Parents and other caregivers can guide children to develop lifestyle habits that will support their good health for years to come. We know that as a parent or caregiver you may not have all the answers. Like many Americans, you may even struggle to develop and stick with healthy habits of your own. One way to win this double struggle is to practice healthy lifestyle habits—together!
Consuming healthful foods and beverages, doing regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, and other factors may help children to grow, learn, build strong bones and muscles, maintain a healthy weight, reduce future chances of developing diabetes and heart disease and feel good about themselves.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a big part in shaping children’s eating and drinking habits. When you make it a habit to consume foods and beverages that are low in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt and are high in fiber, the children you care for may learn to like these foods as well. If a child you are caring for does not like a new food right away, don’t be upset. Children often need to see a new food many times before they will try it.
Be a role model. As a parent or caregiver, you also have an effect on children’s physical activity. You do not need to be an expert at any activity. Just get up, move, and show children how much fun being active can be. They may grow to like it too. You can set a good example by going for a walk or riding a bike instead of watching TV, playing a video game, or surfing the internet. Find an activity that you enjoy and can do together.
Talk about being healthy. As you learn more about how to improve your health, take the time to talk to your children about how a certain food or physical activity may help them. For example, when going for a walk, bring your children with you and let them pick the route. Discuss how walking helps you feel better and is a fun way to spend time together.
Use your children’s food and beverage choices as teaching moments. Speak up when you see unhealthy choices. Direct children to healthier options or say, “You can have a little of that, but not too much.” Talk to them about why an overly salty or heavily sugared snack is not the best choice. Avoid making them feel guilty about their food or beverage choices. You can also praise your children when they choose a healthy item like fruit.
Use comments like these
– “Great choice!”
– “You’re giving your body what it needs with that snack!”
– “I like those, too.”
With physical activity, try upbeat phrases like these to keep your child excited
– “You run so fast; I can hardly keep up!”
– “You are building a strong, healthy heart!”
– “Let’s walk 10 more minutes to make us stronger.”
Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Getting enough sleep can improve your child’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Not getting enough sleep may lead to many health issues, including obesity.
Believe in the power to change. Know that eating healthy and moving more are the building blocks to better health. Work together to form healthy habits.
Sherry Eagle is the WIC Director at the Meigs County Health Department.