5 Ways to Help Kids Develop Healthy Habits

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
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A study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation showed parents have significant potential to influence their children's behavior. This includes eating habits and physical activity. In fact, parents outrank sports celebrities as the person the child "would like to be most," according to the survey. So, teach your kids about how to live a healthy life. Help your children learn to make healthier food choices and engage in regular physical activity by being a good role model.

Embrace the Concept of Family

Family dynamics can have a positive (or negative) effect on a child's health. Family patterns that seem most related to a health include family closeness, democratic parenting, supportive home environment and mind-stimulating activities. On the flip side, if parents are over protective and possessive, children tend to be less likely to engage in healthful behaviors.

Promote Positive Habits

Aim for balance and openness around food and mealtimes. Include your children in meal planning, shopping and preparation to encourage. Provide fair attitudes toward feeding and create a warm and open family environment at mealtimes. The same goes for exercise. Make sure your kids know they are part of the team and that health and fitness are a family affair. Take turns letting your child pick a family activity.

Keep Foods Neutral

Stay away from using food as a reward and don't forbid specific foods. Using food as a reward, such as giving a child a cookie for completing his or her homework, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Labeling foods as "bad" or forbidding foods only increases a child's desire for the food. Parents who tightly control their own eating — "restrained" eaters — may not notice they exert such excessive control over their children's food habits, which can lead to the risk of overweight in children.

Don’t Force Feed

As they grown, children’s appetites fluctuate. So, when they’re full, don't push them to clean their plate. Also, don’t force them to stay at the dinner table until they’ve finished those veggies. Though this might appear to help your kids get the nutrition they need, these behaviors can actually lead to kids disliking those foods and having negative associations with mealtime.

Plan Regular Family Activities

Forceful tactics also apply to strict rules about exercise: Children may end up exercising less. Instead, encourage children to take up an after-school sport. Or, make it a family affair:  Take your kids to the park to walk, jog, inline skate or play catch. Make walking the dog a fun game by counting how many times the dog stops or how many rabbits or squirrels the dog sees.

Research shows us that parents can positively affect children's development and behaviors, especially in the early years when the influence is the greatest. So, engage with your children and be the person you hope they will become!

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