We are all concerned about the child obesity problem in the “civilized” world but like car accidents, we all believe that it will never happen to us. Maybe you look at your kids and think that their OK or that there is no way that they could be considered “fat.” Great, good for you. But the reality is that as children are looking for us to provide guidance on their behavior. We are teaching them right now, today, the patterns of acceptable behavior that we hope to see them have their whole life. And they are watching, hungry (no pun intended) to see what we will show them.
When I was in high school our health teacher was named Mr. White. He was probably 5 foot 10 and went a good 4oo pounds. If the ever-present smell of smoke didn’t tip you off, you could almost certainly see the pack of Marlboro Reds in his shirt pocket everyday. He lectured us on drugs and alcohol, and diet and exercise. Seriously? Granted that wasn’t that long ago (30 years) but have we gotten smarter about the “laws of credibility” when it comes to teaching ? How about the law as applied to parenting? I love the parents who, rather than quitting smoking will drive with the window down to blow smoke out so as not to put their kids as risk. (Children of smoker parents are twice as likely to smoke than children of non-smokers) . The same consideration should be given to how activity and fitness are displayed to children. Are you demonstrating a fit lifestyle for your children to emulate? If you are counting on your kid actually thinking that they will do the opposite of what you do when it comes to health behaviors, I can tell you it’s not likely.
If you are ACTIVE:
- Be a role model for your children. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active.
- Involve the whole family in activities like hiking, biking, dancing, or playing basketball.
- Focus on fun. You can do a lot of walking during trips to the zoo or park. Kids will quickly associate the “fun” and “family” with the activity
- (WARNING: Shameless plug ahead) Sign your children up for a Gymfinity EveryBody Fitness program or an after school class/activity
- Let them overhear you bragging about them being active. Caution! Notice I did not say “Accomplishment”, “Winning” or “Trophy” . It’s about the activity not the tangible rewards of activity.
- Team up with your children to play sports or dance video games that get everyone moving.
- Bring them to a fitness event, like a race or a baseball game. Talk about the game/activity.
- Encourage them to try new sports, do it with them.
- Don’t sit still, tell them it’s OK to be active and explain (over and over) how great it feels to be moving.
If you are INACTIVE:
- Change your habits to model the desire to be healthy. Children will notice effort as well as any accomplishment Get off your butt and move. If you’re not going to do it for your children, who would you do it for?
- Don’t think that video games are activity. At our house we have Wii season. When it’s nice outside there is no video gaming. In the winter it’s more suitable, but I still tell our boys that I would rather play baseball than play at playing baseball.
- Eat meals together as a family. Do not eat in front of a screen.
- After eating, do dishes together or go for a walk. Eliminate the atmosphere of “let’s get this done so we can sit and rest.” Change it to “lets do something fun together”.
- Do not put your child on a diet to lose weight** and stop complaining about your diet. Eat right, enjoy food and let your kids help in it’s selection and preparation. They will appreciate it more.
- Help your child find ways other than food to handle setbacks or mark successes. Celebrate with doing something active; “Great spelling test, you’ve earned some park time. Want to go play catch for a while?”
- Try new foods together. Food, especially healthy food, can be an adventure. Share the adventure with them. We have friends who joke about their kid never having broccoli because they don’t like it. What an adventure to try “broccalette” or “Cauliflower” or Kohlrabi” there is so much to explore with kids. What if you find a new favorite? We hate beets in our house, but we keep trying new ways to cook them. Maybe one day, I’ll find some way that doesn’t make them taste like dirt. For now we are pretty happy that we got the kids liking sweet potatoes as much as regular potatoes.
Remember, you play the biggest role in your children’s lives. You can help your children learn healthy eating and physical activity habits to follow for the rest of their lives. Show them what “Healthy” looks and feels like. Be the role model your kids are looking for.
** I am not saying to ignore it if a medical professional suggests an eating plan. I am saying don’t subject your kids to fad diets.