Setting a Good Example: Helping Kids Make Healthy Choices by Amanda Henderson
Parents are the most important influence in a child’s life. A steady guiding hand from a loving parent can overcome even the most unhealthy influences. A recent poll showed that children of all ages choose their parents as primary role models, especially where eating habits are concerned. Parents who spend time with their children at meals, sitting down together as a family and partaking in positive eating habits, are more successful at imparting healthful dietary habits than families in which parents allow kids to skip meals and play hours of video games instead of exercising. Ultimately, kids learn by example. If you buckle your seatbelt, so will your children. Same goes for nutrition and food selection. If your kids see you reaching for barbecue potato chips while telling them they should have an apple, they’re probably going to repeat your behavior.
You control the grocery list
Remember, just because your kids ask for Pop Tarts and Fritos doesn’t mean you have to bring them home from the grocery store. As their parent, you know what’s at stake. Children need a balanced diet that includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein. Allowing them to eat whatever they please is a recipe for childhood obesity and a nutrition deficit that can follow them into adulthood. Emphasize healthy foods when you make your grocery list and explain to your kids why you’re deemphasizing junk foods and snacks like doughnuts and potato chips, which are full of carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fats. Remember, if you fill the fridge and cupboard with fruit and other healthy snacks, your kids will eventually follow your lead and develop a liking for food that’s good for them.
Sugars and caffeine
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), parents should be paying very close attention to the amount of sugar their children consume. AHA guidelines indicate that kids from two to 18 years old should get no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day, while children under two should have no sugar at all. Part of the problem is that the fruit drinks that many people believe to be healthy are actually full of sugar, which has an addictive effect. Much the same is true of soft drinks that include caffeine, also an addictive substance for kids. Sugar and caffeine tend to stimulate hunger, which contributes to obesity, so be as wary of fruit drinks as you are of snacks that are high in sugar.
Exercise is absolutely essential to children’s development for a variety of reasons. It helps build muscular strength, builds cardiovascular health and strong bones, minimizes fat, and helps kids maintain a healthy weight. The physical aspect is only part of the equation. Regular exercise builds self-esteem and confidence in children, alleviates depression, and improves mood and focus. In other words, exercise is good for children mentally as well as physically. You can make physical activity part of your children’s daily lives by encouraging them to take part in exercise they enjoy, whether it’s basketball, bowling, walking, or playing Frisbee. Your kids are much more likely to stay active if they’re engaged in activities they love.
You can make a strong point about personal health and good habits by fostering a safe home environment. Make sure you block any websites you wouldn’t want your kids having access to, and keep medications and alcoholic beverages locked away. Consider installing a home security system to ensure your children are safe when you aren’t home.
A good example
Remember, teaching children healthy nutrition and personal habits is about setting a good example. You are the most important influence in your kids’ lives. If you make good choices, so will they.
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