Sometimes knowing how to build a healthy lifestyle is hard enough for us, let alone trying to institute those practices for our kids.
The everyday challenges of just keeping our kids alive, relatively happy, and hopefully uninjured can sometimes crowd out any other priorities.
However, it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think to implement basic health and wellness with your children.
Helping them learn about general health and wellness concepts can be simple. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or cram the content of an entire college nutrition course into your children.
Here are some simple, practical areas for introducing your children to health and wellness concepts that they can incorporate over time.
It’s estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that almost 15 million children and teenagers are affected by obesity in the U.S. alone.
It’s never too early to start practicing healthy and nutritious habits with your kids. And don’t worry – you don’t have to become a certified dietician to do so.
Here are a couple of simple tips to get you started:
Cut Down on Refined Sugars
We’re often not taught this, but sugar is a powerfully addictive substance. It also bears a lion’s share of the responsibility for changing our bodies’ insulin responses and causing weight gain.
“No sugar added” labels on condiments, drinks, and snacks are your friend. Think about cutting down on various refined sugars and, instead, incorporating more fruit or other naturally sweet additives into your cooking and snacking when necessary.
Make it Automatic
Making simple swaps for the items you give your kids at breakfast, lunch, snack time, and more can go a long way in helping them develop healthy habits without knowing it.
Even if they’re dipping them in caramel sauce or ranch dressing, having carrot sticks or other veggies for a snack instead of candy or cookies can be a substantially healthier alternative and lay groundwork for habits, tastes, and choices that will last them into adulthood.
Fitness and Activity
Though nutrition is a vital part of the process, it’s not the only component of living healthily.
Incorporating regular physical activity adds a whole heap of benefits that can reinforce healthy habits in other areas.
Physical activity does wonders for kids – in addition to helping combat weight gain and obesity, physical activities can help regulate emotional and mental health; create opportunities for social connections; and teach basic interaction skills like negotiation, communication, navigating victory and failure, and more.
Incorporating physical activity into your kids’ experience can be as simple as inviting friends from school over to play outside together. It could also look like letting your children sign up for involvement in a sport or extracurricular activity.
Is your child hesitant to engage with conventional forms of physical activity or play? They might enjoy joining you for an activity you can both do like walking, hiking, or swimming.
Alternatively, think about getting something like a Wii Fit or similar for the home.
General Health Awareness
Though nutrition and an active lifestyle can help all of us live much healthier lives, everyone will eventually experience health problems or difficulties that not even the healthiest lifestyle can completely prevent.
It might be sickness, an injury, some kind of diagnosis, an autoimmune disorder, or something else – but just about every single human being on the planet will eventually experience some kind of health problem that will likely require medical intervention.
It’s important to teach your kids not just the power of preventative habits but how to regard and navigate the healthcare system.
Health advocacy sounds like a lofty, complicated, political concept but in reality, it can refer to even the simplest forms of raising awareness about how to protect and maintain physical health.
Help your kids understand the relationships between doctors, insurance, hospitals, and other components of the healthcare landscape. This doesn’t need to be rocket science. Use everyday examples and opportunities that can provide teaching points.
Don’t worry about trying to communicate anything too complicated for your child’s age or level of understanding. This shouldn’t be an exercise in frustration.
It’s more than enough to simply expose them to simple concepts that will help them better understand the framework when they get older and start needing to make their own healthcare decisions.
Emotional and Mental Health
Teaching your children about emotional and mental health can be one of the biggest ways you can equip them for life beyond their childhood years.
Though this type of curriculum is slowly becoming more commonplace in schools, many children won’t be exposed to adequate amounts of mental health awareness and knowledge before they develop unhealthy or misinformed coping habits and strategies.
If this is a mystifying area for you, don’t fret.
In fact, this is a perfect opportunity to learn these skills alongside your children. Try reading kids’ books on emotional health or intelligence to your kids.
In addition to books, more resources exist now than ever before – games, videos, classes, and more – that help teach your children helpful emotional intelligence and mental health concepts.
Once you’ve learned concepts, take the final step and incorporate them into your daily interactions with your kids.
For example, use simple grounding or mental health first aid strategies with your kids like asking them to take a breath and count to ten before responding when they are upset.
The more you can demonstrate and model simple mental health and wellness tactics, the more prepared your children will be to tackle tougher challenges as they grow older.
If this list feels like a lot to remember or incorporate, don’t stress. This doesn’t have to happen in a day. Pick just one item off this list to start with this week.
Begin having easy conversations with your kids when opportunities present themselves.
Little by little, you’ll invest in creating a health and wellness framework your kids will be able to apply for the rest of their lives.
***Author Bio: Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she’s not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.