Busy family schedules leave little time for parents to actively monitor children’s health habits.
Praise, rewards and being a positive role model give parents opportunity to teach kids healthy habits without using unrealistic amounts of time.
Dr. Jian Khamo-Soskos, a Marshfield Clinic Med-Peds physician, recommends focus on diet, sleep and homework to teach kids healthy habits.
Teach a healthy diet
“Always start with breakfast,” Dr. Khamo-Soskos said. “Studies show kids take a few hours to wake up so breakfast helps reach max energy level sooner.”
Adults and kids maintain healthier weights and better metabolism when they eat breakfast. If kids develop healthy breakfast habits now, they’ll likely carry them into adulthood.
Limit snacks to healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts, and only occasionally allow treats like chips and cookies.
“It’s important not to say ‘no,’ when children reach for an unhealthy snack,” she said. “’No’ makes children question why and focus more on the want than actual hunger.”
Instead of saying “no”, try these responses:
- “Yes, you can have 10 chips.” — Use “yes” and allow them to count out a serving size. This is an active way for kids to learn portion control.
- “Yes, you can have chips in one hour.” — Use “yes” and show what one hour looks like on a clock. In the meantime, place baby carrots or sliced apples on the table. Children may forget about chips and opt for food in front of them.
- “Would you like chips or this tasty, green apple? I had an apple today, and it was very good.” — Provide a healthy alternative. Talk about the healthy snack with more excitement and appeal.
Include children in recipe choices, meal planning and cooking.
“This may not always be feasible during the week because of busy family schedules,” Dr. Khamo-Soskos said.
When weekdays are too busy to include children in meal prep, consider grocery shopping as a family on weekends. Allow younger children to compare nutritional content and prices.
Give older children a budget and basic food categories like fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy, to allow more involvement in meal planning and shopping.
Make goals, give rewards
Homework is a good opportunity to teach responsibility and healthy habits.
Sit down together to decide on designated homework times.
“When children reach homework goals, reward them with a favorite game or place they like to visit, rather than an unhealthy snack, video games or TV time,” Dr. Khamo-Soskos said.
Visit a park, play tag outside or travel somewhere new.
Instead of scolding kids when they’re having a hard time starting homework, try praising someone familiar, Dr. Khamo-Soskos said.
Here’s an example: “Remember when Joe worked on his homework without being asked? I really liked that, and then we all went to the park together.”
Children are great at absorbing information and storing it. Hint at good behavior and rewards and they’ll catch on,” she said.
Sleep affects growth
Sleep directly impacts mental and physical development, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Children ages 6 to 12 years old need 9 to 13 hours of sleep.
Teach kids the important role sleep plays in routine by also displaying good sleep habits. A child’s bedtime routine might include:
- Eating a small snack
- Taking a warm bath
- Changing into pajamas
- Brushing teeth
- Reading a book in bed
Mirror the child’s routine and get ready for bed together, or come up with your own routine.
Every child is stimulated in a different way, said Dr. Khamo-Soskos.
Find what works. Some children may respond to:
- Sticky note reminders
- “How-to” posters about hand washing or teeth brushing
- Games, like a healthy habit trivia