One of the best things about parenting is that literally everything that happens in your kids’ lives can be a “teaching moment.”
They flunk a school quiz and feel crappy about it? Teaching moment. They apologize to their little sister for being an idiot – and mean it? Teaching moment. There was an “incident” last Tuesday involving too many marshmallows and the unwilling family pet? Teaching moment.
For many of us, arriving at a healthier lifestyle, shaking off poor habits and committing to a future that emphasizes strength and responsibility is something we only do as adults.
If you have kids, you’ve probably wondered how you can teach them everything you’ve already learned – especially in a world that looks geared for the opposite.
Speak to anyone over the age of 40 and they’ll tell you the biggest difference is that technology seems to have replaced physical activities in kids’ lives. Whereas their parents complained that they couldn’t even find their kids come dinner time, the modern parent finds themselves saying, “It’s such a nice day, dammit, go play outside!” to a square-eyed teen.
Likewise, kids today have to contend with food that's more refined and calorie-dense than what their parents likely ate. Here are a few ways to encourage a love of fitness and keep your kids strong and fit in the face of computer games, smartphones and high fructose corn syrup:
- Find those teaching moments. Kids have tons of questions, and if they’re curious about your diet or gym routine, take the chance to explain everything to them clearly and in a way that's appropriate for their age. The Internet is a great place to find information… but buyer beware: if you find it on the net, don't always assume it's the complete truth.
- Respect your child’s appetite. In the long run, you need to keep an eye on their overall nutrition, but a skipped meal or refusing to eat spinach aren’t cause for concern. Instead, try to encourage them to trust their bodies when it comes to food – everyone comes into the world with a strong sense of what’s good for them; help them honor this.
- In the same vein, try not to teach your child that food is a reward or punishment. Bad emotional eating habits develop from being forced to eat, using food to celebrate or eating as a way to manage emotions. Teach your child to engage directly with their feelings.
- Encourage a bit of playful competition. When framed as a game, rather than something very serious, most children love being challenged. The lesson? That they can maturely deal with winning and losing with equal ease.
- Encourage activity. If your child takes interest in a football Xbox game, for example, try to replicate the moves in real life with him or her. Follow your child’s interests and support hobbies that get them out into the world and moving.
- Lastly, don’t underestimate the value in being a good role model. Perhaps the single best thing you can do to teach your child good habits is to have them yourself. Put away the iPad yourself and go for a walk. Model a healthy, joyful attitude to food and exercise and your child will learn to do the same.
Even though so many people admit that their health and fitness problems stem from childhood, we as a nation pay relatively little attention to raising kids with sound habits.
Luckily, most children are naturally curious, active and have healthy, robust appetites – all it takes is a little consistency in creating a healthy space for them to do their thing.