10 Tips from Dominique Dawes on Keeping Kids Healthy

By: Elizabeth Sprouse

Get moving!
Get moving!

Remember how, as a child, everything was a first? There was the first day of school, first sleepover party, first time we had to stand up for ourselves and the first time we faced failure. In fact, looking back, as exciting as childhood can be, it's also a time of bumps and bruises.

But you made it, and that makes you a source of great advice for the children in your community. Whether you're a parent, older sibling or mentor to the children in your life, you can have a huge role in helping a child succeed, especially when it comes to health and wellness. Chances are, though, you might need some tips. So we turned to an expert on health, fitness, wellness, leadership and teamwork for 10 tips for keeping kids healthy.


Enter Dominique Dawes -- Olympic gold medalist gymnast, motivational speaker and co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Let's check out the tips she had to share on physical activity, nutrition, health, goal setting and personal acceptance.

10: Keep Active with a Back-to-basics Approach

Boots matching chalk: optional
Boots matching chalk: optional

You don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership to increase a child's daily dose of physical activity. In your childhood, playing tag or navigating the hopscotch court you drew on the sidewalk in colored chalk did the trick. These games provide hours of physical activity and entertainment without emptying the pocketbook.

Dawes suggests keeping active with this back-to-basics approach. "All you need is a jump rope, hula hoop and a ball," she explains. "As a family, get together and head to the park. I started jumping rope at a very young age. It's one of my favorite things to do."


You can make jumping rope a family game. See how many jumps everyone can do in a row. Can your child do 20? How about 30? "Take those small steps to physical health," Dawes says. "You may not see the effects immediately, but they'll add up over time."

Dawes also suggests just going for a walk. Try taking that time right after dinner to pull on your sneakers and head outside.

9: Strategically Map Out Your Trip to the Market

Grocery store shopping can be a little like making your way through a jungle; don't follow the map, and you might sink into piles of processed foods. Dawes' advice for safely making it through the store with a healthy bounty of food is to strategically map your way around the market.

"Stick mostly to the perimeter of the store," she advises. Dawes points out that by limiting your time in the middle aisles of your store, you'll also naturally limit your intake of processed foods and foods higher in fat and sugar.


The food treasures you'll find along the edges of the grocery store jungle include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean poultry. Stock up on in-season fruits and vegetables and you'll be offering your child food options that are typically low in calories and fat and packed with nutrients.

8: Use Goal Setting as a Motivational Tool

As an adult, you're probably well-versed in the benefits of goals. They help you achieve your dreams and keep you focused. Just as they can be a handy life tool for you, they can also be beneficial for your child, especially when related to physical fitness.

Goals give your child something to shoot for (jumping that rope 20 times!) and help boost confidence. Follow your child's progress via a wall chart and let him or her show off at the end of the week.


And what if your child doesn't reach those set goals? This is a chance to teach him or her that you don't always win, and that's not the end of the world. As Dawes says, "Children will face failure in their lives. However, that doesn't mean that they should give up."

7: Invite Your Child into the Kitchen

Let him crack an egg or two.
Let him crack an egg or two.

Dawes learned about nutrition very early in life. By the time she was training in the gym at age 11, she had already learned that eating right would help her achieve her goals. In fact, goals for health, strength, endurance and academic performance all correlate with a healthy diet.

To get your kid involved, Dawes suggests inviting him or her into the kitchen. Purchase a children's cookbook and try one recipe each weekend. (If you're a busy family, chances are that weeknight recipe exploration might be out.)


It's also a good idea to involve your child in the food prep and get hands-on. You could let him or her take charge of the salad, for example. Provide lots of healthy ingredients, such as leafy greens, peppers and tomatoes, but allow your child to decide what, ultimately, makes it into the salad bowl.

Don't forget, time in the kitchen can be a bonding opportunity, one that creates a lot of memories. And this doesn't even take into consideration that your little chef is more likely to be adventurous with food if he or she was in charge of making it.

6: Transform Video Games and the TV from Foes to Friends

It probably isn't news to you when you that limiting video game and TV time can help your child be more active. After all, video games and television programs are naturally sedentary activities. But what if you could turn your child's daily allowance of video games and television from a foe to a friend?

Dawes showed us how to do just that. First, aim for programming that has a positive message. Second, figure out ways to make these typically sedentary activities active. For example, select video games that have built-in physical activity. Or, choose television shows that incorporate physical fitness through dancing or exercises.


Need some help figuring out which television shows will do the trick? Check out the "Sesame Street" Web site and PBS's Web site for parents.

5: Pack It

A worthy alternative to cafeteria pizza
A worthy alternative to cafeteria pizza

Picking out a brand-new lunch box is usually one of the fun things kids get to do at the start of each school year. But by the end of the year, is it buried in the back of the pantry? One way Dawes suggests helping ensure your child gets a healthy, nutritious lunchtime meal is to pull out that lunch box, dust it off and aim to increase the number of times each week you pack your child's lunch.

When the school day is over, prepare healthy snacks and meals at home. If you're eating out, try your hand at making healthy swaps. Instead of fries, have a piece of fruit as your side item. Rather than fried fish, go for grilled.


Have a picky eater on your hands? Parents need to set the tone when it comes to food. Options are great, but unhealthy choices shouldn't win out. "Sometimes, you need to put your foot down," Dawes explains. "Children will listen if we require them to."

Perhaps the best way to get your child's true attention is to set a good example. Make healthy choices yourself, and the child in your life will model your behavior.

4: Make the Most of Your Time Together

Just because time may seem limited doesn't mean that those pockets of 5, 10 or 15 minutes are throwaway minutes. Instead, make the most of the time that you have together as a family.

Dawes takes dinner as a guiding example. This is an opportunity to come together as a family and create meaningful moments. Turn off the TV and really pay attention to each other while you talk. She also says dinnertime presents a unique chance to learn together as a family.


In fact, information about nutrition and physical activity is just a click away on your computer. Print out what you find about the definition of a calorie, food groups and exercises. Try one lesson each dinnertime. To get started, check out the following resources:

3: Come Prepared to Doctor Appointments

Doctors have myriad skills, but the one attribute missing from their resumes is the ability to read minds. That's why Dawes recommends going to your child's doctor appointments prepared. After all, your child's doctor relies on information from you. Be forthcoming and honest, take a notebook with you to capture everything you learn, and do your prep work.

Here are some of Dawes' tips on coming prepared:


  • Think through your questions and concerns ahead of time. Write them down and bring them with you.
  • Make note of how your child has been doing physically and emotionally.
  • Write down any changes you have witnessed and why you think they might have come about. For example, after your child started eating a certain type of food, did he or she develop a rash?
  • Consider how well your child has been sleeping.
  • Start keeping track of your child's numbers -- body mass index, blood pressure, body fat percentage -- and bringing them with you to his or her appointments. Don't forget to record new numbers after each appointment.
  • Document your family medical history and bring it along as a reference tool.

2: Create Opportunities for Quick Bursts of Activity

Your child should be getting in at least one hour of daily physical activity. Most of that hour should involve aerobic activity, but muscle and bone strengthening are important, too [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

You don't have to look at your child's daily dose of activity as a once-a-day event -- you can create other opportunities during the day.


Here's a trick Dawes uses for herself: note cards. Throughout your home, strategically place note cards with different activities -- using visuals when possible -- on the wall. For example, perhaps as your child enters his or her bedroom, he or she always passes a card that calls for 10 push-ups. Whether your child does the exercise or not is up to him or her, but if you wrap goals around those cards, you'll get to see if they're doing the trick.

Need some help selecting activities for those cards? Why not start off with push-ups, crunches or jumping jacks? Throw in some stretching exercises, as well, such as bending over while standing and touching your toes.

1: Teach Personal Acceptance

Accepting yourself isn't always easy, even for adults, but teaching self-acceptance may be the most important way to affect a child's well-being. Guide the children in your life to love who they are and celebrate their uniqueness.

"We all have insecurities," explains Dawes. "But we need to get over them and not allow them to limit us in our lives."

She suggests working with your child to help him or her be aware of negative thoughts. As she explains, no one hears your thoughts but you; however, they can control your emotions and actions. Help your child think about what he or she is saying with those thoughts. Give those negative thoughts the boot and replace them with thoughts of self-confidence and healthy life choices.

Dawes doesn't leave adults out of the mix either. Thought control applies to you, too. The only one who has control of your thoughts is you. By being aware of your own thoughts, you'll allow positive messages to enhance your emotions, actions and, ultimately, parenting.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "How much physical activity do children need?" May 10, 2010. (Aug. 24, 2010)
  • Dawes, Dominique. Personal Interview. Aug. 20, 2010.
  • Discovery Health. "Discovery Health's Adventures in Parenting Week Spotlights Daunting Challenges Faced By Extraordinary Families." Aug. 16, 2010. (Aug. 22, 2010)
  • Dominique Dawes. (Aug. 22, 2010) http://www.dominiquedawes.com
  • President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.fitness.gov/
  • Let's Move! (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.letsmove.gov/
  • PBS Parents. (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.pbs.org/parents/
  • President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. (Aug. 22, 2010) http://www.fitness.gov/
  • Sesame Street. (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.sesamestreet.org/
  • Sesame Street. (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.sesamestreet.org/video_player/-/pgpv/videoplayer/0/9a084b34-77f1-4120-9bb7-72f2eb7e3f53/froggy_jumps
  • United States Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid.gov. (Aug. 23, 2010) http://www.mypyramid.gov/
  • United States Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid.gov. "Inside the Pyramid" (Aug. 22, 2010) http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/index.html