Modeling a Healthy Lifestyle for Your Child

According to research, kids tend to model their parents’ behavior as they grow and throughout adulthood.  This means that if you practice healthy habits and a balanced lifestyle, you child is more likely to do so as well.  This means that if your child sees you exercising, eating right, reading, rather than watching television, and engaging in other healthy habits, he will probably model his behaviors accordingly.

Healthy Eating

Mealtimes and the food choices associated with them represent just one of the many opportunities parents have to model healthy eating habits for their children.  Parents should never skip breakfast.  Not only is this meal important for adults, studies show that kids who eat breakfast are more alert and perform better in school.  This may mean going to bed a bit earlier to make time for breakfast for you and your child.

According to the director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston, David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., parents must start early to teach good nutrition habits and avoid future issues.  Ludwig says that children learn their habits, both good and bad, from those who love them.  Parents should not only teach kids about nutritious choices, but make these choices themselves so their children see the behavior modeled by a loved one.  If you’re just learning about nutrition yourself, talk to your pediatrician about nutritious choices and eating habits for children.

Fight the Good Fight

Parents, interested in teaching their children nutritious eating habits, are competing against powerful messages from the media, targeting children.  These messages rarely promote healthy eating habits.

  • Serve Kid-Friendly Foods – Make fresh fruit smoothies and serve them with cut, raw vegetables alongside a yogurt dip.  Kids love fruit salads with low-fat yogurt dressing and grilled vegetable kabobs.  Add some grilled lean meat in between the vegetables on the kabobs for protein and iron.
  • Teach Your Child About Quality – Invite your child to go grocery shopping with you and challenge him to help make healthy selections.  Show him how to read nutrition labels and spot hidden fat and sugars.
  • Grow Your Own – Whether it’s in the back yard, or inside an apartment on a sunny sill, children love the idea of growing their own vegetables and herbs.  Kids may venture to try eating a tomato grown in their own backyards before they would agree to try a store bought one.
  • Try a Kid-Oriented Cookbook – Cookbooks especially for children or that have a wide variety of kid friendly recipes abound in bookstores and online.  Try the newest cookbook by chef Emeril Lagasse called, There’s a Chef in My World.

Exercise Daily

Get out and exercise everyday with your child — whether it’s taking a stroll around the park, playing tag outside, or a game of hide-and-seek indoors, kids benefit from daily physical activity.  Playing together allows time for social and emotional growth as well as physical fitness.  Your child’s pediatrician can tell you whether you child is overweight and what types of exercise, and how much, are appropriate.  Parents who regularly engage in physical activity that are too strenuous in length and intensity should consider including their children in the warm-up or cool down portions of their routines.  For example, include your child in stretching exercises before taking off on a five mile run.  Or allow him to take a walk through the neighborhood with you afterward for a cool-down routine you can do together.

Set Goals and Limits

Set goals and limits for yourself and your child.  Write your goals on a whiteboard or large notepad for the whole family to see.  Goals might include things like getting one hour of exercise everyday or playing outside together for 30 minutes five times per week.  Put limits on the amount of time allowed for television viewing.  Limit yourself as well so your child sees and begins to model your self control.

A Healthy Lifestyle Contributes to Healthy Relationships

You and your child will bond and grow in your relationship as you engage in healthy habits together.  If you need reassurance about whether your exercise schedule or nutrition plan is right for your child, discuss your goals for yourself and your child with your pediatrician on your next visit.

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