Living a healthy life begins with great habits. Learning good habits at an early age allows children to develop positive behaviors. Habits also create a sense of stability and structure in a child’s life. They increase physical and emotional wellbeing by reducing health problems and stress. Below we talk about three healthy habits that will benefit children throughout their lifetime.
Healthy Eating Habits
Proper nutrition helps children grow strong bodies and minds. To encourage good eating habits, cook healthy meals but allow children to decide whether they eat and how much. We should avoid statements like, “Finish your plate.” and “One more bite.” Children are naturally aware of when they feel full. When we decide for them, we may harm their ability to listen to their body’s signals. This can lead to overeating and dislike for the food they are being forced to eat.
It may seem concerning if a child only eats a small amount during a meal. However, they typically eat the same number of calories each day, though the pattern may change. Children may eat a large breakfast and lunch but a small dinner one day, and opposite the next.
It’s important to provide children with lots of water and limit sugary drinks like soda and juice. Sugar can lead to cavities, obesity, and other illnesses.
Try to set a meal schedule. This will help guarantee children have a stable energy source throughout the day. Caregivers and children should eat at least one meal together each day. Make sure mealtime is fun and happy. This allows children to think positively about food and eating.
When children show interest, teach them how to cook simple, well-balanced meals. Older children can help with grocery lists and shopping. These skills are useful for children throughout their lives, into adulthood.
Lastly, don’t use junk food (or any food) as a reward; it may cause children to associate food with certain emotional states. E.g., if they feel successful, children may eat when not hungry to reward themselves. They may also begin to prefer unhealthy snacks to food with more nutritional value.
Regular Exercise Habits
Like adults, children need frequent exercise to stay healthy. Children ages five and up should get at least one hour of vigorous exercise each day. Toddlers and preschool-age children should engage in active play daily, for one to two hours, respectively. Physical activity can be spread throughout the day.
Aerobic exercise (commonly called cardio) helps children strengthen their hearts and lungs. Often, children naturally engage in this type of exercise. Playing tag, jumping rope, and playing sports like soccer or basketball are good examples. Caregivers can include children on hikes, jogs, or walks to get their hearts pumping. Encouraging children to do organized sports is a great way for them to get exercise and make friends.
Muscle strengthening exercises are also good for children. Climbing at the playground, swimming, and bicycling are good options. Strength exercises can be done as a family, which allows children to see caregivers setting a good example. Children can lift weight if they are supervised by a knowledgeable fitness professional. However, to avoid potential injury due to equipment misuse or improper form, they can do bodyweight exercises like push-ups and sit-ups.
Stretching is an important habit to teach children. It increases flexibility, reduces the likelihood of bodily injury, helps people stay mobile, and decreases physical pain. Caregivers should learn proper stretching techniques and teach them to children. Joining a child-friendly yoga class (or practicing at home) is a good way to help children build a consistent stretching routine.
Children with high self-esteem believe in themselves and feel accepted for who they are. They take risks and easily recover from mistakes. Children with low self-esteem may be self-critical and unconfident in their abilities. They may not take risks for fear of failure.
During all stages of a child’s life, caregivers can help them build a positive self-image. We can start by teaching them new, age-appropriate skills. First, we can demonstrate how to do something, and then let them attempt. This promotes confidence in their capabilities.
It’s important to praise a child’s efforts, not just their achievements (e.g., good grades) or qualities (e.g., physical appearance). If a child gets an A on a test, instead of saying, “Wow, you’re so smart!”, we can say, “You studied hard, and it paid off!” Even when they don’t perform well, we should avoid harsh criticisms and false praise. If, for example, they lose a wrestling match we can say, “Everyone loses sometimes, and that’s okay. You showed up and tried your best!”
It’s also helpful to emphasize strengths over weaknesses. We can help children discover their strengths by introducing them to lots of new activities. Ultimately, we should let them choose what they feel good at. By practicing what they enjoy, they can confidently master skills.
Our inner voice can be mean, which may lead us to view ourselves negatively. As such, we should teach children to speak to themselves kindly. Teach them to use realistic positive statements like, “If I work hard, I can achieve my goals.” or “I love myself, no matter what.” This is better than, “I am the best at everything!”, as that is untrue and may lead to disappointment. Help children identify what they love about themselves (e.g., humor, kindness, etc.). This way, even when they fail, they’ll believe in their innate self-worth. The best way to inspire good habits in our children is to practice them ourselves. When we eat well, exercise, and love ourselves unconditionally, we provide our children with healthy role models to learn from.