Have you ever heard the expression that children are like sponges? They are watching and soaking up everything you do and say, even if you think they are not watching or listening. Role modeling has been shown to influence behaviors and these behaviors can set a positive, healthy foundation for your children to grow and thrive for their entire lives.
Children have many different role models in their lives, but none more important than their parents and caregivers. So, what are some of those healthy behaviors you can focus on establishing now to ensure positive role modeling for children?
- Start with a healthy breakfast. If you are running around getting ready for work in the morning and grab a quick cup of coffee, your children are going to think they do not have to sit down to have breakfast either. Start your day off with a bowl of unsweetened cereal, fruit or a hardboiled egg. This can help fuel the brain for working and learning at school. Children who eat a breakfast are more focused at school and ready to begin their day.
- Drink water! Water is the best source for hydration and it is cheap and calorie free. Children want what their parents have, is that a soda in your hands? Make it fun. You can allow your child to pick out a personalized water bottle. You and your child can each have one and it can easily be refilled if you are participating in activities or running around. Most children do not need any beverages other than water and low fat milk. Juice and sodas contribute to empty calories in the form of sugar and should really be avoided.
- Limit access to junk food in the home. The environment is a contributing factor when role modeling healthy behaviors. It is the parents’ responsibility to stock the house with the types of food everyone will eat. This not only influences the decisions your children make in choosing snacks and other foods, it most certainly can tempt parents’ food choices as well. Keeping cut up fruits and vegetables on hand can help the entire family make healthy choices. If you are hungry and grab carrots and hummus, your kids are more likely to reach for this as well.
- Cook with your children. When children are age appropriate have them assist with meal preparation. Cooking meals at home means that you have more control of what actually goes into the meal. You can avoid added salt, sugar and fat when preparing the meal yourself. As you prepare and cook meals, your children will learn important skills like how to read recipes, measure ingredients and healthy cooking methods. Remember, when preparing meals, stick with baking, broiling, grilling and steaming to control those calories.
- Eat at least one meal together as a family at the table. I cannot think of a better place to role model healthy eating than sitting around the table, eating a family dinner. From the time children are born they start observing. They watch how you use utensils to feed yourself and what food items you are putting into your body. If you serve a fruit and vegetable with every meal and you eat that with every dinner, then this becomes “normal” for your children. A family dinner is a great opportunity to try new foods as well. If you want to introduce a new vegetable, like okra, you can prepare it together then all eat it together at the table. Share your thoughts on how the food tastes. And finally, take your time eating the meal and talk about your day. All of these healthy habits have been proven in research to produce happier more productive children who do better in school. And who doesn’t want that?
- Exercise as a family. Exercise has so many benefits including stronger muscles and bones, decreased risk for obesity and other diseases and just feeling better overall. A simple exercise is taking walk together at a park or ramping up your family competition with Wii bowling or dance. The key is to start purposeful movement that you will enjoy together. And if you are incorporating activity every day, then your children will be more inclined to do the same.
- Limit screen time, including watching television, playing on the computer or video game console and cell phones. Reduced screen time allows families more time to spend time together and enjoy other activities like exercise. Too much engagement of electronics can be distracting, especially at the dinner table.
- Establish a bed time routine. Getting plenty of rest helps to regulate hormone levels that control hunger levels and allows growing brains the time they need to recharge. A good habit to practice is reading a bed time story to your child. This will help the child begin to understand the expectation for bed time and going to sleep.
Taking time to create a healthy environment and making a plan to incorporate healthy behaviors into each day can help you role model a healthy lifestyle for your children. Remember, children can role model the good and bad. Small changes can make a big difference, so choose one behavior to focus on. Remember to make it fun and you can choose as a family. Which one will you choose today?