By modeling the right behaviors and establishing healthy habits at home, we can provide our kids with a strong foundation for the rest of their lives.
Parenting may be one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs on the planet. As parents, we strive to ensure our kids have their needs met and are happy and healthy. We do all this while juggling work, responsibilities at home, outside activities and more.
It can be overwhelming to think about all the factors related to your children’s health – from their nutrition and activity levels to their screen time and sleep habits. By modeling the right behaviors and establishing healthy habits at home, we can provide our kids with a strong foundation for the rest of their lives.
Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, now is a great time to focus on helping your children form healthy habits.
How Can I Help My Child Form Healthy Habits?
Your child’s health is a combination of many factors, including their nutrition choices, activity levels, sleep habits and more. Check out these tips to give your children a healthy start.
- Model good habits. Lecturing our kids about their choices may not always work, but modeling good health habits demonstrates the importance of a healthy lifestyle. For example, if you’re having soda every night at dinner, what are you modeling? If you’re attached to a screen when you get home from work, excessive screen time may seem normal to your kids. On the flip side, if your kids see you start your day with a glass of water or take a walk after dinner, you’ll be modeling healthy choices they can follow.
- Make being active a priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids should get 60 minutes of activity every day for a wide range of health benefits, including improving attention and memory, regulating body weight, and reducing risk for depression, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Incorporate short walks after dinner or on the weekends. Take trips to the playground or have them help with active chores around the house. If you can, find activities such as dance, karate and sports for your kids to play. You can start by checking your local community center for classes. Check out Fitness Fun for the Whole Family for some more great ideas.
- Make healthy options available. If chips, cookies and soda are the first things your kids see when they open the cabinets, then that’s what they’ll reach for. Instead, keep healthy options available and accessible. Fill the kitchen with fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, milk, low-fat yogurt, whole grain crackers, nuts and raisins, so your kids have healthy options to reach for instead. MyPlate has some great resources for kids on making healthy choices. If you’re worried about the cost of healthy foods for your family, check out the Shop Simple tool from MyPlate to find cost-saving opportunities in your local area and new ways to prepare budget-friendly foods.
- Set screen time limits. According to MedlinePlus, children should have no more than one to two hours of screen time each day. However, many kids actually have more like five to seven hours. This can lead to attention problems, sleep issues and increased risk for obesity. Set screen limits or a screen schedule that works for your family. Maybe it’s no screens until you’ve been active for an hour and completed your chores and homework. Maybe it’s screen time only on the weekends. Check out Establishing a Healthy Balance: Reducing Your Screen Time for more ideas.
- Get your kids involved. Kids might enjoy helping out in the kitchen, picking meals for the week or weighing in on ways to make the family more active. Encourage them to select a meal or give them a list of healthy snacks and ask which ones they’d like to have around the house. Have them brainstorm a list of fun activities you can add to your weekends to increase everyone’s activity levels.
- Eat meals together when possible. With hectic and varying schedules, it can be hard to find time to sit down for family meals together, but according to the Department of Homeland Security, eating meals together has a lot of benefits, including improving family relationships and promoting healthier eating. Even if it’s not every day, maybe your family can commit to Sunday dinners or Saturday morning breakfasts. Use this time to check in with each other, model good food choices and try new recipes.
- Ensure your kids get enough rest. According to the CDC, children who don’t get enough rest have a higher risk for many health and behavior problems, including obesity, diabetes and poor mental health. Check out the CDC’s guidelines for how much sleep children should get based on their age, as well as some tips for how to ensure they get it.
- Be open about your choices. Make sure your kids know the “why” behind your decisions. For example, if they ask for a sugary sports drink, look at the label together and see how much sugar it contains. If you’re eating a vegetable for dinner – even if they’re not eating it – explain why you chose it. These mini lessons will help them make healthy decisions on their own.
- Keep it positive. Complaining about being overweight or constantly dieting can have a negative impact on children learning about food and their bodies. Instead, try to keep things positive. “I love eating protein in the morning because it gives me a lot of energy.” Or “Let’s take a walk after dinner to help us digest that yummy meal.” Focus on staying active and making healthy choices – not a number on the scale or a size of clothing. That applies to both you and your kids. Using guilt, threats or negative comments about your children’s weight are not healthy ways to encourage good habits and may have the opposite effect.
- Talk to your children’s health care provider. If you have concerns about your children’s health or are unsure what steps you should take to improve their choices, talk to their health care provider. You can ask questions like “Is my child at a healthy weight?” or “What do you recommend for a healthy reward?”
- Take time to connect. According to the National Library of Medicine, nearly 20% of children and young people ages 3-17 in the United States have a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are on the rise, as well as suicidal behavior. Take time to connect with your children, check in and ask about what’s going on in their lives. Listen and give them a safe space to express themselves and their emotions.
- The CDC offers a Parent Information section for children from infancy through the teenage years. It includes helpful resources such as body mass index charts, tips on screen time, vaccine schedules and much more.
- The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers WeCan! Parent Tip Sheets, which provide families with tips for eating healthy, getting active and reducing screen time.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers outreach materials for kids and parents on how to read nutrition labels and make better choices.
- Nutrition.gov allows you to search nutrition resources by life stage. You can click on “toddler” or “teens” and connect to all kinds of recipes, fun online games and more.
You play a big role in your children’s health and wellness. Help them establish good habits to follow for the rest of their lives!