Raising a child doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Guiding your kids on their path to emotional, physical, and financial well-being is full of unknowns, and no parent wants to pass down negative habits to their children. Here are five tips for helping your kids establish healthy, long-term habits.
1. Be patient
Everyone makes mistakes, especially kids. As any parent will tell you, this can be frustrating after a long day at work—coming home to drawings on the wall or paint on the couch would shorten anyone’s fuse. But when that angry temptation to shout appears, it’s important not to give in. Not only can yelling cause fear and low self-esteem, but it can also lead to depression and anti-social behavior later in life. Instead, try taking a slow, deep breath. This releases tension and allows for an extra moment to be more mindful of your response. By avoiding a reaction that children can find scary and hard to understand, you help them understand what it means to be patient and thoughtful.
2. Encourage physical activity
With obesity rates on the rise, getting kids off the couch is more important than ever. Not only does regular physical activity help children improve their cardiovascular fitness, but it also helps support their growing bones and muscles—setting the foundation for a long, healthy life. Regular exercise in children can also help combat childhood anxiety and depression, two disorders that affect a combined 6.3 million children. Exercise physiologists recommend encouraging exercise by involving the entire family, making the experience fun and social, and limiting TV and computer time. It’s also important for children to see their parents making physical activity a priority in their own lives.
3. Lead by example
Regardless of how often you remind kids to use manners or be kind to others, the message won’t resonate unless they have an example of how to do those things. Children are always watching adults, noting their behavior and using it to form their own ideas about how a person should act. This means it’s vital to understand and embody the traits you’d like to instill. For example: if you want to teach your kids to have compassion for themselves but are constantly beating yourself up for the smallest mistake, your kids are going to internalize that negative self-talk. Instead, set an example for how you’d like them to behave.
4. Make healthy eating a priority
Family recipes can be passed down for generations, so make sure your kids are prepared with plenty of healthy ideas. Offering foods that are low in sugar and added substitutes lowers both the calorie count and likelihood of tooth decay while giving kids a taste for healthier alternatives like fruits and vegetables. Though it can be tempting, try to avoid using food as a bribe or motivation—when you do eat dessert together, choose healthy sweets that can be made as a family. If your family travels frequently or is heading out for a day of errands, avoid fast food when possible. Try keeping a small cooler in the car, packed with things like pretzels, carrots, yogurt, and any other healthy snacks that can keep hungry children at bay.
5. Read every day
Reading skills are crucial to a child’s success, one that will continue to serve them through every phase of their life. By encouraging an active reading habit from a young age, parents help their children understand the essentials of language—recognizing letters and their relationship to sound, building a robust vocabulary, and developing oral language skills. While the technical benefits of reading are fundamental, reading with your kids also builds an irreplaceable emotional connection that encourages richer social interactions and positive self-esteem.
There’s no perfect road map for raising healthy, happy children—but there are habits and practices that build beneficial skills to supplement a child’s well-being. By actively seeking new ways to maintain physical and emotional health in your kids, you make a lasting impact on their understanding and experience of the world around them.