By Contributing writer Amanda Henderson
Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io
We want the best for our kids, whether they’re our natural-born children or little ones we’re lucky to love as our step-kids. Both parents and step-parents work hard to ensure we raise healthy, happy adults. To help this become an eventuality, it’s crucial to teach children about physical, mental, and emotional health from an early age. Of course, teaching healthy habits takes time, patience, and dedication. What if your child prefers screen time to physical activities, or craves cake instead of vegetables? Luckily, experts have some suggestions that might help.
Here’s how parents and step-parents can encourage their children to embrace healthier choices.
Physical activity is crucial at any age, especially for children while their brains and bodies are growing. But how can you motivate your child to get some exercise if he or she is too busy playing video games or watching television? Getting creative might be the answer.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, sedentary children (including adolescents and teens) often respond better to “unconventional exercise.” Instead of forcing your child into an activity they don’t enjoy, partner with them to find something that suits their interests. For instance, your child can write a list of activities they enjoy, excluding any activities that involve screen time. Narrow the list down to anything involving physical activity. Get creative if you need to. Does your teenager enjoy shopping? If so, you might take a weekly trip to walk laps around the mall, as an example. You don’t have to buy anything, but you can window shop and spend some quality time together, which is a great way to bond blended families.
Psychologists also recommend parents model the healthy behaviors they’d like to see in their children. Find a workout routine you enjoy and explain to your child why it’s beneficial to you. Teach your child about limiting sugar and caffeine, and opting for balanced, nutritious meals. You can even invite your child to participate in age-appropriate physical activities, such as running a race or joining you at the gym.
Many families enjoy heading outdoors for some exercise together. For example, you might take a walk in a park or go for a hike in nature. Depending upon the season and location, make sure you pack the right supplies (water bottle, snacks) and that your child is properly dressed and has the right gear — doing so makes it easier for them to stay comfortable and enjoy the activity. Before purchasing any kid gear, do some research and check online reviews to find high-quality brands with kid-friendly sizes.
In the age of COVID-19, of course, exercising outside of the home can be difficult. Thankfully, the internet has you covered. There are hundreds of exercise videos and tutorials on sites like YouTube, many of which are absolutely free. All you need to supply is an internet connection with speeds that can keep up with high-bandwidth content and a space to work out!
A healthy mind is just as essential as a healthy body. Because screen time can lead to childhood mental illness, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends removing mobile devices and televisions from bedrooms and limiting screen time.
Other than occasional video chats with loved ones, children under the age of 18 months shouldn’t experience screen time. Between 18 to 24 months, you can slowly introduce high-quality children’s programming. Toddlers and young children should only have one hour of screen time per day until age four. Once your child enters grade school, place consistent boundaries on screen time. Decide as a family what your daily limit will be. Make screen time off limits during specific activities, such as driving or after bedtime.
Replace TV, Facebook, and video games with more playtime, outdoor activities, or family discussions. When your children are online, teach them how to avoid cyberbullying, and have open conversations about online safety and respectful behaviors.
It’s uncomfortable talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, but these difficult conversations are essential. Limit your child’s temptation to experiment with drugs and alcohol by not exposing them to these addictive substances. Talk to your children about the dangers of addiction and model appropriate behaviors, like not drinking and driving. Because addiction has a genetic component, be honest with your child about your family history. Even if you’re a step-parent, being honest with your step-child about you and your family’s past offers them insight on why it’s important to avoid drugs and alcohol, and your openness can deepen your connection. You don’t have to be a perfect parent to keep your kids off drugs. Just be willing to establish a healthy, open relationship with your child from a young age.
Whether you’re the natural parent or a step-parent, the best way to encourage your children to make healthier choices is by modeling those choices yourself. Because children learn from adults’ actions and words, it’s crucial to set a good example. Eat balanced meals, exercise, and never drink and drive. By supporting your child’s healthy habits from an early age, you can help grow into a well-rounded, happy adult.