Helping your children make healthy choices – What to focus on and how to do it | Guest Writer Bethany Hatton
According to Psychology Today, healthy habits are established early in life and are very difficult to change. Sadly, society isn’t a great help in this regard — today’s entertainment platforms encourage sedentary behavior, sugar and processed foods are often directly marketed at children, and teens may face peer pressure to try smoking, alcohol, or drugs. All the more reason to start instilling and reinforcing healthy habits as early as possible. Here are some tips on how to go about it.
Healthy eating habits established in childhood predict obesity in later life, so it’s important to get your kids off to a good start. The first thing to realize is that almost all toddlers and young children are picky eaters, and it can take a lot of persistence before they start to accept new foods. You should also be careful not to turn healthy eating into a power struggle. Using pressure or coercion, such as not letting them have certain toys unless they eat their spinach, can lead to rebellion and resentment. Negotiation tactics, such as offering a cookie if they eat their vegetables, will also backfire because children will just learn to value desserts more than healthy food. Instead, be a good role model with your own dietary choices, eat as a family at the table, and give them some control over how much they eat — but not what they eat.
Doctors writing for Healthline point out that caffeine consumption in children can impair bone development, increase anxiety, affect sleep quality, and cause neurological problems — to name but a few side effects. The problem is not just the caffeine, but the sugar, colorings, and other additives that are usually present in energy drinks and sodas. In accordance with the division of responsibility in feeding, you decide what, when, and where to eat, and your children decide how much — so when it comes to caffeine, you are free to set the limits yourself. The occasional drink is fine, but in terms of the daily consumption of caffeine, it’s best to wait until late adolescence or early adulthood.
Unhealthy behaviors like binge eating, alcohol use, or smoking are very often a form of self-medication against stress. While difficult times will happen, you can still do your best to make home life as stress-free as possible. Start by keeping the house organized and clutter-free — mess leads to stress, as the saying goes. Keep adult or dangerous items out of children’s reach, including caffeinated drinks and unhealthy foods. Be a role model yourself by managing your own stress levels, and by talking to your children about your own feelings — in simple terms at first. This will help them develop the desire and vocabulary to come to you when they have troubles of their own.
The fight against video games and gadgets is a tough one, but you can win it. Start by looking into your child’s own interests — if there is any physical activity they like, be it a sport, gardening, dancing, or playing the drums, encourage them to keep doing it. If they have an interest to start with, the battle is already half won. Next, do active activities together as a family — you could go to the park and throw a ball or frisbee around, go on a hike, or go on a family bike ride. This HuffPost article has some further suggestions on how to get kids into an exercise habit.
All children rebel against healthy habits, and it can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle to get kids to look after themselves. However, if you’re persistent, set fair boundaries, and act as a good role model yourself, you’ll have a great chance of breaking through the barriers and planting the seeds of healthy behaviors. Once planted, these seeds will grow into positive wellness habits that will last into adulthood.