first-hand… this is hard because kids love sweets, but all the experts agree now: too much sugar is toxic to the body. You’ve got to reduce where you can.
That’s it. The more high-fat, highly nutritious meals they eat, the less they will crave the sugar and processed carbs. Again, you don’t need to be perfect, just get more good stuff in them, however you can.
Love. If you just get the first two, it may be enough. Children who feel loved know that you have their back and can face the world without fear of failure. Studies show that children who feel loved are physically healthier, mentally healthier, have increased brain function, and are less fearful — just to name a few.
Keep them moving. 50 years ago or so, childhood obesity was almost non-existent — somewhere around 4%. Now, almost one in five children is obese! It’s crazy… but of course the adults haven’t fared any better. Video games, TV, computers, and bad nutrition are combining to create an army of kid-sloths. When you’re fat as a kid, you don’t feel good about yourself, which only alienates you even more; you’re head is foggy, so you can’t concentrate as well on your homework; and when you do play outside or play sports you don’t do as well, and again, get tired earlier, which makes you want to quit playing. It’s a vicious cycle.
We’ve covered the nutrition part, but it’s critical to keep them active as well. Team sports is one answer, but that’s only an obvious one. And some kids don’t like them, plus you have to deal with the parents and the increasing corporate-aggressive nature of youth sports today. So If that’s not your thing, here are some other ideas to keep them burning calories, keep their brains active and bring the joy of movement into their lives:
- Unstructured play. Often times the best kind of activity is just plain-old having fun. Playing Tag, Kick The Can, or any other invented game where there’s a lot of running around and your kid is sweating like a pig. Awesome!
- Family Hikes. Getting outside and interacting with nature is very beneficial. Plus hiking on uneven surfaces as well as some elevation changes give your body and mind just right amount of variability.
- Family Bike Rides. Same as above. Biking can be a great way to explore if a hiking trail isn’t available or you just feel like going faster! Nothing more exhilarating than letting gravity pull you down hill after a nice hard bike uphill.
- Swimming. Works your whole body and is fun. Even better is open water swimming and/or splashing, running, surfing in an ocean (or one of the Great Lakes) with nice wave action. What kid doesn’t love playing in waves?
- Sledding/snow sports. If you’re locked down for the winter under bunch of ice and snow, another activity that kids love is sledding ( or almost any kind of snow play). It takes a lot of work to haul the sleds up hill each time (and your kids sleds), but screaming with joy for 5-10 seconds on the down hill is totally worth it.
- Playing in the house. Sometimes you just don’t want or can’t go outside, –especially in the winter — so you have to get creative. Do whatever it takes: run circles around the house, wrestle on the bed, play imagination games. Anything that gets your heart pumping and is random and fun.
Socialization. The next step in the pyramid is getting kids interacting with others their age and allowing them to try and solve problems amongst themselves. Success in life is often a direct result of who can communicate best with others. How often do you see the guy in high school who barely graduated become a millionaire by 35 because he could sell cars better than anyone or owns a chain of restaurants. If you child is very shy, this is probably even more important.
- Have Play Dates. From as early an age as possible, they need to see other children, learn to share, develop bonds with others their age, and have a couple kids that they can call their “friends”.
- Daycare/Preschool. I think daycare gets a bad rap sometimes; the thinking is that kids get pick up a lot of illnesses and they are away from mom and dad for a long period of time. While these two things can be true they don’t always have to be bad. Yes, they are exposed to germs from lots of other kids there and probably get sick more often. I say, good! I’d rather have them be exposed early and often in small doses than live in a sterile house for 5 years and then bam, they get really sick and possibly develop greater allergies. It’s also true that they are away from the their parents, but as long as this not 10 hours a day for 5 days a week, I think it’s probably a good thing. Each kid is different of course, so you have to adjust to your child’s personality, but the theory is a sound one in general.
- School. There is a huge variability in schools in this country, but in general, I favor kids going to an actual school vs. home schooling. Ideally it would be one with a variety of options, from theater to music to sports programs. It should be diverse, but not unsafe.
Get them involved. After good nutrition, love, exercise, and socializing with others, you’re already gone a long way toward having a child with great self-esteem and one who is as antifragile as possible, and ready to face whatever the future brings; but one of the last pieces of the puzzle is to help them find something they are good at.
When a child is able to excel at something or even just participate on a team they gain self-esteem, learn the value of teamwork, feel a sense of inclusion, and get exposure to a diverse range of interests. Whether your child is in the Lego club, girl scouts, cub scouts, karate, a basketball team, the orchestra, the drama club, or the debate team, they can gain all of the benefits described above.
Self-esteem. If you have got this far on the pyramid, you should have child who is self confident and takes pleasure in engaging with life. As the website askdrsears.com says, “self-esteem is the passport to a lifetime of mental health and social happiness”. I couldn’t agree more. Having self confidence and a belief in yourself, will mentally prepare you for whatever life can throw your way.
The more stressful events a child overcomes, the more confidence he/she gains that they will be able to handle the next one. In essence, they become more antifragile.
A few tips for increasing self-esteem in children:
- No belittling or bullying
- Let them win
- Play with them — especially games the ylike
- Be present
- Give them responsibility
- Reward them and recognize them for jobs well-done.
See the askdrsears.com site for more ideas and explanation about self-esteem in children.
Well, if you’ve got this far, congratulations. You will have raised a child that has a healthy immune system: is physically fit, including having strong bones, muscles, and heart; has friends and family to fall back on in times of need,; is curious, skillful, and learned about the world; and has the confidence to navigate the rest of the way.