We’ve all heard the adage, “Lead by example.” This rings especially true between adults and children. Kids learn by copying what they see around them. So, how can you help your kids be their absolute best? Model the behaviors you want them to learn.
Wondering where to start?
Here are 13 Healthy Habits that will set your child, and you, up for success.
Eating a rainbow of vegetables and fruits increases the body’s nutrition level. Children are rapidly growing and changing which requires good building blocks. Aim to have half of every meal vegetables and fruits. Fresher is better. A variety of protein is important, too. Have your child help choose a new vegetable to try the next time you shop - this will increase their chances of actually trying it. Something to remember: variety is good, but shouldn’t be cumbersome, so do your best to make new choices fun.
As they grow, children’s appetites fluctuate. So, when they’re full, don't push them to clean their plate - doing so can set them up for overeating and obesity. Worried they won’t get all their veggies in? Try serving fresh, raw veggies as an appetizer or first course. That way, if your kids get full quickly they’ll still have gotten “the good stuff”. Involving your kids in the meal planning can be a way to teach them about healthy eating as they choose the different parts of the meal.
Kids need to see you being active and doing physical activities you enjoy. This doesn’t have to mean organized sports - gardening, hiking, or watersports all count. When helping your child choose activities to try, consider different options including team and individual sports. Not everyone is drawn to every activity, so stay positive and open to ideas. Staying active together can be fun for all of you and participating in the same activity creates accountability and, sometimes, a bit of competition.
Children who have more than one to two hours of screen time each day are at greater risk for health problems ranging from lower performance in school, social and emotional challenges, attention disorders, obesity, even sleep difficulties. Increased activity can be as simple as taking the family dog for a walk, playing tag in the backyard, frisbee at the park, or even making a point to get up and move 5-10 minutes every hour.
Daily reading is a habit we can all get behind. Strong reading skills help your child succeed in school, and in life. Reading requires focus and attention, two things that can be lacking in our fast-paced world. Reading also invokes their imagination and can help children be more creative problem solvers. Reading before bedtime can be a great way to wind down after a busy day. It gives you a chance to bond with each other, and, when reading physical books, can limit the device blue light right before bed.
It’s estimated that half of U.S. children aged 9-14 are dehydrated. Dehydration can show as hunger, lack of focus, even low energy or sleepiness. Chronic dehydration can lead to health problems including weight gain, headaches, digestion issues, allergies, even cravings for sweets. Clean spring water with naturally occurring minerals is a great choice, followed by filtered tap water. Make it fun by letting your child choose a water bottle for the day. Not a fan of water? Try making designer ice cubes with bits of fruit and/or herbs for a little added flavor.
This is a great way to learn what’s exactly in the foods you and your family are eating. Eliminating highly processed foods from the diet decreases the number of additives, sugars, and fillers, none of which support health. Some people experience fewer allergy symptoms when they eliminate processed foods from their diet. Others notice improved skin, mood, and overall health because the body’s nutritional needs are being met with better options. Children can become food detectives, looking for the secret ingredients that support a healthy body.
Sharing meal times improves family bonds and encourages everyone to eat a more nutritious meal. This bonding helps children become well-adjusted, and well-adjusted kids are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. It gives you a chance to connect with your child, to learn about their day, and to share your day with them. Meal times are a great way to share meal prep and cleanup, too!
Humans are social creatures and we thrive on connections with others, inside the family unit, and outside that unit. When you spend time with other adults in positive situations you model what good friendship is, giving a standard for your children to measure against. Children will learn social skills, conversation skills, even coping skills when they are allowed to spend time in positive friendships with peers.
It’s easy for kids, and adults, to get discouraged when things don’t go their way. You can help them learn resilience when they experience setbacks by showing them the importance of staying positive and working through the challenge. This can be as easy as talking through what they perceive as being wrong and helping them see another side of the situation. When you teach them they are lovable, capable, and unique, no matter what challenges they encounter, kids develop healthy self-esteem and a positive mindset.
Protect your children from smoke and secondhand smoke. Smoking, and smoke exposure, is associated with more allergies, breathing problems, and sinus and/or ear problems like infections. The numbers of teens and preteens vaping has skyrocketed in recent years leading to lung damage, and in extreme cases, death. It’s so much easier to never start than it is to stop, so have honest conversations with your kids about why smoking is a hard “No.”
Healthy teeth and gums can help you resist health problems such as heart disease and pneumonia. Teaching your children to take care of their teeth is an easy habit to get into and takes only 5 minutes a day. Brushing your teeth is a preventive habit that will lower your chances of extra visits to the dentist. Make it fun by using your opposite hand to brush (this also helps your brain health, too!)
Children who get the recommended amount of sleep for their age are healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally. Adults are the same. During sleep, the body heals, hormones reset, the mind relaxes, and children grow. How much is the right amount? A good rule of thumb is to sleep long enough to wake up on your own refreshed and energized the next day. Needing an alarm to get up suggests you aren’t getting enough sleep so try going to bed earlier and see how things go. Blue light from devices disrupts normal sleep patterns, so stopping the electronics at least one hour before bedtime is key to a good night’s sleep.
The sky's the limit when it comes to modeling healthy habits for your child. Choose one to start, keep at it until you get it going pretty well, then choose another. Keep adding as you build your best healthy lifestyle.
Not sure where to start? Go over the list with your kids and choose one together!
Keep track of your progress with our Healthy Habits Chart that you can find below.
Consistency is the key. Miss a day? Starting right back up the next day will show your child that we all fall short at times, but we keep going in the direction of our goal.
In a world where everyone—kids included—are being inundated with the call of instant gratification, we must teach them that delayed gratification is a more satisfying, character-building gratification.
Why a father of two and medical school student recently began his journey to black belt.