Over time, we have become a nation focused on health. We now refer to most of the choices we make as healthy or unhealthy. We talk about the health of the economy, our school systems, and our relationships. As a parent, your top priority is likely how to raise a healthy child. How often do we hear expectant mothers say they don't prefer one gender over another "as long as the baby is healthy." These tips offer ways to raise a physically, emotionally, and academically healthy child, from any age.

PHSYICAL HEALTH

Schools across the country are creating and enforcing stricter standards for food served during school hours. This includes food brought into the building by staff and parents, specifically for holiday or birthday parties. One parent, Terese Guerriero of Morris County, New Jersey, calls it "the death of the home-baked cupcake." Guerriero expresses frustration at not being able to bring in a special treat for her children's birthdays and says her family has healthy routines that involve enjoying a treat on occasion. She also cites financial concerns for some families, saying that her children's school district only allows items that are brought in their original packaging, including fruit. Since it is more expensive to buy prepared fruit platters than to make your own, this presents a dilemma for some families. Enjoying a birthday cupcake probably wouldn't be a big deal these days if children were enjoying healthy food and exercising as a part of their daily routine. Here are some ways to get your child on that path.

Turn off the TV

Allot each of your children a specific amount of time they are permitted to watch TV each day. For older children, you could give a weekly amount and give them the freedom to use the hours as they wish, but keep in mind that may be harder to enforce.

10 Minute Workouts

Each day, spend 10 minutes engaging in some physical activity. It could be walking the dog, utilizing an exercise DVD, or shooting some hoops. Do something and do it everyday.

Carrots Not Cookies

Introduce healthy foods at an early age and show your children how delicious these foods can be. For children who are picky eaters, look for recipes that "hide" fruits and vegetables by using purees as an ingredient.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Your child's emotional health consists of learning to trust others, feeling safe, and being confident. Being emotionally and physically present for your child is the way to establish these feelings. These are some tips for beginning to develop your child's emotional health.

Dinner Time = Talk Time

Connecting with your child daily is the most important step to creating a sense of safety and security. Find time every day to be physically and emotionally close to your child. You can discuss the days events, headlines in the news, or upcoming family events. The most important thing is not what you are talking about, but rather the fact that you are talking each day.

If you practice a religion, practice the religion

Practicing a religion or faith means actively engaging your child in discussions and rituals associated with your beliefs. If you have a belief that is important to you, share it with your child in an open and honest way so they can understand your values and feel connected.

Acknowledge Their Feelings

There is a stigma in some cultures or households regarding showing emotion. This can often lead to confusion, frustration, and even depression as children learn to bottle their feelings instead of talking about them. Let your child know that it is OK to feel sad, nervous, or angry and give them ways to express these emotions appropriately.

ACADEMIC HEALTH

The focus on your child's academics should be "Is she making steady progress?" not "Is she getting straight A's?" This isn't to say you shouldn't challenge your child to do her best, but focusing on the product as opposed to the process can be counter-productive. Start with these ideas for fostering a healthy academic experience.

Say "I don't know"

There will inevitably be times when your child will ask for help with his homework and you won't have the answer. Showing your child how to find answers can be more important than having the answer. Problem solving is a skill that will benefit your child in all areas of school work and social situations.

Establish a Positive Relationship With the Teacher

Communicate to your child's teacher that you are looking forward to a productive year as you work together to strengthen your child's skills and academic growth. Showing your children that you are on board with their school work reinforces the importance of it. Also, remember to say only positive things about your child's teacher in front of him. Save the negative comments for your spouse as your child will likely relay them back to the teacher and damage your relationship.

Ask the Teacher for Homework

Check in with your child's teacher about once a month and ask what you can work on at home. Your teacher will be happy to give you topics or skills to reinforce at home and may be able to give you examples of how to do so. Making education a part of your daily routine shows your children that learning is fun and important to you.

If you have young children, the key is to remember that you can establish healthy routines from the get go and your children will jump on board without a fight. They won't miss the soda and chips if they never had them. If reinforcing academic skills while chatting at the dinner table is the norm, they will be willing participants. If you have older children and are looking to change your family's ways, remember to model what you expect of your children. Have a family meeting to discuss the changes that will be coming to the cupboard and stick with your decision to live a healthier life.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit www.jennifercerbasi.com