Written by Amanda Henderson
Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy. And while we may have a lot of control over our kids’ behaviors when they’re young, one day they will grow up and start making decisions on their own. How can we set them up to choose healthy options without our guidance? Fortunately, as parents, we have a lot of influence over the habits our children pick up as they grow older.
Encouraging healthy behaviors is all about empowering our kids to act on their own. It’s about giving kids the resources they need to stand up to peer pressure, avoid experimenting with risky behaviors, and make healthy choices because they want to, not because someone told them to. Here’s how you can inspire your kids to make healthy choices today and in the future!
Model Good Behaviors
One of the best ways to encourage healthy behaviors in your children is to model them yourself. As you probably know, kids tend to repeat everything they hear and see. This puts you in a great position to influence their habits by changing your own! Eat healthy, exercise, and admit when you’re wrong. It’s also important to avoid using self-critical language around your kids since they can internalize these messages and develop unhealthy expectations about themselves.
Here are some other ways to model desirable behaviors:
- Treat others with respect, including your children.
- Keep your promises.
- Respect the house rules that you expect your kid to follow.
- Be a good loser.
- Display good listening skills when others are talking.
Talking to your kids openly about your goals and passions is a great way to get them thinking about their own future. Kids are always inspired by the work their parents do. If you’ve been meaning to change careers, start a business, or go back to school, go for it! There are so many ways to earn a degree online, whether it’s in IT, business, healthcare, or something else entirely, so you shouldn’t feel limited by your hectic parenting life.
Instill Healthy Habits Early
When it comes to teaching your kids good behavior, the earlier you start, the better. Kids are incredibly impressionable when they’re toddlers. Their minds are developing rapidly and they’re learning at a surprising rate, so all the behaviors they pick up now have the potential to become hard-wired habits.
If you have a toddler, now is the time to start encouraging good habits like proper hygiene, healthy eating, and screen time limits. Try building these actions into your daily routine:
- Brush your toddler’s teeth twice daily.
- Teach your little ones how to wash properly in the bath.
- Limit screen time and encourage outdoor play or creative projects.
Many parents worry about their kids becoming picky eaters — and for good reason! Kids who are too selective with their food can suffer from short- and long-term nutrient deficiencies. It’s important to help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food from a young age. According to NBC News Better, setting realistic expectations and giving your kids options is better than engaging in a power struggle over the dinner table.
Give Them Options
Making demands on your kids can easily backfire. Instead of forcing them to eat their vegetables or go outside to play when they would rather sit in front of the TV, try being more flexible and giving them options to choose between. Psychology Today suggests letting them pick between two healthy options — for example, you could ask if they want to eat their banana whole or cut it into pieces. This will give your kids some sense of control, empower confidence, and facilitate a relationship of mutual respect between the two of you.
Reward Your Kids for Healthy Choices
Basic human psychology says that we are more likely to repeat behaviors that result in a reward. Use this to your advantage! Rewarding your kids for making healthy decisions will encourage them to make the same choices again in the future. This is also a great way to build a positive relationship with your child and improve their self-esteem. Keep in mind that social rewards, like praise and affection, can be more effective than toys or candy.
You can also take steps to make the healthy action rewarding in itself. For example, if you want your kids to eat more vegetables, try to make it fun:
- Cut their veggies into shapes of their favorite animals.
- Incorporate healthy alternatives into meals they already love.
- Let your children help you prepare meals with healthy ingredients.
Teach Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Equipping your kids with healthy coping strategies is vital to promoting their well-being as they get older and reach their teenage years. As much as we wish we could shield our kids from negative emotions, stress and pain are inevitable. It’s important that your kids know how to cope with these feelings without picking up risky habits like experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
There are several things you can do to help your kids manage their emotions in a healthy way:
- Help them acknowledge and label their feelings.
- Allow your children to feel negative emotions and teach that sadness, anger, and disappointment are normal and okay.
- Teach breathing exercises that relieve stress and calm the mind.
- Encourage your kids to turn to exercise when they’re feeling stressed or frustrated.
- Model positive self-talk whenever possible.
Teaching your kids how to deal with stress now will help you relax a little as they grow up and venture out on their own. Of course, it’s never too late to encourage and model these coping mechanisms. If your kids are getting into worrisome behaviors, help them recognize their mistakes without passing judgment, condemning their actions, or making them feel ashamed.
Being a parent is a full-time job. Between cooking, cleaning, and shuttling your kids to-and-fro, you also have to navigate the complex task of raising them into self-reliant humans of their own. It’s okay if you’re not perfect — no parent is! Do your best and your kids are bound to lead happy and healthy lives.
Here are some important takeaways to remember from this article:
- You can — and should — begin teaching healthy habits when your kids are young.
- Giving your kids options will encourage them to make healthy decisions on their own.
- Parents can encourage healthy actions by modeling behaviors they want to see in their kids.
- Rewarding healthy choices is better than punishing undesirable behaviors.
- Teaching good coping mechanisms will protect your kids as they grow up.
Supporting a local nonprofit like Margaret’s Village is a great way to model kindness and compassion for your kids. If you want to get involved, consider making a donation or becoming a volunteer! Check out our website to learn more.