Oct 07, 2020
How to Share Your Health Journey with Your Kids
If you are a parent on a health journey, you may be excited to share what you’re learning with your kids. Our children are always watching, and there may not be a greater gift to give them than knowledge and habits that prioritize their health. As a parent, when you start working on healthy habits, your children benefit from those structures and planning, and learn firsthand by imitating what you do. You will be able to offer them explicit encouragement to support their health with lifelong habits, and also the implicit modeling that makes it stick.
Here are a handful of tips for how to implement these habits in your family life.
First of all, make water the beverage of choice at home. Consider not even buying soda or juice. If it’s not in the pantry, there can be no argument about whether or not to drink it. For special occasions, a glass of sparkling water with a splash of juice in it for color and flavor may help set a celebratory mood. Giving your children the habit of drinking water upon waking and with their meals will help them stay hydrated throughout the day. When children come asking for a snack or complaining about being hungry, encourage them to get a drink first and to check in with their bodies about whether they still need something. If you have active kids, it’s likely they will! But it also gives them the opportunity to learn that thirst and hunger are easy to confuse. Pause for water breaks throughout the day and during activities as well.
Honor a bedtime routine in your household. A set of habits to care for your body and mind and prepare for sleep will help your children learn to prioritize rest at the end of the day. This is likely to be a messy and changeable process, especially if you have multiple children, but that’s ok. Work on creating a warm connection at the end of the day rather than a rigid routine. Get clean, brush teeth, put on pajamas, go to the bathroom, and find a way to connect: reading, singing, talking, saying prayers. Make sure to get your kids to bed early enough to get the sleep they need before they need to wake up in the morning.
Helping your children manage the stress in their lives starts with learning how to manage the stress in your own. As you work on managing your own stress, you are able to hold space for your children to learn how to manage theirs. Give children ample time to play. Play helps children process their thoughts and feelings. It gives them agency in their own lives. Encourage children to take breaks to move their bodies frequently. Get outside every day if possible. Hold space for all of your child’s emotions, and help them learn to identify and express how they are feeling. Emotions themselves are experiences that you can’t control, but you can control how you respond to that emotion and what you decide to do about it. Children learn a pattern of emotional resilience when their parents help them acknowledge their emotions, and reassure them through the whole experience.
Let your kids lead the way! Kids are naturally active and honor their need to move (as anyone who has tried to get everyone to sit still for a meal or a photo can attest). Make some of the time you spend together as a family active time. Hike, walk, bike, swim, and dance. Find ways to explore new movements, like skiing, skating, or surfing. Explore new places. Encourage movement breaks throughout the day.
Provide nutrient dense meals and snacks for your children. Although there are many, many convenience foods marketed as children’s snacks, and while there is nothing wrong with having macaroni and cheese or pizza every once in a while, your daily rhythm should include many fruits and vegetables, good brain-boosting fats, complex carbohydrates for fiber and energy, and good protein. Try to avoid using foods as bribes or distractions from difficult emotions and use foods to fuel your body, and focus on enjoying the natural flavors, textures, and freshness of the foods you eat. Children love sweets and have a natural affinity for sweetness, and it’s important to acknowledge that while also teaching them that treats are treats and growing food is for everyday. Have an abundance of vegetables washed, cut, and ready to eat. Encourage children to help prepare food, and try to involve them in any process that you can, from choosing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store to growing a pot of basil on the windowsill. Cultivate gratitude as a family for the hands that grow and prepare foods.
To begin, choose just one thing on this list to focus on. Try crossing soda and juice off of your grocery list this week, and go from there. As you build healthy structure into your family life, your home will be the place where good health begins for each member of your family. For more tips and tricks, check out A Week for Your Health for a day-to-day look at how Dr. Traci Kiernan builds these structures into the daily life of a family of six, or check out the cookbook, Eating on Purpose.