Encouraging healthy habits (when you're not around!)
At home, your kids may reach for apples instead of sweets, pick up a basketball instead of the Wii remote, and brush, wash and bathe without complaint. But do you ever wonder what happens when they head to a friend's house, overnight camp or school? Here are some tips to make sure your kids keep up their healthy habits -- even when you're not around.
Lead by example
The single best way to set healthy habits for your kids is to model the behavior you're trying to teach. If you're chugging sodas morning until night, it's hard to tell your kids with a straight face that soda's an unhealthy choice. If your kids aren't into brushing their teeth or washing hands for a full 20 seconds, show them how fun it can be by brushing or washing with gusto. Instead of yelling at kids to get off the couch and go outside to play, practice what you preach by scheduling a family bike ride or weekend hike. Kids want to be like Mom and Dad, and seeing their parents making healthy choices is a huge motivator for them to do the same.
Rewards can be an extremely effective tool in establishing healthy habits. A mom we know created a hand washing chart for her two sons after they'd shown up at the dinner table with filthy hands one too many times. She explained to the kids that if they came to the dinner table with freshly washed hands, they'd get a sticker on their chart. If she had to remind them to wash their dirty mitts, she got a sticker on her chart. At the end of the week, the person with the most stickers got to choose what to eat for Friday night dinner. The first week she won, but by the second and third weeks, her boys were digging in to their favorite meals — with squeaky clean hands!
Lecturing children about making healthy choices is only going to result in frustration — for you and your kids. If you want your children to cut the sweets and pump up their protein intake, for example, sit down and have a talk with them about their body's needs. Explain how healthy, protein-rich foods give them long-lasting fuel while sugar-loaded foods may give them a burst of energy, only to leave them feeling crummy after the sugar high wears off. If your kids are old enough, teach them about nutrition tables so they can evaluate fiber, sugar and protein grams for themselves. Take them grocery shopping and let them help pick out new fruits and vegetables . Get them an apron and teach them to help prepare healthy meals for the family. If your kids believe in healthy habits, they're likely to continue them even when you're not watching over their shoulder.