Whether you’re looking to improve communication, family bond or maintaining your family health, here are some great pointers when it comes to making healthy New Year’s resolutions as a family – plus, good habits to start now so that they’ll become healthy habits for life.
#1 Schedule a weekly (device free) family hangout
“Putting time aside in our busy schedules to play board games or watch movies together is a fun way for the family to bond, and allows for communication,” says DR ELAINE YEO, senior clinical psychologist at Promises Healthcare, which provides mental health treatment to adults, adolescents and children suffering from all types of disorders. “It’s a healthy habit to put away devices during this time so that you’ll be fully present with each other without any distractions.”
#2 Find ways to create new memories as a family
A new memory can be anything that involves the entire family trying out something new together, whether that’s exploring a new place, building a DIY project or participating in a fun activity together, explains Dr Yeo. “These types of experiences can also improve the family bond not only through the time spent together, but also through the opportunity to see different sides of our family members.”
Family therapist LILIAN LOO recommends cooking and eating together as a family. At Promises Healthcare, she helps families cope with life challenges and transitions, and to build strong, nurturing relationships with one another.
“Make it part of your family’s New Year’s resolution to try different recipes and whipping up a healthy family meals as a team. Get everyone involved in the meal prep, from the grocery buying to preparing the ingredients to getting the dining table ready,” she says.
#3 Opt for outdoor activities
Another healthy habit to start this New Year is making a point to engage in outdoor activities as a family.
“A family that plays together, bonds together,” says Lilian. “Play and adventure are fun and interactive, and a great way to build trust between family members and improves family health too!”
She suggests camping outdoors, going on nature walks and gazing at the stars at night. If camping’s not your thing, she recommends heading to the Botanic Gardens for a family picnic and a free performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
#4 Learn a new skill together
“The very act of coming together to learn, to develop and to encourage is a family bonding experience,” explains senior clinical psychologist DR LOHSNAH JEEVANANDAM, who has 15 years of experience working with children, teens and adults struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and a range of other mental health issues.
So, whether it’s taking up outdoor activities like tennis, learning to arrange flowers or even trying out an old family recipe, acquiring a new skill with your squad, no matter what it is, makes for some great family bonding time and memory-building.
#5 Squeeze in some meaningful screen time
Family movie night is fun – and watching films or shows based on actual events with impactful messages “provides a vital opportunity to come together to enjoy a movie and also reflect on the many good things in our lives,” explains Dr Jeevanandam. Thai Cave Rescue and Daughters of Destiny, both on Netflix, are among some of the valuable TV series she recommends, as they’ve got “strong messages about belief, perseverance and love”.
#6 Create a culture of support
“Celebrate success and acknowledge efforts when someone shows love or demonstrates acts of kindness in the family. Make it a culture to cheer, encourage and support each other, using words of affirmation, and conveying positive vibes and well wishes,” advises Lilian. “When someone in the family is having a rough patch, offer a gentle word, comfort and support.”
Touch, she says, is also a way of building closeness. She recommends giving a shoulder massage when a family member is tired and has had a hard day at work or school.
#7 Express affection and appreciation
Affection can be physical – for example, hugs and kisses – or verbal (“I love you!”), but it’s important for affection to be communicated so that family members know they are loved, explains Dr Yeo. “Similarly, expressing appreciation for even the smallest task affirms to our family members that we see them and are grateful for them. We naturally open up and share more when we feel loved and appreciated hence strengthening the family bond.”
#8 Find out each other’s love languages
“Ask, ‘How do you know I love you?’ The answer indicates what the person appreciates,” says Dr Jeevanandam. “Knowing this piece of information is powerful because we may not always know what our family members appreciate. Once you find this out, you can then more conscientiously display that behaviour or say those special words. For example, if your child says, ‘Mummy, I know you love me because you tickle me,’ then tickle your child more!”
#9 Connect with empathy
“Make time to connect emotionally with a family member by practicing empathic listening. This means being attentive and aware of the other person’s feelings,” says senior clinical psychologist MONICA GO, who has over 15 years of clinical experience working with children, teens, adults and families. “There is wisdom in the saying ‘listen to understand’ rather than ‘listen to respond.’”
#10 Practice acceptance
“Acceptance paves the way for us to appreciate the uniqueness and value of each family member,” explains Monica. “Find ways to compromise and accept differences. It helps to accept that families are imperfectly perfect.”
#11 Make time for self-reflection
Another healthy habit to start in 2023? Making time for self-reflection, says Monica. (Be sure to add this to your list of New Year’s resolutions!)
“Change starts from within. One way to deepen and strengthen family relationships is to practice self-reflection. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and to say, ‘I’m sorry’ when we have hurt others with our words or actions.”
#12 Prioritise preventative care
If you’re wondering how to be healthier, start with prioritising preventative care for you and your family. Annual visits to your GP are important, even if you feel perfectly healthy, says DR VIVIAN CHU, a family physician at StarMed Specialist Centre. She says that well visits can be key to catching many conditions early, particularly those diseases that are not at all obvious in the early stages but can be treated when discovered early. For example, heart disease may not cause symptoms until a heart attack occurs.
Dr Chu suggests speaking with your GP about the screening tests that are right for you, based on your medical and family health history, diet and lifestyle factors. Some of the most important checks for adults, she says, include blood pressure, screening for diabetes and high cholesterol, and screening for colorectal cancer. For women, cervical and breast cancer screening is also recommended, while she says that men may want to consider prostate screening in their 50’s. Additionally, Dr Chu advises lung cancer screening for adults who smoke.
#13 Schedule those screenings
Obviously, nobody wants to carve out time for a colonoscopy. But, being proactive about your family health can pay off, as early detection means early treatment. So, Dr Chu suggests scheduling those screenings without dragging your feet for too long. “Early detection greatly increases the chance of a cure even in cancers,” she says. “It can also minimise chronic complications of poorly controlled diseases.”
#14 Visit your paediatrician rather than waiting for signs of illness
Even if your child isn’t sick, visits to the paediatrician are key to tracking their development and knowing whether or not they’re meeting developmental milestones, according to DR SHERMELA APPAN, senior consultant paediatrician at StarMed Specialist Centre. In fact, she says that the value of assessing a child’s development and growth in the first few years of life is a healthy habit that can’t be emphasised enough; the same goes for regular annual checks in older children up to adolescence.
For newborns, visits to the paediatrician are usually scheduled between three to five days after birth. This is followed by visits at one, two, four, six, nine, 12, 18, 24 and 30 months. From the age of three, a well child visit to the paediatrician is usually scheduled yearly.
Apart from assessing whether your child is meeting the appropriate developmental milestones, Dr Appan says that wellness checks are a great opportunity to discuss preventative health measures and any parental concerns such as feeding, sleep problems, behavioural issues and more.
What’s more, a simple visit to the paediatrician could mean identifying certain conditions you may have otherwise missed at the right time.
“Some parents tend to slip up on yearly assessments after the second year on completion of vaccinations. In doing so, they run the risk of delayed diagnosis of certain conditions, which may present later in childhood,” says Dr Appan.
Some of the things your paediatrician might look for during a wellness check or annual examination include eye problems, congenital heart defects, walking abnormalities, hearing problems and scoliosis.
#15 Take steps to protect your musculoskeletal health
Like many people, you may not give bone density and joint health much thought (let alone, expect it to be on your New Year’s resolutions list!) until you experience pain or find yourself asking, “Why do my joints hurt?” However, taking steps to safeguard your musculoskeletal health can go a long way in keeping you pain- and injury-free as you age.
Staying active is a healthy habit not to be ignored, as it eases joint stiffness, prevents muscle strain and preserves bone density, says DR TAY EILEEN, senior consultant and orthopaedic surgeon at StarMed Specialist Centre.
She suggests weight-bearing exercises such as walking or running to help foster strong bones, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups or pull-ups, functional movements like climbing stairs and weight training exercises to build muscle.
“Just make sure that your exercise routine includes core-strengthening exercises for your abdominals and back muscles. A strong core helps you maintain your balance and prevent falls.”
Low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling, she says, are particularly effective in strengthening muscles without putting strain on the joints. Plus, they’re great activities that can be done as a family to improve your overall health!
Yoga and Pilates, too, are great low-impact exercises. “They’re good for increasing flexibility, core-strengthening and improving your balance, all of which can help to prevent falls,” says Dr Tay.
This article first appeared in the December 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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