Five Strategies To Help Your Kids Make Healthy Choices
by Charlene Roth
Unhealthy behaviors are deeply ingrained into modern culture, such as drinking alcohol to celebrate even small achievements or going through nine cups of coffee during the workday. Occasional treats are mostly harmless, but problems can arise when people make unhealthy choices regularly and over the long-term.
To a large extent, these habits are forged during childhood, so it’s important to encourage your kids to make healthy choices early on. While this is easier said than done, there are many effective strategies you can use.
Be Authoritative — Not Authoritarian
According to psychologist Diana Baumrind’s work, there are four parenting styles based on how demanding and responsive you are:
● Neglectful parents place no demands and show little warmth or acceptance.
● Permissive parents are warm and responsive, but place few boundaries on their children’s behavior.
● Authoritarian parents set clear and firm boundaries, but show little warmth.
● Authoritative parents set boundaries but also give their children warmth and acceptance.
Many authoritarian parents feel that showing love and affection may weaken their authority, but research shows the reverse is true -- the authoritative style leads to lower rates of drug and alcohol use. Authoritative parents will praise good behaviour, set boundaries using open discussion and reasoning, and encourage more independence over time.
Lead By Example
One big way that children learn what health choices to make is by watching and copying you. Children will do what you do, so make sure you lead by example. First of all, get your own health habits in order. Limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption, eat healthily and exercise regularly.
Once you’ve done that, set up your home life so that these behaviors are visible to your children. For example, teach your kids about proper portion control. Showing them what healthy portions of their favorite foods look like (a food scale is a great visual tool to help them learn) teaches them how to make responsible choices. Further, you can eat your meals at the table as a family, and do fun, fitness-inspired activities together, such as cycling, swimming, and martial arts. This Huffington Post article has some more tips on how to be a healthy role model.
There Is No Time, There Is Only Now
One of Albert Einstein's many concepts (paraphrased) was that time is a persistent illusion. If you've struggled with putting off goals in order to be a good parent, it's important to remember that an important part of parenting is teaching our children valuable lessons in life. And to lead by example, it may be time to pursue goals you set aside some time ago. That may be a healthier lifestyle, or pursuing a business degree that will help you grow (or shift) your career. Just remember: there is no time, there is only now.
Find Teachable Moments
Many parents think they can give a few lectures on health, and their children will absorb this knowledge like a sponge and immediately begin to apply it. If only that were so! Instead, keep an eye out for teachable moments, those brief windows of opportunity where you can squeeze a life lesson in.
For example, if you forget to lock the door and come home to an unlocked house, use the experience to discuss why it’s important to keep your home secure for everyone’s health and safety. Don’t use language that will frighten your children, but talk about how important it is to make sure strangers can’t come into your home. This is also a good conversation to have if you’re installing a home security system (or are looking for one) — you don’t want to make your kids think you’re going to get robbed in the middle of the night, but you can recall your past experience of forgetting to lock the door.
Similarly, if you’re watching a movie and a character becomes ill through smoking, you can use that as an opportunity to discuss smoking, how it affects the body, and why it’s best avoided. This takes a little effort, as you’ll need to be on the lookout for additional teachable moments during your daily life — but the effort will be worth it, because you’ll be able to give that lecture without seeming like you’re doing so.
Every child is different in terms of their personality and temperament, and not only that, but the same child can change rapidly over time. Therefore, you may need to be flexible in your parenting approach. Work with their personality, not against it. For example, if you have a strong-willed child who rebels against boundaries, a heavy-handed approach might backfire. You might do better with a reasoned approach.
Likewise, only expand your child’s independence at a rate they can handle. Some kids might thrive with more responsibility, while others may struggle. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that flexible parenting reduces anxiety and depression. At the same time, if you find that responsibility results in added levels of stress and anxiety in your child, look for ways to combat this issue. For instance, teach them to reframe their tho
ughts to curb stress.
The problem with authoritarian approaches to discipline is that by being overly controlling, the child does not get practice in controlling their own behavior. They are being disciplined, but they do not become disciplined. These five strategies help your kids make healthy choices of their own accord - and that’s a habit that will last well into their adult lives.