Good habits for kids pave the way to future health. Learn the 11 essential healthy habits to teach your child.
One of the most important roles we have as parents is to teach and model good habits for kids. This sets them on the path to a healthy future. If they learn to live these habits in their day-to-day lives early on, the chances of good habits extending into adulthood is pretty good, I think.
The best time to start instilling these behaviors in children is when they’re young.
For example, research shows children are more willing to eat nutritious foods and be active if they see their parents doing it first. The key here is “doing.” Just telling your kids what to do won’t work. They need to see you be a role model of healthy behaviors.
I believe there are a few good habits for kids that are smart ones to establish during childhood.
11 Healthy Habits for Kids
Daily habits, whether good or bad, can influence overall health. Here are what I believe to be the most impactful health habits for children and why they matter:
1. Move Every Day
You probably already know that regular exercise is associated with a host of benefits: Better attitude and mental health, greater strength, and fewer health problems. These build the foundation of a healthy adulthood.
But how does this translate to kids? And how much exercise should kids be getting every day?
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. How long an activity lasts, how intense it is, and the type of physical activity matters.
Walking the dog around the neighborhood isn’t enough. Experts want to see children sweaty, red-faced, and breathless every day. Furthermore, they want a blend of vigorous activity such as running or skating, strength training, and bone-building exercises throughout the week.
2. Keep a Cap On Screen Time
The term “screen” describes the variety of technological devices to which our children are exposed and use for general entertainment. Basically, anything that has a screen: A TV, phone, iPad, computer, and the like.
Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent in front of a screen to increased rates of health problems in children. As such, they recommend keeping a cap on screen time to a maximum of two hours per day, not including online learning or educational programming.
They rationalize that engaging in less sedentary, sit-down time means more physical activity.
3. Drink Water Most of the Time
Another good habit for kids is to learn to like water. As a primary beverage, it’s great at keeping them hydrated. Much better than soda, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened iced teas.
These sugary drinks offer little nutrition and provide excess calories in the form of added sugar.
Instead, serve water or milk (or a fortified plant-based beverage) with, and in between, meals.
4. Have a Routine for Meals and Snacks
Kids do well when there are routines around mealtime and snacks in the home. When food is nutritious, filling, and spaced out through the day, kids may be better able to regulate their appetite and eating.
The opposite: Willy-nilly meals, or skipping them can wreak havoc on a child’s appetite and eating habits. Bottom line: Don’t skip meals. You’ll have a better chance at anchoring an effective approach to good food parenting.
5. Balance the Plate with Color
Teaching kids to eat a colorful plate hinges on one main thing: Availability. Yes, fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, low calorie foods that provide fiber, nutrients, and promote fullness after meals. But, in order for kids to learn to like them, they need to show up at mealtimes and snacks.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) encourage kids to eat 5 cups of fruits and/or vegetables each day. Can this be done? Of course! Serve fruit or veggies (or both) at every meal and snack as an option. Remember, kids don’t have to eat them, but they do need to see these healthy options routinely.
6. Strike the Sweet Spot
There are endless opportunities for sweets, soda, and fried foods, otherwise known as sweets and treats. But these foods can get out of hand in children’s diets.
The key to keeping them in check is by striking a balance with nutritious foods. You don’t have to eliminate them or become the food police, rather learn to balance them with a variety of nutritious foods.
Generally, there’s room for 1 or 2 small sweet treats daily on average in a healthy balanced diet. Encourage your child to choose what he considers the most special sweet or treat.
7. Be a Social Eater
Family meals are known to be a powerful influence on many facets of childhood including growth, development, social adjustment, behavior, eating habits, grades and even body weight.
Eating meals together as a family gives your child the platform to explore food, try new tastes, learn manners, communicate and develop a healthy attitude toward food. It also shines a light on you as a role model.
Set aside your meals as family time and eat together as often as possible. Already doing that? Check out our Family-Style Meals Workshop – the ultimate path to eating autonomy for your child!
8. Eat Slowly and Savor Every Bite
We are a rushed society, scooting from one event to another. Many adults eat too quickly and kids are picking up on this habit, too.
We all do better with eating and appetite regulation when we slow down and pay attention to what we’re eating. Encourage your child to taste his food, savor the flavor, and enjoy eating. This is one of the keys to raising a good eater.
Slowing the process helps kids (and us!) be more mindful, which is tied to greater satisfaction and eating enjoyment.
9. Snack Smart
Snacks can be a strategic benefit to a child’s overall nutrition, boosting nutrients and helping with appetite regulation. Yet, they can be challenging, especially when they pop up everywhere in your child’s life.
The solution is to have a strategy and plan with snacks. For one, plan a regular time for snacks, rather than serve them when your child asks. Also, food choice matters. Choose wholesome, nutritious food combinations that provide a good source of nutrition and defy hunger.
You can learn more about raising a Smart Snacker in my book, The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking.
Need more help with your child’s snacking? Check out this resource!
10. Schedule Your Sleep
Kids need good sleep to grow well and function in their daily lives. The National Sleep Foundation suggests school-age children get 9 to 11 hours of sleep each day. Younger children require more.
Like food and eating, sleep is most beneficial when there’s a routine established. In fact, if you can schedule meals, snacks and sleep, you (and your child) will be doing quite well!
11. Talk Out the Tough Stuff
Communication is a life skill, yet modes of communication are rapidly changing from face-to-face dialogue to face-to-screen chatting.
Communication is hard and raising a good communicator is a challenge.
Yet, we know talking, especially sharing and processing feelings, can help children figure out tough topics, make good decisions, and empower their autonomy (that ability to figure out things on their own).
Stay connected and talk with your child as he grows and ages. The teen years can be tough, but being present can make a big difference.
Family meals are one way you can keep communicating!
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