As parents we know how tough it is when little ones are suffering from illness or discomfort, or when they don’t sleep well. Fortunately, there are some (rather unexpected) things you can do to boost your child’s health (and bonus… they are easy to do!).
I go into full force with my immune-boosting regime for the kids especially before back to school and cold and flu season time. The following isn’t a whole life overhaul, but just some super simple ways to boost your child’s health throughout the year (and you are probably already doing a lot of them, so… give yourself a pat on the back!).
1. Throw Some Salt in the Tub
Due to depleted soil and water levels, many people (including children) are magnesium deficient. Adding a handful of Epsom salts and a tablespoon or two of sea salt to their bath is a great way to gently boost a child’s magnesium levels, and it will also help them relax and wind down before bedtime (so they sleep better!).
Especially for kids with allergies, eczema, or asthma, this small step often makes a big difference. In some cases, these children may need additional supplementation as well. This article explains how to look for symptoms of low magnesium and why blood tests are not a good indicator.)
As a bonus, natural sea salt or Himalayan salt contain a lot of trace minerals and is soothing and naturally cleansing to the skin.
2. Ditch the Nightlight
Exposure to artificial lights has been linked to cancer and a host of other problems. Artificial light completely halts normal melatonin production and interrupts the sleep cycle. The time during sleep is vital for tissue repair and cell growth, and interrupting the delicate hormone cycle during sleep has lasting effects.
In fact, one night of lost sleep or interrupted sleep has been shown to give a healthy person the insulin levels of a pre-diabetic. Loss of sleep or bad sleep also interferes with the pituitary gland’s proper function and the leptin cycle, both which can have tremendous consequences on a growing child.
While lack of sleep or artificial light during sleep isn’t single-handedly causing the rise of childhood illnesses and obesity, it certainly isn’t helping either!
It’s relatively easy to modify kids’ bedrooms to avoid artificial light. Some steps are:
- Remove the night lights and all other devices that have blue, green, or red light at night (digital clocks, etc.)
- Use motion-activated regular light bulbs in the bathroom and hallway, etc.
- Hang blackout curtains if needed (if city lights aren’t a problem, leave natural curtains on their windows to let in the natural light of the moon and the sun as it comes up)
- Teach kids to turn off TV or computer after dinner time so their natural hormone cycles can start kicking in
I’ve personally noticed that the children sleep much better this way and are up much less to get water or use the bathroom. Here are some other tips for improving sleep quality.
3. Let Them Play Barefoot… in the Mud
In an age where we have the means to keep our kids clean and their feet protected by “safe” rubber soles, it’s hard to think that perhaps these methods might not always be in the best interests of our kids.
As counterintuitive as it might sound to us as parents (and as completely intuitive as it will sound to most kids) there are naturally occurring compounds in dirt that boost serotonin levels and will also contribute to healthy sleep. On top of that, by interacting with dirt, kids are naturally exposed to a host of natural bacteria and pathogens that actually help strengthen the immune system. There is even some evidence that regular playtime in the dirt helps keep kids from developing allergies and asthma.
Additionally, exposure to dirt can help babies’ natural iron and zinc production, even before they start solid foods.
On a separate note, one recent study found that “earthing,” or getting barefoot contact with the dirt, grass, or sand, can help rebalance our bodies’ electrons, leading to improved sleep and reduced pain.
4. Have Fun in the Sun
As I’ve said before (and here) we often shelter our kids from the sun and slather them with sunscreen to their own detriment.
From a previous post:
Wearing any sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D, which is vital for hundreds of reactions in the body (including cancer prevention).
Most sunscreens also contain toxic chemicals that can be more dangerous than moderate sun exposure. As I mentioned in a previous post:
Despite the push for more awareness about sun exposure, and the advice to use sunscreen whenever we go outside, incidence of skin cancer, especially melanoma, is rising dramatically.
In fact, skin cancer rates are rising by 4.2% annually, despite the fact that we spend less time outdoors and wear more sunscreen.
On top of that, kids especially have a need for enough Vitamin D, which is important for their immune function, proper hormone development and bone and muscle growth. Even a low SPF sunscreen blocks the body’s natural ability to produce Vitamin D and often exposes kids to a host of chemicals.
As long as your kids are eating a healthy diet that won’t pre-dispose them to inflammation and burning, healthy sun exposure is important! For the times you’ll be out longer than their sun tolerance allows, just cover them up with a hat and layers, or use a homemade natural sunscreen.
5. Let them Eat
Conventional wisdom says that we should limit our intake (and our children’s intake) of saturated fats and instead give them “healthy” fats like vegetable oil. As children as young as nine are getting heart disease, this seems direly important, except that the research doesn’t support it (and those kids probably aren’t sleeping in darkness, eating real food, and playing in the dirt…). Sadly, limiting saturated fats, especially in kids, is likely to do much more harm than good, as there isn’t even a proven link between these fats and heart disease and kids need them for proper growth!
Personally, I don’t let my kids consume any franken-fats like vegetable oils, margarine, etc. (or eat them myself!) because they are chemically created, oxidize quickly, and have no place in the human body! At the same time, I give them as much (healthy) saturated fat as they like (and eat it myself) in the forms of raw organic butter, coconut oil, grass-fed meat, etc.
While it is important to get saturated fats from healthy sources, these fats are not the enemy, and we need them for proper body function. They also are great at keeping kids satisfied after meals, improving hormone levels and for supporting brain and bone health.
Here is one of my kids’ favorite recipes and they are loaded with healthy fats: Chocolate Coconut Clusters. You can also just let them snack on wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, and hard boiled eggs to boost healthy fat levels.
6. Make Some Real Soup
Another highly beneficial food that has almost completely disappeared in modern diets is quality homemade soup with real broth and stock.
There’s a reason that chicken soup is the common food during illness… our mothers and grandmothers knew something that many of us have forgotten. Broth contains tons of minerals in easy to assimilate form, and are wonderful for immune health, skin, bone and muscle growth! Real broth (i.e. not the stuff in the BPA lined can or carton) is also very simple and inexpensive to make and there tons of different variations!
Broth can be consumed on its own as a liquid (especially wonderful during illness) or as the base for soups, stews, casseroles or other foods. Broth also contains high amounts of gelatin, which is great for muscle growth, skin health and brain development, and which is one of the supplements/foods I take every day. Gelatin is a precursor for collagen production and is especially helpful for those with skin issues or thinning hair. It balances out the high amounts of muscle meats that most of us consume and gives the immune system a boost.
Most kids naturally like homemade soups and stews, and when cooked soft enough, these are also great first foods for baby, especially since babies are naturally born with a leaky gut, which allows some particles and antibodies to transfer through the gut lining and help develop their immune systems. The gelatin in homemade broth helps naturally close the gut and prevent food sensitivities.
7. Balance Their Gut Bacteria
Babies are born with a sterile gut and (hopefully) pick up some beneficial gut bacteria from mom during the birthing process which allows them to begin culturing the billions of gut bacteria that make up the micro-system of their intestines.
Unfortunately, being born via c-section (or vaginally to a mom with less than ideal gut bacteria), taking antibiotics during childhood, or a poor diet during the early years can put little ones at a disadvantage when it comes to good bugs in their bellies.
Even though (all but one of) my kids were born naturally and I took steps to make sure my gut bacteria was optimal, quality probiotics are one of the supplements that my kids get every day. As healthy gut bacteria has been linked to stronger immune function, better digestion, and fewer allergies, it is one thing I’m not willing to skimp on.
My kids also consume lots of probiotic lemonade, water kefir “soda”, kombucha “soda” and fermented foods to help naturally boost gut bacteria (no constipation around here… TMI?).
I’ve also seen probiotics (along with Gelatin- see step 6) greatly improve eczema and allergies in several children.
8. Stop Pouring Chemicals On Them
There’s been a lot of press lately about cancer causing chemicals found in baby products, but this problem isn’t limited to baby lotion!
Many products that we use on our kids from sunscreen to bug spray to shampoo, to bubble bath, to toothpaste have harmful chemicals that can be easily avoided by using natural options. To get you started, here are recipes for:
- Remineralizing Toothpaste
- Homemade Lotion
- Homemade Lotion Bars
- Homemade Shampoo
- Homemade Sunscreen
- Homemade Bug Spray
- Natural Laundry Stain Treatment
- Laundry Detergent
- Natural Vapor-Rub for Cough and Colds
- Natural Deodorant
9. Let Them Eat Peanuts
With food allergies on the rise, prevention is much needed. Contrary to what doctors have told us for years, several newer landmark studies on childhood food allergy prevention support giving allergenic foods to kids sooner rather than later. In fact, these studies show positive results from introduction as early as 4 months!
Studies suggest that there is a specific window starting at 4 months during which an infant’s immune systems can develop either a positive or negative response to food proteins. (Read the American Academy of Pediatrics take on it here.)
If giving a peanut butter sandwich to your 4-month-old sounds a little weird, I’m with you. I did come across a fantastic new product that solves this problem. It’s called Ready, Set, Food! and it is an organic, non-GMO product that makes introducing allergenic foods like peanut, egg, and milk much easier. They’re backed by some of the best experts in this field and I wish this was around when I was feeding my babies. There are a lot of helpful parent-friendly resources here so you can share with your doctor and discuss what’s right for your family.
10. Get a Move On It
Kids have a natural tendency to move and get the right kind of exercise, and sometimes we ruin this natural drive by putting them in organized sports too early (my opinion anyway).
Most kids naturally love to sprint, do pull-ups (monkey-bars), climb things, and lift heavy things. They don’t necessarily need sports or exercise regimens to do the types of movement that naturally develops their muscles. Give them access to trees, monkey bars, ropes to climb, and heavy things to play with, and they will develop great muscle tone!
Personally, our backyard is “cluttered” with a treehouse with climbing wall, trampoline, mud pit, jungle gym, climbing ladder and rope, big containers that can be filled with dirt or sand for moving, and a huge sandbox.
So, I realize that I suggested that you let your kids get dirty while barefoot… in the sun… and feed them lots of fat… and even take away their comforting night light. Many of these things might be counter intuitive or counter cultural, but I’m confident they’ll contribute to good health for your little ones.
Learn more about how to optimize your child’s health from Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz on Medical Decision Making & Being an Informed Patient.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you already do any of these things? Think I’m crazy for suggesting them? Weigh in below!
Discussion (124 Comments)
Thank you Katie for a FANTASTIC article!
All these seem like sensible, normal parenting to me. To realise they may well be counter culture today is just too sad:(
Those were all things I am familar with, but it was so nice to see it all in one place. I think will be really helpful to a lot of people. However, I think we’d have a serious problem at our house if I tried to take away the night lights. They were okay with losing the grains, but the lights? Not so much. They’re a strange kind of people, my people.
PS. I also love that our fair skin family doesn’t need sunscreen now like we did when we ate grains. It’s an amazing feeling to not be worried that in 10 minutes we’re all gonna fry. 🙂
I’m proud to say we are on the right track on everything except the night light. My 4yo is so afraid of the dark she sleeps with a small lamp on in her room. Do you have any suggestions for breaking that habit? We never started the night light thing with my 2yo and I am so happy about it!
Whenever we’ve had to make changes like this, we just announce to the kids in a matter-of-fact way and then don’t give on it. We had one that was afraid of the dark, and I realized later that in our case, our constant re-assurance and providing nighttime light was reinforcing his idea that there was something to be afraid of. We simply said “You are four now, which means we can’t put a night light in your room anymore because it isn’t good for your health. It’s fine if you are still scared of the dark, but we aren’t going to turn your light on and you aren’t going to be allowed to come out of your room just because you are afraid of the dark. Do you have any questions?” Surprisingly, it only took a couple of days for him to adjust, but I’m not sure if it would work with every child, or just with his type personality. Good luck with it!
It won’t work with every child, until they are ready. The high anxiety level this approach would provoke for some children can be highly detrimental to their physical & mental health.
I’m so glad someone gets this. I hope you’re willing to pay for your child’s therapy bills later on in life.
Pam said “some”. My kids were not upset by the darkness and participated in the switch we made, which we did over a period of time, working them up so that it would not be a shock. I talk more about it in this article here: https://wellnessmama.com/13010/kids-night-light/. I’m certainly not going to scar my kids mentally over it.
I agree that this won’t work with every child. I always let me kids come into my room if they are scared. I just let them lay on a blanket next to my bed. And why not? I’d rather have a secure child sans nightlight (in my room) then have a scared child sleeping alone in the dark or with a nightlight.
Such a timely post! we have been foster parents for 3 months to a 3yo and 4yo. Unfortunately, they go to a pediatric daycare that feeds them SAD junk for breakfast and lunch. We don’t have a choice in the matter. But, they only get healthy food for dinners and on weekends and I give them the supplements you suggest for kids. I send them outside to play in the sunshine and dirt almost every day. And they haven’t been sick since we’ve had them. From what i gather from others, most kids get sick a lot. So i’m assuming its the healthy fats, plenteous proteins, vegetables and fruit and the cod liver oil that i give them daily. P.S. we had your smothered pork chops for dinner last night—so delicious! Oh, and I’ve got pumpkin cheesecake (your recipe) in the oven right now! 🙂
oh, what are your thoughts on giving kids melatonin?
That’s wonderful! How blessed they are to have such great foster parents!!! Unless suggested by a doc, I typically shy away from giving the kids any type of hormones since their bodies are almost always able to get back to the point of making them if given the correct nutritional foundation.
Great article, thanks! Just a comment on the melatonin. Tart cherry is a great source of natural melatonin that we use all the time with great results – it usually comes in the form of a concentrate (with no added anythings) which you dilute with water to make up – or dried in capsules – but these are usually better for adults as children often can’t swallow the caps (though mine like the powder straight off a spoon). So this is a completely natural source of melatonin and definitely helps to regulate sleep cycles. I also hear it helps prevent/treat gout 🙂
I’m a foster parent to a three month old little girl and I am dealing with the same thing! I have to give my baby commercial formula, which kills me. I did get a court order to supplement with breast milk, so that helps, but at $4 an ounce, I can only do so much. @wellnessmama Can you give my some guidelines on probiotics/supplements for infants who are formula fed? Bear in mind, I have to get permission for everything I give her, but arming myself with good info will help.
Bio Kult has a baby probiotic brand that is well-established… perhaps they’d be ok with giving her that?
I love this post – great ideas! I’m curious how you handle a few things. Do you have a suggestion for clocks; I need an alarm clock so my husband can get to work but I agree about the irritating light? Yet I haven’t seen any non-glowing clocks. Second, did you co-sleep with the baby and how did you handle nighttime feedings and/or just wanting a nightlight on to see the baby? Third, my kids run barefoot but I worry about pinworms. Any thoughts on the parasite issue? Your blog is a great resource; thanks for your work!
Great questions… I found an old school alarm clock at target for $10- it even has the bells on the top! There are also ones that only light up if you tap the button, but they are more expensive. I usually co-sleep with the baby, so I don’t even wake up when she nurses, but when she sleeps in her own bed, my hubby gets up and gets her and brings her to me to nurse and the hallway lights come on for him to see that. As far as pinworms… diatomaceous earth takes care of them in a couple of weeks, so I’ve never worried about it too much, and I occasionally give the kids a dose of diatomaceous earth anyway to get any eggs they might pick up…
I had never heard about the diatomaceous earth before! Thanks for the tips!
What dosage of DE do you give your kids? I have a 9 and 4 year old. Also, what are good ways to get them to eat it?
Yes, I would love to know dosages as well. I bought DE but haven’t started using yet. Please share dosages for different ages, including adults. I have a5 month old, who I probably wouldn’t dose yet, and a 4 year old.
I also need to know recommended dosages for a 3, 5, 7 years old’s…Been doing 1/4 tsp…doesn’t seem like enough. On the verge of getting pin x….
Did you ever get an answer for the 5 month old? We have a 5 month old who I think may have them… 🙁 Her 4 year old sister got them from preschool or somewhere and so we treated her anomy husband and with the prescribed medicine but would rather use DE on the baby if she has them… 🙁 thanks! 🙂
My 2 year old picked up either roundworms or pinworms and I was wondering if it safe to give someone so little DE? If it is, how much?
My friend hates any light while sleeping and just turns her digital clock on its face. It works great!
Awesome!! We try to do all of these here! I didn’t think about organized sports confining and not great but maybe I’ll think twice about it. I shared this on my fb!
Great post! All of those things are in-progress or on my to-do list. Thanks for the motivation 🙂
Okay, so I’d love to see photos of your backyard. Would you share, please?
Yep… I’ve actually got a virtual tour of my house/day in the life post in the works… just been hesitant to publish b/c not sure anyone would be interested…
I sure would!
If you do, please include where you bought/how you built items as much as possible. 🙂
Can you recommend a way to detox my little one after she’s received her vaccines. Im concerned about the poisons in the shots that are injected into her bloodstream.Thank you for helping my family and I lead a healthy lifestyle!
Hi Sahar ! Well ,Most of the time shots do more bad than good. My cousin has autism due to vaccines and lead paint… If you have control over what shots your kids get, do whatever you can to get rid of as many as you can!!! My baby brother and sister have never had shots in there lives, and they a of the healthiest kids ive seen! So, only give your kids the necessary shots. But, if the deed is done lay bath will do the trick! Check out gutsy for details.
That’s great advice! Thank you so much! 🙂
What’s a “Lay Bath”? And where is the Gutsy article?
Ooops, I meant clay bath…haha ! Look it up, just, ‘clay bath’. It will say caroline lunger on the site info…. or just look up gutsy. Enjoy!
Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid shots that are usually required by law for a child to enter school? I hate that we have laws forcing us to poison our children…
My youngest son got chicken pox from a child who wasn’t vaccinated. It was very dangerous for him. I spent a week terrified, watching him like a hawk. Even more terrifying, his finger and toenails fell off. Did you know that is a rare side effect of chicken pox? All because someone didn’t trust the vaccination. I did research into vaccinations, and though there are risks, there is NO EVIDENCE to support a link between vaccines and autism. I get why people think that. My oldest son started showing telltale signs at about 15 months, which lined up with his vaccination schedule. However, looking back I could remember behaviors that should’ve sent up little red flags. Telling people that vaccines are poisonous and cause autism is immoral in my opinion, unless those claims can be backed up. It also puts kids like mine, who have medical conditions that can make something as seemingly simple as chicken pox a horrifying experience, at risk. I know my child isn’t your problem, and I don’t expect you to change your opinion to protect him, but I beg you to do some real research. Find unbiased information. Make an educated decision for your own child. And please PLEASE, don’t try to scare other people into seeing things your way.
I’ve Hurd chlorella & cilantro are great for detoxing out the heavy metals from the vaccine. The trick is getting your little one to take it. My only thought is to hide it in a berry smoothy.
I was reading this and thought, I sure would love to see that backyard!!
Yes! Please do! 🙂
Lol me too would loce to see the backyard as my patio has started to become a jungle gym and I want lots of cool thinngs in the yard too.