They grow up so fast, don’t they? Those cute little Mini-Mes of yours will be asking to borrow your car keys before you know it! Now is a great time to introduce them to a healthy, active lifestyle – and here are 10 easy ways to do it!
1. Lead by example.
Your children are tiny, personality-packed sponges. They see and hear everything you do, even when you think they’re out of range. Don’t believe us? Try whispering a questionable word in their presence and see how quickly they repeat it at the most inopportune time and place! Role modeling is a powerful tool, and this applies to health and wellness. If your kids see you happily exercising and eating right, they’ll be more likely to pick up these healthy habits themselves. If you’re constantly grumbling about how much you hate going to the gym or eating your greens, they’ll create negative associations with these activities too.
2. Start ‘em young.
Kids are remarkably young when they start picking up habits. In fact, a research study from Brown University showed that a two-month-old baby is already learning to pay attention to repeated behaviors and will soon begin to imitate them. So, don’t wait till your kids are teenagers before sharing your fitness enthusiasm. Explain the benefits to them in a way that’s appropriate to their age and interests. For example, you can tell your eight-year-old son how eating better isn’t just good for him; it helps him do better at school and run faster in gym class.
3. Avoid using food as a reward.
How many of us have celebrated a personal victory with food? That’s right, ALL of us. Ice cream (or any other junk food) can seem like the perfect reward for a job well done, even if it’s weight loss we’re celebrating! This is natural behavior, but we have to be careful not to perpetuate the cycle with our kids. Instead of rewarding them with food every time they do something great, use words of affirmation or treat them to an experience – like a trip to the park or beach. The family memories will last far longer than a sugary snack!
4. Cultivate little chefs.
There’s a huge kids’ cooking trend sweeping the nation. No longer passive bystanders when it comes to mealtime, kids are cooking up a storm at home, at children’s cooking classes, summer camps, and even with cooking-themed birthday parties. In store, they are savvy shoppers on the lookout for kid-friendly packaging. You can embrace this trend by letting your kids play an active role in your meal-time prep. Let them help you make a grocery list and ask them what foods they like best. If they veer into junk food territory, steer them to healthier options. Grocery shopping and meal prep are also great times to teach your kids about food labels and ingredients to look out for.
5. Watch their portions – to an extent.
One of your kids’ biggest jobs in life is to grow. Every shopping trip to buy them new shoes or clothes is an expensive reminder of how quickly they’re racing up the growth charts. To support all this growing, your children need lots of healthy nutrients … not necessarily lots of calories. You can make sure they’re getting just what they need – and not too much of what they don’t – by serving healthy portion sizes at mealtime. Lunches are also important as they provide brain fuel for your children’s academic success. Aim to include fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein each day. Skip the high-sugar fruit juices and opt for water instead. If you get your kids in the water-drinking habit young, they’ll be less likely to develop a taste for juices and sodas as they get older.
6. Don’t completely rule out “bad” foods.
Do you know why most diets fail? Because depriving yourself of the foods you love usually makes you want them even more! This principle applies to kids and what you let them eat. By completely banning something they love, you’ll make that food or drink that much more enticing to them. The next time they’re at a friend’s house, they’ll go to town on that snack or beverage out of sheer rebellion. A more balanced approach is to let your children occasionally have less-nutritious options in an effort to remove the “forbidden factor.”
7. Aim for 60 minutes of fun activity.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Youth who are regularly active also have a better chance of a healthy adulthood.” Seems obvious, but many parents assume their kids will simply pick up healthy habits later in life. The guidelines go on to say, “Youth (aged 6 to 17) can achieve substantial health benefits by doing moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes (1 hour) or more each day.” You don’t need to strap your children to a treadmill to do this. You can make exercise fun by getting the whole family involved. Have a dance party in your living room, play a game of basketball in your driveway, or take a bike ride around your neighborhood.
8. Limit tech time.
Ask any Gen Xer or Boomer what they did for fun as a kid and you’ll probably hear nostalgic stories of school nights spent outside, playing with friends. They didn’t come inside until it was dark out, or when they heard their parents call for them from five houses down. Today, you can practically hear the crickets on some suburban streets. Kids are trading outdoor play for simulating physical activity on their video game controllers, tablets, and phones.
While technology can be a great learning tool, try to limit the time your children spend on it every day. Excessive screen time before age five has been linked to language delays, reduced attention, and lower school readiness. For children ages six and older, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends “placing consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.” It also recommends designating media-free times together––like at the dinner table or while driving––and having media-free zones, like the bedroom.
9. Find a cause.
Is there a cause that’s near and dear to your heart? If so, why not get your whole family involved in a fundraising walk or run? Not only will you get lots of steps in, but the experience will teach your children the joy and value of giving back to others. There are many kid-friendly walks across the country that have fun stations and stops along the way for your younger ones. Search online by charity, location, or date to find the event that’s right for you.
10. Let your kids’ individuality shine through.
Last but not least, give your kids a voice in choosing healthy activities they love. If your son is itching to join the baseball team but you want him to live out your childhood football dreams, he probably won’t share your level of excitement. Similarly, if you constantly force broccoli on your daughter when she’d rather have green beans, consider the beans a win! Remember, the goal is to get your kids to love following a healthy lifestyle, not to do it grudgingly. By leading the way with enthusiasm and understanding, your children will establish fun, fit habits for life!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.