Our habits shape who we are. They are what propel us towards our goals and anything we want to accomplish. As a parent, one of my most important responsibilities is to plant the seeds for healthy habits in my kids that will benefit them now and for the rest of their lives.
But here’s the deal: While it can require a lot of mental bandwidth to create and nurture habits in my own life, it can be even harder to help my kids create and nurture healthy habits. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits (a book I’d recommend to everyone) does a phenomenal job putting the life-transforming impact of adopting small daily habits into perspective and why this process is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids:
“…if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.”
Taking into account James Clear’s advice, here’s one more suggestion: Don’t push kids to take on more than 1 new habit at a time. When you try and do too many things at once, your chances of success will plummet, and your kids won’t be on board. When it comes to creating a new habit, aiming for super small progress (even 1% small!) and one new thing at a time will give you and them the greatest chances for success!
Top Tips to Help Your Child Create Healthy Habits
For any parents out there who may be struggling with helping your child create healthy habits, I’d love to share what I have learned in my 12+ years of parenting, research, and observations. Granted, EVERY family is different. Every child has a unique personality, set of circumstances, and life experiences. However, while we have tried many different habits, these are the few that have stuck in the Powell household.
A great place to begin is to simply have some compassion for the way our little ones’ minds work:
- They have no concept of long-term consequences.
- They live for instant gratification.
- When it comes to what they eat, they will naturally tend to reach for dense carbs, sugar, and junk foods every chance they get.
NOTE: If you are worried about your child’s weight, I would highly recommend seeking the advice of a professional for specific guidance on your unique situation. We need to be sensitive in our approach to prevent creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
Habit #1. Take on the identity of a “Fit Family.”
Create pride in your clan and what it means to be a part of your family. We pump up being a part of the PowellPack. Everyone participates. But keep in mind: YOU lead the way and let the kids follow. Make it first about you, not them. This works wonders. And remember: Kids watch what you do, not what you say. So make sure you’re actually DOING the things that create a fit life and a fit family!
Habit #2. Focus on POWER foods.
I strive to give the daily messaging that power foods make you smart, strong, and fast. How do I describe them?
- Protein at every meal to build strong muscle.
- Whole grains/starches and fruit for energy.
- Veggies for health and fiber to “keep us clean” from the inside out!
- Sugary and fried foods can make you feel sick and slow.
Habit #3. Give them access to sugary treats.
When it comes to sweet treats, I allow my kids one or two sweets every day. Nowadays it could be a sucker, s’mores, a scoop of ice cream, a cookie, etc. BUT…before they eat their sweets, they simply need to eat a power food first—either protein or veggies. Both are extremely satiating and will send a full signal to the brain so that they are less likely to over-consume those sweets.
I also keep access to nature’s dessert (fruit) on the counter at all times, and I make the sugary treats more difficult to access. The closer in proximity the healthy sweets are, the more likely they are to reach for them. I’ve been banking on the basics of human behavior and how we tend to reach for foods in closer proximity, and it has worked for us for years. My kiddos eat a ton of fruit!
Habit #4. Let them pick out their healthy foods and snacks at the store.
I make the kiddos a part of food planning, buying, prepping, and cooking. When they’re invested in what they eat, they’re far more likely to buy into adopting the habit. We don’t eat out at restaurants very often. Instead, my kids now love to make their own meals, and we’ve created some amazing memories around food—cutting fruit, baking, making air fryer recipes, etc. Hopefully these memories are instilling the healthy habits I’m trying to create!
Habit #5. Take a break before seconds.
When it comes to second helpings at a meal, if they’re still hungry and want more, they can absolutely have seconds…BUT I just ask that they chill for 20 minutes first, then listen to what their stomach is saying. This is usually enough time to elicit a strong satiated signal from their body. I explain to them that it takes 20 minutes for their body to “catch up” and feel full,, and if they still want food after 20 minutes, no questions asked! They can have it. If they want thirds, they can have it. I just ask them to wait 20 minutes again and listen to their body!
As parents, we not only have the responsibility but the privilege to help our kids create healthy habits. Again, one of the best ways we can help our kids create healthy habits is through living these healthy habits ourselves. After all, kids are more apt to do what they see us do, not what we say we’re doing to do. And the earlier we can start, the better. So be the example of healthy habits your kids need, create those healthy habits with them, and you’ll be giving them one of the best gifts any parent can give: A healthy life!