Children learn by watching the actions and habits of their parents. Be a role model for healthy living by showing kids how to eat healthy, participate in physical activity and adopt good sleep habits.  

During a recent interview, I was asked to explain what I believed to be the single most important thing parents can do, to raise healthy kids?”  I was quick to reply. I said, model healthy behaviors.”

Little people are like sponges –  constantly learning from what they observe. And parents, are the first adults that kids learn from. Parents are teachers. In order to teach kids healthy behaviors, parents have to adopt the habits themselves.  That means showing them what a healthy lifestyle looks like – not just telling them.

My Mom – The Role Model

When I was a child, my mom poured a glass of milk for all of us to drink with dinner.  My dad loved milk.  My mom hated it. She never admitted it, though. I watched her hold the glass up to her mouth, take a drink, then smile at us, reminding us how healthy it was to drink milk.  I was only six years old at the time, but smart enough to see right through her actions.  She was pretending to like it.

At the time, I wasn’t a big milk fan either.  Watching her, though, I figured it must be good for me. If she was pretending to like it, it must be good.  So, I drank it anyways.

My mom wanted me to drink milk, because she knew it was a good source of calcium and vitamin D. As a nutrition expert today, I realize that milk is not the only way to get those nutrients. My mom, however, didn’t know. If she had realized there are other ways to get those nutrients, she wouldn’t have had to pretend. But, she didn’t. She was still being a role model.

What Is A Role Model?

A role model is someone who inspires others to follow their behavior. Kids are not born knowing how to behave. They watch and learn the people around them. Since kids spend so much time with their parents, their parents naturally become their first role model. It’s a big job.

Role models are not perfect, and parents are not expected to be either. Parents are going to be habits that they don’t necessarily want their kids participating in. It’s important to acknowledge those behaviors though. Talk about them, and when possible, do them when the kids are not around.

What Is Healthy Living?

A healthy lifestyle is more than just healthy eating. It’s getting adequate sleep, being physically active, choosing healthy foods and drinking water. It’s also avoiding behaviors that we know can cause harm, like smoking, indulging in excessive alcohol and using drugs.

You can tell kids to be healthy, but that doesn’t mean they will do it. They need to grow up watching their parents do it, and engaging in the behaviors for themselves.

How Parents Can Model A Healthy Lifestyle

As I mentioned above, healthy living is more than just adopting one healthy behavior. It’s a collection of healthy habits that promote a healthy lifestyle. There are endless ways to model healthy living.

Eat Healthy Foods In Front Of Kids, With A Smile

A big mistake parents make it expecting kids to eat or drink what they don’t. You can’t expect your child to eat a food that you won’t eat. Kids instinctively trust their parents, so if you’re not eating it, they likely assume it’s not good. Likewise, if you eat healthy food in front of them, but show signs that you really don’t like it, don’t expect kids to eat it. If you don’t like it, they probably assume it doesn’t taste good.  Let kids see you enjoying healthy foods, so that they want to try it, not because you told them to eat it.

Cook And Serve A Variety Of Foods

Kids won’t always like what their parents like. That’s ok. The important thing is that they see a variety of foods and learn the importance of eating them. Like adults, kids migrate to what is familiar to them. If they’ve never seen a certain fruit or vegetable, it’s unlikely they will try it on their own. Cook and serve a variety of foods, including different fruit and vegetables, so that kids become familiar with them. Encourage kids to try them, but don’t force them to eat what they don’t want. A parents job is to serve the food and model good eating habits. Kids still have a choice whether or not to eat it. Talk about the benefits of healthy food, and how it helps them grow and build strong bones and muscles.

Include Positive Talk Around Food

Family mealtime comes with big benefits, and it should always be associated with a positive experience. Dinner is not the time to talk about bad grades or the trouble kids got in at school. Save all negative talk for another place and time. Instead, make sure mealtime is at the table, not in front of the TV, and share and positive things that happened in their day. Encourage the kids to share something good that happened, share positive memories or talk about weekend plans. It doesn’t matter what the topic of conversation is, as long as it’s positive!

Participate And Encourage Physical Activity

Your kids watch you, and they learn from your behaviors. Let them see you being physically active.  Talk about how great you feel after you exercise, and how taking care of your body is important to you.  If kids see you enjoying activity, they’re more likely to want to do it. If they see you struggling and hating it, they will assume it’s awful, and avoid it.

Talk about why your daily activity is important to you. Kids might not be able to join you on your run or strength train with you at the gym, but they can do something. Get the kids involved with family walks, games in the yard or riding bikes. As they get older, you can involve them more.

Model Good Sleep Habits

Getting adequate sleep is important for adults and children, alike. Kids, however, tend to need more. Parents often go to bed later than their kids; which, kids might not understand. Talk about it. Share the sleep recommendations with kids, so that they understand they need more than adults do. Set a solid bedtime routine so that they get used to going to bed at a certain time. Talk to kids about what happens during sleep – how it’s their body’s time to recoup and recover from the days events. Explain to kids that their body needs proper rest to grow.

There are loads of other healthy habits that parents can model for kids, but healthy eating, physical activity and adequate sleep top the list. When parents make being healthy a priority, kids will grow up to make it one, too.

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