Pre-K physical health tips: Here's how to help your child

Here's how to help develop your preschooler's physical health.

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By Aisha Labi

Want to support your preschooler's physical health? Here are some tips that experts suggest.

Physical activity

Fun physical activity

Most pre-kindergartners get enough physical activity from simply doing the things they enjoy most, such as playing, running around, and dancing to music. If you are concerned that your child is not active enough, seek out ways to make physical activity more fun. Children love playing with other kids, so invite a friend for a playdate at home or at the local playground. Or get into the action yourself, by kicking a ball or playing catch with your child.

Walk distances

Encourage your child to walk distances and not to rely too much on being carried or even using a stroller. Try to set good examples of active behavior for your child, for example by opting to use the stairs and walking as much as possible.

Play outside

Try to make sure that your child has plenty of opportunities to play outside. Take advantage of local parks and playgrounds as much as possible. Outdoor play allows children to participate in a variety of healthy physical activities and also offers valuable non-physical benefits. It can foster cognitive and emotional development, by encouraging children to test their limits and explore unfamiliar pieces of equipment. Interacting with other children at parks and playgrounds also helps develop important social skills.

Model active behavior

Model active behavior for your child. Try to organize family activities around being active so that your child understands that being active is fun.

Emphasize safety

Emphasize safety to your child. Teach them to be vigilant when crossing the street and to play safely around cars. Show them how important it is to play safely with other children and on playground equipment, for example by avoiding falling on their neck and head.

Hygiene

Good habits

At 4 or 5, your child is still young enough that you need to take primary responsibility for their personal hygiene. However, it's important for your child to start developing the good hygiene habits that will help them stay clean and healthy.

Bath time

Your child still needs help in the bath or shower, but it’s not too early to teach them how to clean themselves effectively and which parts of their body to focus on during bath time.

Hygiene

Your child should be able to use the toilet on their own. Make certain that your child knows how to wipe themselves effectively and emphasize how important it is that your child does so. Young girls especially can be prone to infections if they do not wipe well after urinating.

Washing hands

Make sure that your child understands the importance of washing hands and the connection between cleanliness and staying healthy. Don't rely too much on hand sanitizers and instead make sure your child knows how to wash their hands well with soap and water. Teach them to wash their hands for about 15 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing the ABC song fairly quickly. Teach your child to wash hands:

  • after using the bathroom
  • before eating
  • before and after handling or preparing food
  • after coming in from outside
  • after blowing their nose or sneezing into their hand
  • before and after visiting sick friends or relative
  • before touching very young babies
  • after touching cats, dogs, and other animals
  • after touching garbage

Sneezing and coughing

Teach your child to sneeze or cough, not into their hand, but into the crook of their arm.

Bad habits

Teach your child not to pick their nose or bite their nails.

Understanding good health

Make sure your child understands the connection between good hygiene and good health. Explain the importance of not sharing drinking containers and straws, for example, with other kids at school.

Oral hygiene

Dentist

If you haven’t already started, this is a good time for you to begin taking your child to the dentist for regular checkups, just as your child sees a pediatrician regularly. Discuss your child’s oral hygiene with their dentist and ask about measures such as dental sealants, which protect your child’s teeth against cavities and decay.

Brushing teeth

Teach your child to brush their teeth at least twice a day: when your child wakes up, before your child goes to bed and, if possible, after eating.

Examine teeth

Although your child should be able to brush their teeth on their own by now, your child will still need help to make sure that their teeth are thoroughly cleaned. Parents should continue to be responsible for overseeing brushing before bedtime to ensure that teeth are cleaned thoroughly.

Flossing

If your child's teeth are close enough together for food to get caught between them, then your child should be flossing regularly. Your child will need help holding and manipulating the floss as their manual dexterity develops, but it is important for them to develop the habit.

Tooth injuries

See a dentist immediately if your child injures a tooth. Dental injuries are common among children through age 14, affecting 1 in 14, and if left untreated can result in severe complications.

Good teeth habits

Although your child probably still has most or all of their baby teeth, developing good dental hygiene habits as early as possible will help determine the health of your child's adult teeth when they come in. If your child loses baby teeth early to tooth decay, for example, then their adult teeth can grow in prematurely and misaligned because there is not enough room in their mouth.

Fluoride

Find out if the water where you live has added fluoride and, if it does not, ask your dentist about strategies for protecting your child's teeth. Use a fluoride toothpaste but only in small, pea-sized amounts.

Nutrition

Sugar

Limit your child's consumption of sugary or sticky foods, which are the main culprits in tooth decay. Gummy, sticky, or chewy snacks, even if nutritious, can be detrimental for the teeth. Serve a limited amount of food at snack time and limit grazing, which can allow harmful build-up on the teeth. Teach your child to use their tongue to clean off their teeth immediately after they have eaten foods that stick to their teeth.

Juice

Limit juice consumption to mealtimes and dilute sweet juices with water to cut down on their sugar content.

Soft drinks and sodas

Avoid or severely restrict consumption of soft drinks and sodas.

To learn more, check out our pre-K physical activity recommendations and physical development pages.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates and Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.