As a parent, it’s up to you to teach your kids how to lead healthy lifestyles. Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. After all, kids aren’t blank slates waiting to be molded into their parents’ vision — they’re independent humans with their own preferences and ideas. While the same tactics won’t work for every child, these tips give parents a foundation for promoting healthy choices in their household.
For many parents, meal times are one of the most stressful parts of the day. But while parents can’t completely control children’s food preferences, they do play a big role in their formation.
The best way to influence your children’s food choices? Lead by example. Prepare healthy meals and sit down to eat them as a family. Create good associations with healthy foods by using positive language around healthy eating and encouraging (but not forcing) kids to try new foods.
When kids feel a sense of ownership over their food, they’re more likely to eat it. Get kids involved in the kitchen; even young children can help by fetching ingredients and stirring dishes. If you have a garden, ask kids to help plant, weed, and harvest. According to Fatherly, gardening has been linked to healthier eating habits among children, among myriad other benefits.
Some kids take picky eating to the extreme. Parents of children with autism know this struggle well: According to Autism Speaks, kids with autism are five times more likely to be picky eaters. This may manifest in limited food selections, odd mealtime behaviors, or tantrums. Rule out gastrointestinal problems, food intolerances, and sensory issues before pushing a disliked food, and be extra patient when introducing new foods. Many children on the autism spectrum experience anxiety when trying new things.
Kids today spend more time glued to screens than playing outside, but you won’t break their habits by sticking them in the backyard and locking the door. Instead of making exercise something your kids have to do, aim to make it something they want to do. You can achieve that by using their tech-obsession to your benefit. If your kids love YouTube, find dance videos and learn the routines. If your son or daughter is obsessed with Pokemon, embrace the trend and walk around the neighborhood playing Pokemon Go.
Rather than convincing kids to leave the couch and go outside, front load exercise at the beginning of the day. Head to the park, work in the garden, go on a hike, or set up the backyard for a game of badminton. This not only skips the fight, it also burns off energy so you enjoy calmer kids for the remainder of the day.
As an adult, kids’ problems might seem frivolous. But to your kids, they’re just as real and serious as your work deadlines and relationship problems. Take your children’s struggles seriously and make your home a safe space where they can escape their woes. Allow your children private areas they can retreat to when feeling overwhelmed and take an active, sincere interest in your children’s lives.
Kids perform best when expectations are clear. Maintain household routines so home life is predictable and structured. When dinner time and bed time are the same every day, kids know exactly how much time they have for homework, relaxation, and play.
A routine doesn’t work without rules: Set clear boundaries, like no video games before homework is done and no electronics after bedtime. However, understand that your kids will push those boundaries — it’s just what kids do. Keep the consequences of boundary-pushing low by keeping dangerous adult items like alcohol, prescription medications, and firearms secured where children can’t access them.
The most important thing you can do to guide your children toward healthy choices? Start young. It’s much harder to break bad habits than it is to build healthy ones from the start. Implement age-appropriate rules and routines when your kids are young and evolve them as your children grow and their unique personalities emerge.
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