Health is an important issue to all parents: we want our kids to be healthy. But we also all know that we can't always be there making the choices for our kids; we have to enable them to succeed in making healthy choices on their own. And if your kids are anything like my kids, I know I have a much better chance of success if the kids think it is their idea.
So I figured out what really concerned me: diet, hygiene, and exercise. Then I plotted a strategy. Here's five baby steps to get you thinking about the best strategy (or workaround) for you and your family.
1. "Carrots are for eyes"
My kids love to know the how and why. I actually haven't yet met a kid who didn't. When my kids know the purpose of food - beyond "it's good for you" - they get really into it and love to choose the food they think their body needs. Knowing that carrots are good for eyes, blueberries are good for brains, yogurt is good for intestines, spinach and beans are good for your hair, and so on help my kids not only understand the importance of a healthy diet for a healthy body but explains why, too. The day my older daughter said, "My eyes feel like they need some carrots, Mom," was a happy victory day. It's a good learning moment, too. We've used anatomy diagrams to learn about the organs in our bodies, how they work together, and how they need healthy food to work.
2. "Exercise is for muscles"
My kids love to feel strong; I figure all kids do. I try to set a good example by exercising everyday (so I walk the walk instead of just talking), and that has a big effect, but an even bigger effect is helping kids know that activity, even fun, is good for their bodies. Running is good for heart, lungs, and muscles. Bones too! When I interconnect action to reaction, and healthy diet fuels energy for exercise and playing, kids get it. At first, they just parroted, but over time, it has truly sunk in so they truly comprehend it.
3. "Food is for fun"
We hit this anti-vegetable stage and carb overload stage that was making me crazy. "Why won't the kids eat their vegetables? We go to parties and they gobble, but at home...!" And then it hit me: make it a party. I began serving "party trays" for snack time. In a divided tray, include a selection of vegetables, fruits, and cheese cubes. I keep a dip right with it. My kids and their friends love this. I've started putting out the vegetable tray while I'm fixing dinner, and this gets them eating veggies and fruit first, and cuts down on the "I'm starving" whining. Within a couple of weeks, the kids went straight to the refrigerator and vegetable tray for snacks instead of right to the pantry, searching for crackers or granola. I also started buffet night. Using bento boxes, I'll put healthy selections of food - such as whole-wheat crackers, cheese, beans, vegetables, sauce, etc. - and we'll sit and try different combinations. My kids have sampled a wider variety of foods than I think I could ever get them to try otherwise.
4. "Soap smells great"
"Wash your hands" is probably the battle cry of parents, tied with "Clean your room." I was frustrated with my kids playing with soap and water when they didn't need to, and not washing hands when they did need to. Workaround needed, stat. Switching from fun foaming soaps to bar soap lessened their desire to play with the soap, emptying it in a single day. Adding a sign, picture-style, similar to the sort in public restrooms that say "employees must wash hands" helped remind them. Best of all, probably, was making a game where their hands were pets that needed a bath: wash, dry, and lotion.
5. "We're all learning people"
Healthy diet and exercise are important, but so are the mind and spirit. It's a lifelong journey, I think, but becoming attuned to what you need is probably the best key to happiness. "Do something good, be something good, learn something good, eat something good, do your body good" is our overall approach. Feeling overwhelmed? Go have a short cool-off in your room, alone, playing or reading. Feeling tired? Have a quiet or rest time. Feeling bored? Find something to learn and do, enrich yourself. Feeling sad or sorry for yourself? Do something kind. Big or small, it matters. Adult or child, it matters. Whether it's me donating time to a charity or my youngest child picking up a dropped cup in a park, it all helps. And instills a sense of service, community, pride and self-esteem.
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