healthy habits (1)

How Do I Teach My Child Healthy Habits?

It’s essential to start teaching your healthy child habits as early as possible. But rather than simply telling your child how to take care of his body or how to keep himself safe, it’s essential to teach your child the reason behind your rules.

Parents can help their children develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation study showed parents have significant potential to influence their children’s behaviour. 

This includes eating habits and physical activity. Parents outrank sports celebrities as the person their child would like to be most. 

So, teach your kids about how to live a healthy life. Help your children learn to make healthier food choices and engage in regular physical activity by being a good role model.

If he grows up understanding why these habits are essential—and they become like second nature—it can prevent power struggles. 

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Healthy Habits Parents Should Teach Their Kids

Here are some healthy habits you should start teaching your child when he’s a toddler.

Embrace The Concept Of Family

Family dynamics can have a positive (or negative) effect on a child’s health. 

Family patterns that seem most related to health include family closeness, flexible parenting, supportive home environment and mind-stimulating activities. 

On the flip side, if parents are overprotective and possessive, children tend to be less likely to engage in healthful behaviours.

Teach My Child Healthy Habits

Promote Positive Habits

Aim for balance and openness around food and mealtimes. Include your children in meal planning, shopping and preparation to encourage participation. 

Provide fair attitudes toward feeding and create a warm and open family environment at mealtimes. 

The same goes for exercise. Make sure your kids know they are part of the team and that health and fitness are a family affair. Take turns letting your child pick a family activity.

Keep Foods Neutral

Stay away from using food as a reward, and allow specific foods. 

Using food as a reward, such as giving a child a cookie for completing their homework, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Labelling foods as “bad” or forbidding foods only increases a child’s desire for the food. 

Parents who tightly control their eating — “restrained” eaters — may not notice they exert such excessive control over their children’s food habits, which can lead to the risk of being overweight in children.

Don’t Force Feed

As they grow, children’s appetites fluctuate. So, when they’re complete, don’t push them to clean their plate. 

Also, don’t force children to stay at the dinner table until they’ve finished those veggies. 

Though this might appear to help your kids get the nutrition they need, these behaviours can lead to kids disliking those foods and having negative associations with mealtime.

Plan Regular Family Activities

Forceful tactics also apply to strict rules about exercise: Children may end up exercising less. So instead, encourage children to take up an after-school sport (when available). 

Or, make it a family affair: Take your kids to the park to walk when appropriate, jog, inline skate or play catch. 

Make walking the dog a fun game by counting how many times the dog stops or how many rabbits or squirrels the dog sees.

Research suggests that parents can positively affect children’s development and behaviours, especially in the early years. 

So, engage with your children and be the person you hope they will become!

Keep It Positive

Helping your children develop a positive attitude can significantly contribute to their well-being throughout their lives and help them build resilience. 

Tell kids what they can do, not what they can’t, and celebrate successes.

Limit Screen Time

Children and teens are growing up immersed in the digital world, exposed to digital media at all hours of the day, including computers, smartphones and television. 

Parents play an essential role in teaching their children how to use screen time in a healthy way that can enhance daily life. 

Make your family media use plan, set limits and encourage play. Overuse of media can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and displace critical social interactions, exercise and even sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has tools to help you create a personalised family media use plan.

Read With Your Child Every Day

It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. The AAP recommends starting parent-child reading at birth and continuing at least through kindergarten.

Reading with babies and toddlers helps connections form in their young brains. These connections build language, literacy and social-emotional skills that are important in a young child’s development.

Make Meals A Colorful Collage

Filling a plate with brightly coloured foods translates into health benefits and nutritional value, especially when the items are in season. 

Think red (apples), blue and purple (eggplant and grapes), green (beans), yellow and orange (carrots and squash), and white (cauliflower). 

Eat Breakfast

Eating a balanced breakfast with protein is a good way for your child to start the day. Try:

  • Hard-boiled eggs, toast and an apple
  • Almond butter on whole-grain toast
  • Greek yogurt

Enjoy Physical Activities

Expose your kids to a range of physical activities, from swimming to hiking, and enjoy them together as a family. 

Every child is different, so there is bound to be something they will enjoy.

Read Food Labels

Teach your child about nutrition by looking at the food labels for their favourite packaged snacks. Then, you can focus on a few essential parts of the title, such as sugar, saturated fat, calories and serving size. If more than one ingredient in a food, it must have the ingredients listed in descending order by amount. 

If sugar is the first ingredient listed, that snack is more sugar than any other ingredient. 

Make Eating Colorful

Eating foods of different colours isn’t just fun — it has health benefits too. Help your kids understand the nutritional value of including a rainbow of colourful foods in their regular diet.

That doesn’t mean that every meal needs to be multicoloured. 

But it would help if you made an effort to incorporate a range of fruits and vegetables of different hues into your diet. 

Let the colours range from red, blue, and orange to yellow, green, and white.

Don’t Skip Breakfast.

Instilling a routine of regular mealtimes in childhood can help make it more likely that your kids will continue this good habit when they’re older. Teach them that a healthy breakfast:

  • kick starts their brain and energy
  • helps keep them strong
  • keeps chronic diseases at bay

Harvard Medical School confirms that going without breakfast correlates with four times the likelihood of obesity.

And the high fibre in many breakfast bowls of cereal can help reduce diabetes and heart disease risk. Watch the sugar content, though.

Pick Enjoyable Physical Activities

Not every child loves sports. Some may dread gym class. But if they see you being active and find physical activities they enjoy, staying healthy and active becomes easy.

They may very likely carry their love of these activities into adulthood.

If your child hasn’t found their sports niche yet, encourage them to keep trying and be active with them. 

Expose them to a range of physical activities like swimming, archery, or gymnastics. They’re bound to find something they enjoy.

Don’t Be A Couch Potato.

Get kids, and yourself, off the sofa and out the door. Kids who watch more than an hour or two of television a day are at greater risk for several health problems, including:

  • impaired performance at school
  • behavioural difficulties, including emotional and social issues and attention disorders
  • obesity or being overweight
  • irregular sleep, including trouble falling asleep and resisting bedtime
  • less time to play

Read Every Day

Developing strong reading skills is an essential component of your child’s success in school now and at work later in life.

Reading helps build a child’s self-esteem, relationships with parents and others, and success in later life.

It’s recommended you make reading a part of your child’s playtime and bedtime routines.

Daily reading to children can begin as early as six months of age. Choose books your kids like so that they view reading as a treat rather than a chore.

Drink Water, Not Soda

You can keep the message simple. Water is healthy. Soft drinks are unhealthy.

Even if your kids don’t understand all of the reasons why too much sugar is bad for them, you can help them understand the basics.

For example, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), the sugar in soft drinks provides no nutrients. 

It also adds calories that can lead to weight problems. Water, on the other hand, is a vital resource that humans can’t live without.

Look At Labels (Food Labels, Not Designer)

Your kids, especially preteens and teens, may care about the labels on their clothes. But, show them another type of label that’s more important to their health: the food nutrition label.

Show kids how their favourite packaged foods contain labels with vital nutrition information.

To avoid overwhelming them, focus on a few critical parts of the label, such as the amount per serving of:

  • calories
  • saturated fats and trans fats
  • grams of sugar

Enjoy A Family Dinner

With hectic family schedules, it’s hard to find time to sit down and enjoy a meal together. But it’s worth it to try.

According to the University of Florida, research has shown sharing a family meal means that:

  • family bonds get stronger
  • kids are more well-adjusted
  • everyone eats more nutritious meals
  • kids are less likely to be obese or overweight
  • kids are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol

Spend Time With Friends

According to research published by the Clinical Child and Family Psychology ReviewTrusted Source, friendships are crucial to the healthy development of school-aged children.

Playing with friends teaches kids valuable social skills such as communication, cooperation, and problem-solving. Having friends can also affect their performance in school.

Encourage your kids to develop a variety of friendships and to play with friends often. It will set them up with life skills they can draw on for years to come.

Wash Your Hands

The simple act of washing his hands can spare your child—and the whole family—from germs that can lead to infections and illness.

Good hygiene is one of the simplest ways to keep everyone in the family healthy.

Start instilling this healthy habit by explaining to your little one why handwashing is so important.

Use simple terms that they’ll understand. For example, say, “Washing your hands means that we get rid of the dirt and germs that can make us sick.”

Next, enforce all the occasions where he should wash up—after going to the bathroom, when returning home from playing outside, after blowing his nose and before eating a meal. 

Remind your child, “You were playing in the sandbox, so let’s go wash the dirt and germs off your hands.”

Finally, discuss handwashing techniques. Turn on the water, pump the soap dispenser and lather up his hands, including between the fingers, for 15 to 20 seconds (or the length of the ABCs or “Happy Birthday”). 

Finish it up with rinsing and drying his hands.

When you don’t have access to water, use a hand sanitiser. 

Explain to your child, “Since we can’t get to a sink right now, we’re going to use sanitiser to help kill the germs on our hands.” 

Just be aware that sanitisers don’t eliminate all types of germs.

Please talk about the importance of keeping their hands out of their mouths too. For example, if they bite their fingernails, explain that putting their fingers in their mouth spreads germs. 

Cover Your Mouth

Teach your little one how to use a tissue, as well as how to cough and sneeze into his elbow not to spread germs. 

It’s unlikely that a toddler will cover his mouth every single time he coughs or sneezes, but keep reminding him to do so. 

Say, “Remember, cover up those sneezes like this,” and show him how to do it. You can also practice coughing into his elbow when he’s not sick. 

Show him how and encourage him to practice. Then, if he develops a cough, remind him, “Cough the germs into your elbow.”

Throw It Away

Now, what to do about that dirty tissue—not to mention all the other trash that your child creates on a day-to-day basis?

Left to his own devices, your little one will probably leave his tissues and wrappers on the closest table to head off to play. 

But, that creates the opportunity for more germs to spread.

Teach your child to put tissues and trash into the garbage can. Tell him that tissues and trash can spread germs.

Explain to him that as his parent, you’re probably willing to pick up after him. But, his teachers or his friends shouldn’t have to touch his dirty tissues. 

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Take Care Of Your Teeth

Until she’s around eight, your child will need help getting her teeth properly clean. 

However, you can help her get in the habit of brushing her teeth twice a day and learn the steps:

  • Wet the brush.
  • Squeeze a bit of toothpaste.
  • Brush the teeth and tongue, and then rinse with water.

If your child seems hesitant to brush her teeth, let her try it out on your teeth. 

Then, say “My turn!” and try to get the brush in her mouth. You might also coerce her to brush her teeth by singing a song or letting her pick a fun toothbrush. 

Once your child’s teeth fit close together, it’s important to start flossing. 

This may be anywhere between the ages of 2 and 6. Until your child has the fine motor skills to floss on his own (usually around age 10), you’ll need to floss for him.

Make it a habit to see the dentist regularly as well. Your child needs to know the dentist is there to help him keep his teeth healthy, not someone who “gives fillings.” 

Teach My Child Healthy Habits

Slather On Sunscreen

Too many sunburns boost the chance of skin cancer later in life, so your child must apply sunscreen when spending time outside. 

Shady spots, cover-ups, and hats play their part in protecting skin from the sun, but nothing does the trick like sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. 

If you see a little bit of pink, that’s the first indication that your little one is getting a sunburn. It can take up to 12 hours to see the full spectrum of red burns. 

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, nose, lips, and feet.

Tell your child, “Sunscreen will keep your skin from burning in the sun. Burns hurt.” 

A lot of children squirm and protest putting on sunscreen. Make sure your child knows it’s non-negotiable. 

Buckle Up

Seat belts save more than 13,000 lives a year. So your child needs to understand the importance of buckling up from an early age.

When your child is old enough to start buckling herself into a car seat, make sure you double-check she’s doing it right. 

Say something like, “I’m so happy to see you are buckled in all safe. Great job!”

In addition, talk to your child about being a safe passenger. 

Explain that when you’re driving, you can’t turn around and look at something she’s trying to show you because that’s not safe. 

Create rules for the car, such as no throwing things and no unbuckling until you say it’s time to unbuckle. 

Move Your Body

From a young age, it’s helpful for kids to know how to take care of their bodies. 

Say things to your toddler like, “We’re running, and that’s good for our legs,” or “We’re stretching our hands up to the sky. That’s good for our bodies.”

Don’t talk about weight and never say things like, “Don’t eat junk food, or you’ll get fat.” Instead, keep the emphasis on developing a healthy growing body. 

Protect Your Head

Kids need to grow up with an understanding of how important it is to protect their brains. 

Insist your child wear a helmet whenever he’s riding a bike or a scooter or doing something where he could get a head injury.

Talk about protecting his brain. Tell him it’s essential to make sure his brain stays healthy, and hitting his head too hard could hurt his brain.

Then, when he’s older, he’ll be more likely to put on a helmet when he’s skateboarding or riding an ATV, and he might think twice about taking risks where he could hit his head.

Stay Positive

It’s easy for kids to get discouraged when things don’t go their way. Help them learn resilience when they experience setbacks by showing them the importance of staying positive.

Children, as well as adults, can benefit from positive thinking and good relationships.

Help your kids develop healthy self-esteem and a positive mindset by teaching them they are lovable, capable, and unique, no matter what challenges they encounter.

Enforcing Healthy Habits

Teaching healthy habits is one thing, but getting your child to do them can be another. Like any new skill your child is learning, it’s essential to practice.

When your child forgets his healthy habits, offer a reminder. For example, say, “Oops, the next time you cough, remember to cough into your elbow.”

Praise him when you catch him doing a good job. For example, say, “Excellent job washing your hands.” 

And if he takes the initiative to do so without a reminder, make sure to make that a big deal. 

Say, “Wow! You came into the house and remembered to wash your hands all on your own! Way to go!”

When it comes to safety issues, make sure your child knows that the rules are non-negotiable. 

Tell him he has to buckle up when you’re in the car. Don’t give in just because he’s crying, and don’t ever make an exception because “it’s a short trip.” 

Doing so will open the door for your child to throw temper tantrums or become defiant when he isn’t in the mood to do what you’ve said.

Take away privileges or use time-out when necessary. 

But make it clear that if he’s going to ride his scooter, he can’t do it unless he’s going to be safe. Or, if he wants to play outside on a sunny day, he has to wear sunscreen.

Most importantly, be a good role model. If your child sees you engage in healthy habits every day, he’ll be much more likely to do them. 

If he sees you skip the helmet or get in the car without buckling, don’t expect him to follow the rules without resistance.

But keep reminding him of the importance of being safe and being healthy. 

Your overall goal should be for your child to eventually understand, “I need to wear a helmet to protect my brain,” not, “I need to wear a helmet because Mom says I have to.”

When he understands the underlying reasons for your rules, he’ll be more likely to follow those rules when you’re not there to tell him what to do.

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