Teaching our kids about healthy lifestyle choices... this is certainly challenging in today's world of hectic schedules, computer screens, and convenience food.
According to the CDC, in the past 30 years obesity has more than doubled in children and has quadrupled in adolescents. More than 1/3 of children and adolescents in the US are overweight or obese. This puts them at higher risk for illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, bone/joint problems, and social/psychological problems.
A great way to combat this serious health epidemic is through intentional efforts at home. Below are 8 tips to help in doing this.
1. Limit screen time. Kids naturally want to run around, play, and use their imaginations... unless there is a TV or computer screen on. Then they will often stop whatever they are doing and stare at the screens instead. Although screens can be a good thing, especially for educational purposes, their use needs to be limited.
2. Find activities that fit your kids' personalities. If your kids enjoy competitive sports, great. This makes things easy! Sports are a wonderful way to keep kids active. If your kids are not into athletics, that's fine too, but it's not an excuse for inactivity. In that case, you might need to encourage other activities, such as jogging, walking, hiking, biking, swimming, skating, skiing, etc. If your child's interest is in academics, explain that exercise is not only important for physical health, but also for improved mental/intellectual health.
3. Incorporate exercise into family time. Find activities that allow the whole family to get some exercise while spending quality time together. The activities I listed in #2 work great for family time.
4. Even if they're picky, keep offering the healthy stuff (especially vegetables). Believe me, I know how difficult it can be to find healthy foods that your kids will eat. This is especially true of vegetables. But even if your efforts fail, it's important to keep trying. Sometimes I get lucky and my kids actually like the vegetables I give them. Sometimes they like them one day and not the next. Some vegetables they may never like. But one thing is for sure -- if I don't at least offer them, they definitely won't eat them. And since I often end up eating what they didn't finish, I'm eating better in the process. :)
5. Explain why. Explain to your kids why it is important for them to eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. Do not focus on appearance or weight. Keep the focus on health and strength. Explain that when we fuel our bodies with healthy foods, we feel better and avoid getting sick. And when we get regular exercise, we are keeping our bodies (and minds) strong.
6. Recognize and encourage their good decisions. When your children make a healthy choice, recognize and praise them for it! This encourages the healthy behavior. Positive reinforcement is a very effective form of motivation.
7. Involve your kids in health-conscious decisions. At the store (or while making your grocery list), ask your children which vegetables and fruits they would like to eat this week. Have them come up with healthy meal ideas and help you prepare healthy meals. Explain that half of our plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit, and let them help decide which vegetables and fruits will fill the plate. Search the Internet together for healthy recipe ideas to try. Ask them what activities they would enjoy doing as a family, to get some fresh air, exercise, and spend quality time together.
8. Teach by example. I think this one is most important. More is caught than taught. When my six-year old daughter sees me getting ready for a run, she often wants to come too. I can't go as far or as fast when she's with me, but I enjoy our time jogging, walking, and talking together. (And I know that soon she'll be running circles around me!) When I'm downstairs on the exercise bike, my kids often end up down there too. My daughter talks to me while on the elliptical machine (which she manages to make work for her, despite it being turned off), and my four-year old son asks for some weights to lift. (I have a pair of padded 1-pound dumbbells I bought for this reason. They keep him entertained for a little while.) When they see me eating healthy food, they are more likely to want some too.
Those are some of my favorite ways to teach kids about healthy living. If you have additional ideas/suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Please leave Facebook comments!
This post was originally published on March 28, 2016.