Love, food and shelter are not enough to create a stable foundation, on which a child can build a satisfying life. I often ask parents what they wish for their children beyond happiness and success. With the end goal in mind, parents think about what they may need to do beyond providing love, food and shelter and how to create what I like to call a stability pyramid for their children.

Do you want your child to

  • Have energy for learning
  • Be able to concentrate
  • Have fitness and stamina
  • Sit up in a chair at school comfortably without using up all their energy to do so
  • Have regular bowel movements
  • Use the toilet independently
  • Fall asleep easily on their own
  • Get enough sleep
  • Be able to dress themselves
  • Be able to feed themselves
  • Only be able to eat when they are in front of a screen
  • Have good social skills
  • Have friends
  • Be good problem solvers
  • Have good self-confidence
  • Be able to enjoy family life/interactions
  • Be able to comfortably switch between being on and off a screen
  • Not be bullied
  • Feel safe and secure

What don’t you want for your child?

  • To be overweight
  • To be called names
  • To have no friends
  • To be unpopular
  • To be sickly/have a poor immune system
  • To have no energy/be lethargic
  • To be addicted to a screen
  • To have difficulty learning
  • To have problems concentrating
  • For your child not to like you
  • To have to say no to your child all the time

What are you currently enabling or allowing? What are your belief systems?

  • Do you feel that if you overfeed your child it’s a sign that you love them?
  • Are you trading sweets and treats for good behavior?
  • Do you know how much sugar your child is consuming daily?
  • Do you let your child eat whenever they want to?
  • Do you have regular mealtimes?
  • Do you eat with your child?
  • Do you give your child too many choices at mealtimes?
  • Does your child always negotiate around food with you?
  • Does your child compare lunchboxes with their friends?
  • Does your child drink water or only juice?
  • What does your child eat before bed (if anything)?


The Stability Pyramid


  1. Physical diet – what children need

    1. Water because it wakes up and makes up the brain
    2. Fruit and vegetables
    3. Calcium/dairy
    4. Protein
    5. Carbohydrates (slow-release complex carbs where possible)
    6. Regular mealtimes
    7. Breakfast to kick start the day and fill their energy tank
    8. Healthy lunch box for topping up energy levels and keeping blood sugar stable
    9. Multivitamins to supplement their diet
    10. Pre and probiotics for gut health and immunity (eg. Natural yoghurt or a supplement)
    11. Cook together
    12. Eat together
    13. Enjoy conversation at mealtimes
    14. Sleep
      1. Under 5 years of age, 11 hours or more
      2. For 5 – 10-year-olds, 10 hours or more
      3. 10-year-olds and up need 9 hours or more
  1. Emotional diet – what children need

    1. Time and attention (we trade time and attention with our kids)
    2. Our emotional presence when we are with our children
    3. Learn how to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary memories in the car, kitchen, or at mealtimes
    4. Answer these three questions every day: do you see me, do you hear me, am I important to you?
    5. A good daily routine that provides safety and predictability
    6. Support your child through changes, stress, or fears
    7. Encourage the development of friendships outside the family circle and playdates away from the formal structure of school are essential
    8. Within the ‘we’ of family life, your child will discover the ‘me’
    9. All relationships act as mirrors for your child to discover more of who they are and how they impact the world around them
    10. As stable home-life for your child as you can whether you are married, divorced, or a single parent – parents singing from the same hymn sheet is important for children to feel safe
    11. Boundaries in order to feel safe – have few rules but hold your line on them
    12. To make choices for themselves and to live with the consequences of those choices from an early age through empowerment, not discipline
  1. Learning diet – what children need

    1. Multisensory experiences – the more senses they use in an activity the more they remember
    2. A good balance between concrete (real) learning experiences and virtual ones
    3. Shape, colour and quantity are the building blocks for early learning in preschool where pre-reading, pre-writing and pre-math skills are learned
    4. In the foundation phase, children learn to read, thereafter they read to learn
    5. Read to them often in pre and primary school – it’s a bonding activity
    6. Children are born to move – movement is the architect of the brain, encourage it
    7. Encourage your child’s curiosity about the world around them – they must explore
    8. Play the least stressful way your child will learn anything
    9. Self-discovery provides joy and meaning
    10. Talk your children clever
  1. Media diet – what children need

    1. Children should not be allowed to fall asleep in front of a screen
    2. Children should be off screens for at least an hour before going to bed to slow down brain stimulation for a good nights’ sleep
    3. Under 5s need very little screen time and it should come in short bursts of 10 – 15 minutes with real playtime in between
    4. Under 12s should not be on screens for recreation for longer than 2 hours a day (that includes time spent on your phone, watching TV, or on any gaming device – it all adds up)
    5. Always ask yourself what other activities your child is doing besides being on a screen
    6. Appropriate on-screen content – you are the gatekeeper and need to know what they are watching or interacting with
    7. A child who can build a 100 piece puzzle on an iPad can’t necessarily do so in real life as they haven’t developed the perceptual skills of manipulation of pieces, directionality and spatial planning

The list above provides a summary at a glance of many of the essential basics that every child needs for solid and healthy development. This is over and above going to preschool or primary school. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Enjoy my blog about Why Play is Essential for Reading, Writing and Maths.

Much love,
Nikki Bush
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win at work and life

Enjoy the podcast of the Refiloe Mpakanyana Weekend Breakfast Show on 702, where we discussed the topic of creating the strong foundations for children to thrive