Healthy Habits: Teaching Children Early

You’ve probably heard the saying “old habits die hard.” People often say it in a negative way, but the same thing holds true for good habits. The earlier you can get your children into the routine of eating healthy, staying active, and getting plenty of sleep, the more likely they are to keep it up for their whole lives.

Set a bedtime routine.

One thing that children need in their lives is predictability. Research has shown that kids between one and six years old need about 12 hours of sleep per night. If you let them go to bed whenever they choose, they won’t sleep as well and will end up having a harder time keeping their emotions in check throughout the day. For children four years old and younger, going to bed around 7 p.m. seems to be a good time. After that, you can start increasing the time a little every few months or a year. Over time, it will show them the importance of getting plenty of good sleep, which can be very helpful during teenage years.

Set an example of eating well.

Children learn by watching the adults in their lives, so if they see their parents snacking on crackers, drinking sugary beverages, and going out to get fast food, they’ll think that’s what they should be doing. Instead, eat meals as a family and make sure to incorporate different vegetables, proteins, and carbs to make it fun and exciting. You can also try out new things together. Emphasize that you enjoy whatever healthy food you’re eating, and your child will become more interested in it. Once your child establishes a love for all kinds of foods, they’ll keep eating them into their adult lives.

Focus on personal hygiene.

Kids love to make messes and of course don’t always understand that clean hands keep them from getting sick. Before every meal, make a point of having them wash their hands. You can do it together to show them how to scrub well. At night, have them take a bath or a shower (with soap) and brush their teeth for two minutes. Good oral hygiene can actually help the health of the whole body. They’ll start to see that being clean is just a part of life, which will make the teenage years easier to transition into as their body odor increases.

Make exercise fun.

Daily exercise isn’t just good for the heart and lungs, it has been shown to decrease the risk of things like depression and cancer, as well as help improve memory and thinking skills. Take your kids to a new park regularly, run around with the dog somewhere, or set up obstacle courses in the backyard. As they climb and play and have fun, they’ll also get their blood flowing and find their strengths. Maybe one of your kids is a fast runner who will do cross country in the future, or maybe you have a kid who loves to do cartwheels and wants be a gymnast. Whatever the activity, spending quality time getting exercise with your kids will only make them more likely to stay active.

Reinforce positive thinking.

Always make a point to compliment your child on their abilities. It can be something small, but little kids feel very proud when they excel at something. Also encourage your child to talk to you if they feel scared or upset, and let them know they don’t have to deal with negative thoughts alone. As they get older, it will teach them self-confidence and skills to cope when stress or anger gets in the way.