Early childhood is not only a time of rapid physical and cognitive development; it is also a time when children adopt habits that they keep for life. Those early habits can influence the likelihood of developing childhood obesity and other systemic diseases later in life.
What does science say?
Evidence shows that helping young children to improve physical activity, reduce sedentary time, and achieve quality sleep will improve their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as help to prevent certain diseases later in life.
The recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) for different age groups are as follows:
Infants (less than 1 year)
Physical activity: It is recommended that infants be physically active several times each day in a variety of ways, especially through interactive floor-based play. Other forms of play are also encouraged. For babies who are not yet mobile, caregivers are encouraged to include at least 30 minutes of tummy time — spread over several sessions throughout the day.
Sedentary time: Infants should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time — whether in prams/strollers or strapped on the caregiver’s back. Don’t offer babies any screen time at this age. For quiet activities, it’s better to stimulate Your Child with reading, looking at picture books, and storytelling.
Sleep: When Your Child is 0–3 months of age, allow the little one to have 14-17 hours of quality sleep each day. When Your Child is 4–11 months of age, 12-16 hours of good quality sleep can do.
Children 1-2 years of age
Physical activity: Children of this age group should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day — more is even better.
Sedentary time: Do not restrain them for more than 1 hour at a time — whether in prams or strapped on a caregiver’s back. For 1-year-olds, don’t allow sedentary screen time, such as watching TV or playing computer games. Children more than 2 years of age should not have more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time — and the less, the better. It would be better for Your Child if you explore books together.
Sleep: Ensure that Your Child gets about 11-14 hours of quality sleep, including naps with regular sleep and wake-up times.
Children 3-4 years of age
Physical activity: When Your Child is up to 3 or 4 years old, ensure that at least 180 minutes is spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes should be in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day — if Your Child can get more, it’s even better.
Sedentary time: Do not restrain your little one for more than 1 hour at a time — whether sitting or lying. Screen time should not be more than 1 hour; it’s even better to get less. Reading books or drawing together helps Your Child to stay calm and develop language and motor skills.
Sleep: Make sure Your Child gets about 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include daytime naps with regular sleep and wake-up times.
see more: How to introduce your toddler to books
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (31 March 2021)