Teaching Healthy Habits to Kids
Have you ever thought about all the things you do that are habitual? Take driving, for example. When I was young, I had no concept of how to drive a car. I learned slowly, studied, and practiced, and even when I was granted my driver’s license it took a while to build up my confidence. But from the very beginning, I established good habits like wearing my seatbelt, looking in the rearview mirror and signaling when changing lanes—all habits that were much easier to establish as I was learning to drive. In the same way, teaching our kids healthy habits from a young age is easier and has more long-term benefits than allowing them to develop unhealthy ones that we later endeavor to change.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”Will Durant
The study of habit formations often occurs through the perspective of neuroscience research and asks how conscious and goal-oriented actions can be transformed into a habit (Yin & Knowlton, 2006). So essentially, we first think about what our actual goal is. Do we want to get our little ones in the habit of clearing up their toys in their room before they go to bed? Brushing their teeth? Apologizing when someone expresses that they have hurt them? However big or small, we should start with what our goal is and that will help us to become more motivated to work with our children to practice the action that leads to the habit itself.
If you need help deciding which healthy habits to teach your kids, here is a list of a few things you can start with:
We set the standard with our child’s meals. Make mealtime a fun experience by offering a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Discuss the nutritional value of different foods and why those foods are important for growing bodies.
Don’t skip breakfast
Ensuring that your child eats a balanced breakfast every morning will help support their brain development and their ability to focus at school.
Enjoy fun physical activities to get your child in the habit of moving their bodies. Throw on a great playlist and dance around together, make funny shapes with an at-home yoga video, play tag in the yard or visit the local swimming pool.
It’s easy to establish this joyful and beneficial habit. You can read a book together at bedtime or set aside a quiet time of day to each read on your own and then discuss what you’re reading. This sense of independence can be so helpful for a child to develop their own interests in stories.
Try working on this habit with the young people in your life by making it a bit of a competition. After establishing how many ounces of water you each should drink in a day, you can mark the sides of the containers to show the ounces or times of day to finish. For very little ones, try using stars or animal stickers to show their progress.
When it comes to building good habits, your child may push back at first, but it’s good to persevere. Positive habits can be better embedded if they are started at a young age and supported with a lot of practice and encouragement. And, of course, you’ll discover these habits are beneficial for the whole family!
Yin, H. H., & Knowlton, B. J. (2006). The role of the basal ganglia in habit formation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 464–476.