WORDS BY ERICA NEWTON, MYFIRSTGYM CO-FOUNDER
We put our Christmas tree up this week in a tradition that involves me sweating buckets as I dust off and drag out boxes of decorations from the garage. Frankly, it feels pretty weird. For this Seattle USA born and bred girl, watching Santa turn up in boardshorts on a surfboard and eating cold seafood by the pool instead of a full hot roast around the fire, is pretty darned strange. For our kids though, this is normal. Hanging baubles on a plastic tree and talking about Santa with the overhead fan blasting the heat out of the room whilst dressed in fresh-from-the-pool swimmers has been hardwired into their experience of Christmas since they were infants. Fake snow, ugly Christmas rashies and prawns are most definitely not a part of my childhood memories, but my children will always associate Jingle Bells with sweating and sunscreen because that is the experience I have provided for them.
We are all shaped by our childhood. It’s a scientific fact: early ‘experiences and environmental influences “get under the skin”’ and interact with our genetic makeup to affect us well into adulthood. Just as fake snow and ugly Christmas swimmers seem bizarre bordering on crazy to me now, our children’s experience of movement and health (and whether it is strange or normal) is being similarly built into their bodies. What is most interesting about this, is that the process of being hardwired to good or not-so-good health begins even before our babies take their first steps.
Early experiences create lifelong biological memories.
Maintaining health during our pregnancy is a no-brainer in giving our children the best possible start, but providing a healthy environment and experiences once they are born is also crucial to their lifelong health. “Early experience literally is built into our bodies, for better or for worse.” Science shows that our children adapt both physically and mentally to positive and negative experiences from infancy. Those adaptations will affect outcomes in learning, behaviour and both physical and mental wellbeing for the rest of their life, including the ‘development of core immune functions, metabolic regulation, and other physiological systems.’
Children’s health is the basis for lifelong health.
We can have a genetic disposition to a disorder like cystic fibrosis, something ‘trivial’ like hair loss or bone structure built for swimming laps, fast. We inherit this from our parents: it’s hardwired into our chromosomes at conception. But studies have also shown that suffering persistent and excessive adversity in childhood is also ‘hardwired’ into the body, and leads to greater risk for stress-associated diseases as adults, like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, respiratory and immunological disorders, and a range of mental health problems.
If we want our children to be healthy adults, we must provide them with opportunities to hardwire those good experiences and environments into their bodies as babies, toddlers and children.
How do we ensure our children’s experiences are the ‘right’ ones?
Now, I don’t want everyone to push the panic button: we are all doing the best we can! Exposing my children to fake snow once a year at Christmas probably isn’t going to affect their metabolic regulation too much. It is what we do with our kids every day that underpins those ‘good’ experiences and environments:
- Calm and caring relationships. The kind that provides young children with consistent, nurturing and safe relationships and experiences with parents and caregivers. These help them develop the ability to adapt, promote learning and well-regulated stress response systems. We all lose our minds over the mess of Christmas craft (just me?), but if you’re demonstrating kindness, care and love for your children consistently and regularly, you’re doing okay.
- Safe and supportive environments. The kind that are free from toxins, harm and fear, and offer opportunities to exercise and form social connections. (TBH, sounds like MyFirstGym’s mission statement). Again, fake snow and a plastic tree teetering dangerously under the pressure of a thousand ornaments are probably fine. A rollerskating rink in your living room and playing online games for 10 hours a day? Probably not.
- Sound and appropriate nutrition. This includes healthy food consumption and eating habits, starting from the mother’s nutritional health before pregnancy. A second helping of Christmas trifle is fine. Providing nothing but sugary drinks daily to quench our children’s thirst is fortunately not in the health guidelines.
As parents, we provide our kids with their core experiences and environment. We don’t get it right every time: it’s our first time parenting too! But we learn from those mistakes and at the core of our parenting is the love we have for our kids. We want to see them grow into healthy, happy humans! The good news is that you don’t have to be the only one providing caring, enriching experiences that will positively benefit your child’s development into a thriving adult. MyFirstGym offers a safe and caring space for children to experience achievement, friendship and confidence through supervised physical activity. And it’s fun! Check out a club near you today.
School Holidays are here! Check out our Holiday Camps.