5 Healthy Habits to Instill In Your Children (that are not food or exercise-related)

It’s been a rough few weeks around the Taft house – not sure what’s in our water or floating in the air, but between my husband’s recent hip replacement surgery and my own mysterious and persistent health issues, our kids have just been a little off the rails lately. Okay, maybe a lot. Maybe they sense the tension and figure they might as well add to it. Maybe they realize mom and dad are not quite themselves and they shouldn’t be either. I really don’t know, but their behavior has been crazy enough that my husband has said more than once lately, “Where did we go wrong with these three? Are we failing as parents, or what?” Anyone else been there? (If not, please just politely lie and make us feel better!)

Of course we know, this is just a weird phase we’re in. Today was much better (almost normal) and we are on the mend in all respects. But observing the dramatic shift in our kids’ behavior led me to brainstorm about what keeps our children healthy when circumstances aren’t ideal. I know you know plenty about healthy diet and exercise, so I decided to take a different approach and offer some suggestions that maybe you haven’t thought about, or have maybe forgotten amidst the craziness of life.

1 – Teach them that no day is complete until they’ve spent some time outside. I think it’s REI or The North Face that says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I take this to heart, maybe to a fault sometimes. It’s resulted in drippy-wet walks to the bus stop on a few occasions, but nothing that rain boots and umbrellas can’t remedy! We are designed to be in nature, and our kids perhaps more so. Dress them however you need to, send them outside, and then join them! Even 10 minutes is better than nothing.

2 – Encourage them to choose their friends wisely. Social connectedness is critical at every age, and the quality of those relationships dramatically affects our health – even for our kids. My daughter picked up a new friend at school this year, and I can tell you – it wasn’t a great choice. I can sense from the behavior, language, attitude and interests that my daughter has developed over the past few months that she’s being influenced poorly. Not much I can do except remind her what we expect from her and reinforce the values we agree to uphold as a family, whether in school, at home, or wherever. And I highlight with her that good friends lift us up, brighten our days, and encourage us to be the best we can be.

3 – Model healthy bedtime hygiene. That means turning off the television at least 30-60 minutes before lights out, keeping TV and all electronics out of the bedroom, and establishing predictable bedtime routines. Our 3 kids get a little TV time in the evening, but we end early enough so there is time to power down – with reading and/or quiet playtime in their rooms. And they know mom and dad aren’t far behind them when it comes to bedtime! Mornings start painfully early around here…

4 – Explain that what they allow into their eyes and ears over time seeps into their hearts as well. Empower them to make healthy choices about programs that they watch and music that they listen to. My boys aren’t old enough yet to understand this very well, so we monitor this for them. But my daughter – she’s old enough and she gets it. She knows she’s entitled to close her eyes, plug her ears, leave the room, or politely request that the channel be changed if she’s disturbed by something on the television. She knows when to close the cover on a book (permanently) when the subject matter scares her or in some other way isn’t developmentally appropriate. And she’s just getting to the point where she recognizes that some songs have lyrics that aren’t very suitable for young ears. We’re even prepared to leave the movie theater early if it becomes apparent we’ve made a poor viewing choice. Innocence is such a blessed gift of a healthy childhood. I want my kids to enjoy it for as long as possible!

5 – Teach them how to manage stress and uncomfortable feelings. Prayer, meditation, nature time, journaling, drawing, listening to music, appropriate exercise, nourishing relationships, quiet time…these are just a few options that children can understand, practice, and appreciate. Help them find what works!

Life is what it is. We can’t always control events and environments that affect our children. But we CAN give them some life-long tools to help manage the ups and downs that they will inevitably confront, now and in the future.