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Healthy Habits That Begin at Home

Ways to chill, and stay safe

2. Chill out!
Your child needs downtime, just as you do. Art classes and soccer games are fun, but too many activities can take a toll, and kids often can't articulate feeling stressed. Consider how much time your child has to do absolutely nothing. If it's less than an hour a day, you may want to increase her leisure time, when she's not involved in any structured activity, says Jack Wetter, associate clinical professor of family medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

If you notice your child starting to feel overwhelmed, distract her with a quiet activity like reading or coloring, or do deep-breathing exercises. Diane Umansky of New York City calms her 5-year-old by doing "balloon breaths" with him. "I have him breathe in, make his belly big like a balloon, and slowly let the air out." You could also blow bubbles or on a pinwheel.

3. Put safety first
They may not have been de rigueur when we were kids, but using car seats, seat belts, and bike helmets are essential now. One eye-opening statistic: Safe Kids Worldwide estimates that 75 percent of fatal head injuries among kids on bikes could be prevented with a bike helmet. Wearing your own seat belt and bike helmet goes a long way toward making kids less likely to balk at being made to wear their own. It also helps to point out to your child when people are being unsafe (by skateboarding or scootering sans helmet, for example).

Another trick: Deputize your child by making it his job to let you know that it's safe to start the car or a family bike ride after everyone's buckled up or helmeted. The responsibility becomes a badge of honor.

4. Pamper those pearly whites
Your child may brush his teeth, but he's probably not doing it long enough. You should brush for two minutes twice a day, says Amy DeYoung, a pediatric dentist, in Grand Rapids. "Most kids brush for thirty seconds, if we're lucky."

Help your child go the duration by encouraging him to brush for the length of a favorite song. Angie Koenig of Lincoln, Nebraska, started humming the chicken-dance song for Ryan, 1, during teeth-brushing time. "Once the song's over, he can stop. Now every time he brushes, he hums the song to himself." She also lets him brush while he's still sitting in the tub, so it's a part of his bathtime routine, rather than an extra step afterward. You can even put a CD player in the bathroom (but not near any water, of course).

To make sure Lucas, 4, hits all of his teeth, Maura Rhodes, a Parenting staffer, lets him brush first, and then tells him she needs to make sure he got all the "sugar bugs" out of his mouth. "I pretend with the toothbrush that I'm chasing them around all over his teeth. He lets me do this for as long as it takes to make sure we get every nook and cranny," says Rhodes. "Plus, he's usually laughing, so his mouth's open." If you want to boost the novelty quotient and effectiveness, consider buying an electric toothbrush for kids over 3. It's been shown to do a considerably better job of removing plaque than a manual one does. Just be sure to limit your child's use of toothpaste to no more than one pea-size drop twice a day until you're sure he won't swallow it.