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Keeping kids healthy initially starts as a parent or caregiver’s responsibility. Over time, that child will grow and assume more and more of that responsibility until it solely belongs to them. The best way to be a healthy adult is to begin as a healthy child.
Teaching and reinforcing healthy habits to children while they’re young will increase the likelihood that your child will carry those habits with them into adulthood. When making healthy choices becomes a part of your child’s nature, they won’t think twice about making the right decisions.
Children learn through mimicry. They learn to be adults by imitating the adults around them. If you tell your child to do something, but they actively observe you not doing the same thing (or doing the complete opposite), they’re more likely to follow in your footsteps. This isn’t rebellion or defiance but adhering to environmental cues. You’re setting the stage for what those cues will be.
That’s why so many parents adopt healthier habits after having children. It’s easy to keep values and message consistent in the household if everyone adheres to the same structure.
If you have a habit of overeating, leaving laundry on the bathroom floor, or shouting when you get angry, you’re normalizing these behaviors for your children. You’re showing them that your bad habits are acceptable or are an effective way to navigate a home environment.
If everyone in your household makes a concerted effort to abide by healthy habits, your child will notice they’re the odd one out if they’re skipping a toothbrushing session or throwing most of their salad away.
You should never say “do as I say, not as I do” to your child. Instead, you should explain why you’re making the healthy choices and help your child understand how they would benefit from making the same choice.
Every parent needs a minute to sit down and not worry about anything, but there’s a proper time and place. If you tell your children to play outside while you’re lying down on the couch watching TV or playing video games, they’re going to notice that you’re getting screen time while they aren’t.
Make a family routine of getting physical activity together. Take a family walk every evening, and bring the dog if you can. Choose active weekend activities, like beach trips, gentle hikes, soccer games, or bike riding trails.
If most of your everyday family activities involve healthy behavioral habits, they will become a part of your child’s catalog of ideas for choosing how to spend their leisure time. Exercise can help ward off childhood obesity as well as health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, illnesses, and infection.
The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated to parents how important it is to teach their children proper hygiene habits. You’ve probably spent a lot of time teaching your child about germs during the pandemic and helping them master the proper handwashing technique.
Teaching proper hygiene habits, like hand washing, begins with supervision. When your child begins to shower, brush their teeth, and wash their hands independently, stay with them to monitor what they’re doing.
Without getting directly involved, explain to them how to do it themselves. If you step in and take over, your child may not learn to wash their hair properly.
Let them figure it out with your verbal guidance. Emphasize the importance of proper etiquette surrounding a cough or sneezing attack, and make sure they know to cover their mouth to lessen the spread of germs.
Once you can clearly see that your child knows the proper way to care for themselves, check-in from time to time. You don’t need to check-in invasively.
Checking to see if their toothbrush is wet after they claim they brushed, checking the level of the hand soap or body wash, and looking for bubbles in or around the bathtub is an indicator that your child made an honest effort to do things the right way.
Don’t discourage or scold your child if you feel they’re not adhering to proper habits. Instead, ask them to show you the right way to do something. “Can you show me how to brush your teeth the right way?” or “Let’s wash our hands together, and you can show me how you do a great job” makes the situation more comfortable. Your child won’t feel like you mistrust them or don’t believe they’re capable.
When techniques are mastered, use a schedule to help your child adhere to great hygiene habits. If children generally brush their teeth and take their shower at the same time every day, hygiene will instinctively become a part of their daily routine.
You may not need to tell your child it’s time to take a shower once the habit has become ingrained. You’ll simply hear the shower turn on at roughly the right time every day.
These practices can aid in the prevention of illness and can help keep things under control when your child comes down with symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, or fever.
Children feel emotions very strongly, and they may not understand why they feel the way they feel. This can lead to acting out. Punishing your child for having a tantrum will likely make the problem worse. Not only are they immersed in an intense, unpleasant feeling, but it’s being amplified by the way they’re treated. This is likely to escalate the situation.
Giving in to a tantrum isn’t helpful either. You’re teaching your child that if they really want something, all they need to do is act wildly to gain control of the situation. If they adopt that behavior and use it to manipulate situations to their favor, they’re likely to have severe issues with interpersonal relationships throughout their lives.
Don’t react during a tantrum unless your child is in immediate danger of physical harm. Instead, remain calm and don’t speak. Your child will eventually realize that they aren’t getting through to you.
When your child begins to calm down, start asking your child questions about how they were feeling and why they reacted the way they did. Don’t invalidate your child’s feelings. Just keep asking questions until they’re able to articulate their emotions.
Keep up with this practice by asking your child how they feel and why even when they’re happy. This will help your child develop a stronger connection to their emotions and find healthier outlets like meditation or art. It also strengthens the idea that your child can talk to you when they’re angry, upset, or stressed out. You are their judgment-free zone, and they need to know they can always come to you.
Healthy eating habits are much easier to teach than many parents realize. If you only keep healthy food in the house and prepare meals at least 80% of the time, your child will become used to eating more nutritious foods.
Children can only eat what they’re given. If you don’t give your child the hot dogs, french fries, and macaroni and cheese they constantly ask for, it will become clear that they don’t have on-demand access to junk. Even still, that’s only half of the equation.
You can limit foods or disregard food requests in a way that appears arbitrary. You’re missing a very important opportunity to teach your children lifelong skills about nutrition and better habits. Don’t just say no. Explain why. Tell them what vegetables do. Explain why chicken nuggets and rotisserie chicken breast aren’t the same things. They won’t know unless you tell them.
They’ll begin to understand the difference between what their body needs and what their brain wants. Work with them to establish a pattern of reserving cheeseburgers and cookies for special occasions. The goal is never to suggest that certain foods are evil but to explain why healthier foods are more necessary and important than nutritionally subpar foods.
The biggest hurdle parents often face with teaching healthy eating habits is picky eating behaviors. To a certain extent, these behaviors are normal. You need to meet these behaviors honestly. Is steamed plain broccoli as delicious as a grilled cheese sandwich? Of course, it isn’t. Your child knows that as well as you do.
You’ll need to be patient with children as they learn to develop an appreciation for foods like vegetables, fish, and beans. Compromise in the way you prepare these foods. Roasting, stewing, or pan-searing them with tasty seasonings makes them more appealing for everyone.
If your child likes pizza, the familiar flavors of garlic, basil, and tomato paste might make black beans a more delicious side dish. Focus on whole grains, protein, healthy snacks like yogurt, and occasional new foods to ensure your child consumes essential nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin D.
While you’re working through the hurdles of picky eating, your child’s nutritional needs still need to be met. That’s where Hiya comes into play. Our children’s chewable multivitamin is formulated with 15 vitamins and minerals that many picky eaters lack. Adding one into your child’s daily routine will help support their immune system and keep them healthy and thriving until they come to appreciate the taste of Brussels sprouts.
Kids Overimitate Adults, Regardless of Culture | Science | AAAS
The Importance of Family Routines | HealthyChildren.org
How to Handle Child Tantrums and Meltdowns | Behavior Problems | Child Mind Institute