How to create a health culture at home for your kids

Yet another study is out highlighting that kids are getting fatter and they’re hardly moving any more. They get driven to school. They drink soft drinks. They don’t get much milk. They snack a lot. They text and watch video games. The number of obese kids has doubled since the 1970’s, with one in six now officially obese.

But if you really want your kids to be healthy, you have to do a lot more than just slim them down. That’s a start, of course.

Ideally, create a household in which healthy living is practiced every day in time-tested, research-proven ways.

Everything I’m proposing is free. Most of it has been done for generations and generations. Somehow we’ve gotten away from the basics.

If you teach your children basic healthy habits of living they’re likely to live longer and better lives. I grew up with these “core principles” and they became so ingrained in me, it’s how we raised our kids.

Almost every day, no matter what, we took a two-mile or longer walk together. From strollers to bikes with training wheels to roller blades and then just walking, it was built into our life together. It’s amazing what you learn about each other when you’re walking and talking. Often we walked after dinner, even in the dark or when it was raining, sometimes looking at the stars on a clear night or saving a lonely frog in the street from a potentially bad ending.

Beyond getting regular exercise together, grab teachable moments to help your children begin to truly understand their bodies and their health. You have the potential to help your kids learn about their health, what’s normal — and what’s not. You can explain things in simple terms. When there’s a badly skinned knee, say that “tiny cells are knitting new skin.” When you put on a band-aid, point out  that it helps keep the big bad bacteria from making it hard for the scab to form as it should. When they have a fever, you can explain how the body fights an infection.

At the doctor’s office or clinic, as the children get a little older, encourage them to ask their healthcare providers questions. “Why do you weigh me every time?” “Can I listen to my own heart?” “Can I watch while you give me that shot?” The more kids learn to engage with their healthcare, the more they’ll be able to eventually become CEOs of their own bodies.

Here are some more proven tips for creating a health culture within your family:

  • Don’t use food as a reward for anything. Food is about nutrition, food can be fun, food can be celebratory, but you don’t get a candy bar for exercising or a cookie for turning in your homework. People who have learned to use food as a reward tend to develop weight issues and sometimes even eating disorders.
  •  Be calm about visits to the doctor and don’t make a big thing about injections or simple procedures. Explain why the “shot” will help them, dry their tears if they cry, give them a hug and move on. Kids will benefit if they don’t learn to associate health care with drama. Don’t reward kids for getting a shot. Make health care a regular part of life.
  • Serve balanced meals and avoid fast food.
  • Kids aren’t cows; they don’t need to graze constantly. Snacks, if really necessary, should be fruits and vegetables, a small handful of nuts. They should sip water, not juice (because it’s high in calories and natural sugar and can cause cavities without brushing soon after drinking).
  • Make sure your kids brush their teeth thoroughly twice a day.
  • Set a bed time that ensures enough sleep and stick to it. (You’ll benefit from this, too!)
  • Make sure everybody gets 30 minutes of exercise every day, including you. If you can, do things together. Shoot baskets. Take the dog for a walk. Play ping-pong. Grab a bike. Run around the neighborhood. Take a walk. Swim. Rollerblade.
  • Go outside together. It’s far more likely to get you moving than staying between four walls.
  • Refuse to start the car unless everyone has their seat belts fastened. Period.
  • For teenagers who drive, set an ironclad rule about the car: no talking on the phone, texting, or eating while driving. Period.
  • Together, read books and watch videos that teach kids about their bodies and how they work.
  • Model healthy living for your children: no smoking, responsible drinking, exercise, stress management and active engagement in health care.

Barbara Bronson Gray is a nurse who blogs at BodBoss.

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