We often only consider and really begin to value our emotional and physical wellbeing later on in life – but the foundations of a healthy lifestyle are actually formed when we are very young. The way we talk to our children as parents and guardians significantly shapes their view of their bodies and how they can take care of themselves and stay as healthy as possible as they grow up.
As adults, many people struggle with various chronic conditions or difficulties such as being overweight, tackling stress and poor diet – but this is often a result of lack of awareness surrounding what constitutes healthy balanced eating, a wellness-centered lifestyle and sufficient exercise.
Conversely, how we teach our children to view themselves and their wellbeing can lead to negative attitudes surrounding certain aspects of health which could also have a damaging effect on physical and mental wellbeing later on in life – such as believing some foods are ‘bad’ and ‘good’, obsessing over calorie content or excessively exercising. Speaking to children about health can be challenging for parents – but it’s important to start early on to ensure they can develop positive attitudes that serve them now and in the future.
This month we’re celebrating International Children’s Day – so here we’ve shared 5 tips parents and guardians can use to help kids to better understand their bodies and encourage them to put healthier habits in place at an early age.
1/ Keep wellness light and fun
A serious or aggressive approach rarely works well when encouraging kids to be healthier. Many adults have less-than-fond memories of being forced to eat vegetables, or being admonished for leaving food on their plate. This approach often does more harm than good, forming negative emotions and behaviors around food and healthy habits rather than positive ones. It also usually causes children to want to do the exact opposite of what you’re telling them to do – especially as they get older.
Use positive reinforcement, and make the topic of health and healthy habits fun wherever possible.
2/ Avoid extreme language and behaviors
Many adults don’t have a healthy relationship with their bodies or struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle – so it’s common for them to pass on many damaging behaviors they have picked up over the years to their children unknowingly. Be careful when it comes to the language you use when discussing food and exercise concerning yourself or others.
*Avoid commenting on other people’s body types and shapes
*Avoid labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
*Avoid focusing on or encouraging children to count calories or the nutritional content of foods
*Share the exciting benefits of foods and focus on how they nourish and support children and their favorite activities (this gives us lot of energy’, or ‘this is full of vitamins to help us see better’ or ‘this makes our hair shiny and strong’)
*Listen to your child if they say they don’t like something. When it comes to food, try recipes together to find a way to incorporate specific foods into their diet, or for exercise look for ways to make it more fun and engaging or try something new
*Encourage your child to define health as something that is based on how they feel, not on how they look.
3/ Make healthy the norm
When children see healthy habits as a chore or as something adults can opt out of, they have less motivation and drive to put effort into them. Try to make a healthy lifestyle the norm for the whole family and lead by example where possible, encouraging your kids to do the same.
This can be challenging for busy households with hectic lifestyles – but even small things can make a huge difference.
4/ Manage fears and anxieties
Children can develop anxieties and fears surrounding certain foods and health routines or habits, as well as specific illnesses. This is especially true if a parent or family member has suffered with ill health. Managing any fears that come up in a sensitive manner and validating these emotions can help children to feel seen and encourage them to work through any concerns which could come to have an adverse impact on their health and wellbeing later on in life.
5/ Keep it simple
Children respond best to clear and simple communication when trying to explain big concepts like emotional and physical wellbeing. Health and wellness can be a baffling and complex topic – even for adults – so approaching it in a simplified way is best.
Kids are naturally curious, so they’re likely to ask a lot of ‘why’ questions when you talk to them about staying healthy. Answer with scientific explanations, share information in a clear and simple way and stick to facts which you can back up and verify using other resources rather than your own personal opinions.