You’ve heard the joke before: “Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.” Yet you don’t realize the weight of that statement until you yourself become a parent. It seems like there are millions of ways to mess up, and chiefly among the possible pitfalls is your children’s health. Every parent worries about it.
Part of the issue comes from the fact that parents are busier than ever, and have less help than ever. Workdays are longer, and day care costs soar. This means kids are spending too much time indoors, and parents are increasingly relying on processed foods. Making time for healthy habits can seem truly difficult.
But the truth is, you can start small. Every positive change you make now will benefit both you and your children. Here are some ideas for small changes that could have a huge positive impact on your child’s health.
Prioritize Sleep and Non-Screen Activities
You just need the kids out of your hair for 30 minutes to get dinner on the table, so you turn on the TV, or hand them an iPad. Or perhaps in an effort to get your kids to stay in their rooms after they are put to bed, you allow them to play games on a handheld device until they drop off to sleep.
Screens do have their place in your children’s lives, but looking at them too close to bedtime can interfere with healthy sleep cycles. Try making a no-screens rule starting an hour before bedtime, and encourage other types of play instead. Kids can work off their extra energy and actually go to bed tired – and with no screen to keep them awake, they’ll get the rest they need.
Involve the Kids With Food Preparation
Got picky eaters? Kids can sometimes use food as a means of control. In this big world of rules and adults telling them “no,” they lock onto food as a chance to say it back. Kids can whittle their menu down so far that parents begin to worry about them getting enough nutrients.
One thing to try is involving your children in the food prep process. If they like to have a measure of control over the food they are eating, let them help to choose and make their own. They may be more likely to eat it if they feel like it was their decision in first place.
This also becomes a good chance for you to show them what is and is not healthy, and to introduce new foods. Plus, an early introduction to a few cooking skills won’t hurt. They can take this valuable information and instruction right up through adulthood.
Connect Fun With Physical Activity
Try making a list of your most recent family outings. If you’re noticing a lot of movie theaters or restaurants, you may be unwittingly connecting fun with more passive activities.
Try making your next family outing a hike, a bike ride, a day at the pool, or even a visit to an obstacle course. Let your kids see you exercising right along with them, and they in turn will be more open to new challenges and experiences that will get them moving. Let them see which exercises you enjoy, and encourage them to find their own favorites.
Now here’s a tricky one. So many people mistakenly confuse self-care with selfishness. It’s not the same thing. Have you ever heard the expression “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” Pushing yourself beyond your personal limits or taking on more stress than you can realistically handle is not doing your family any favors. In fact, it may be teaching your children to do the same.
Show your kids what it looks like to take meaningful time for yourself. Let them “catch you” reading a novel, let them see you dressing up for a special date night with your partner, let them see that calling out sick and spending the day in bed will help you recover faster.
Taking mental health as seriously as you take physical health will help your children tune in to their own levels of stress and anxiety – and thanks to your example, they will have a framework for how to deal with that in a healthy way.
You don’t have to turn your entire family upside down to make them healthy. Start with a few small changes, and allow good habits to form. Once your kids begin to see healthy choices as fun and inviting, and not as punishment, they will be much more likely to seek out those options on their own.