Those of us who are parents know that our role extends beyond caring for the daily needs of our children and into that of teaching. With parenthood comes a responsibility of passing on the correct principles and behaviors to the young beings who look up to their parents as role models. And the reality is that this responsibility extends into every realm of life, including that of diet and lifestyle. Parents are the one constant in a child’s life. This translates into the transfer of habits and actions from parents to children. Up until the point where kids become teenagers, their number one role models are (usually) their parents.
It would be a mistake to assume that parents are role models only in certain domains of life. What parents do or say is likely to be passed on to their children in one way or another. Various studies have demonstrated how certain behaviors exhibited by children are learned via observation. (aka Social Learning Theory) Psychologists have highlighted the power of observation in a child’s social learning, and interestingly enough, eating habits are included as susceptible to social influence.
Ultimately, what this means is that how parents view food and eating will probably, in some way or another, influence their children’s views of food and eating. This can be extremely wonderful news for parents, depending on the situation. Parents who have adopted a healthy lifestyle and/or some healthy eating habits can, in line with Social Learning Theory, pass them on to their children. The same can be said of parents who are in the process of adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Why is this of any importance, you may ask? It’s quite simple. Overweight and obesity are growing concerns for America’s children. These nutrition problems are largely due to unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. With overweight and obesity come many health risks, particularly when the problems begin early on in life. The key to avoiding weight issues and potential health risks is for children to learn healthy eating and lifestyle habits. Because they are highly impressionable, it is best for them to learn these things at a young age from their parents and other social influences.
Does this relate to your individual weight loss journey? Yes! The changes that you are trying to make to your lifestyle can be the same ones that you attempt to teach your children. That way, you have both group effort and support in your lifestyle changes. You also help to guarantee a healthier life for your own children. The key is to do it in the right way, one that is both child-friendly and clear. How? With a few of the following tips, both you and your children will be on your way to healthier, lighter versions of yourselves.
- Make a commitment to group change in your household and be willing to handle any difficulties along the way.
- Introduce all “changes” to you and your children’s lifestyle carefully and gradually, so as not to shock anyone with the change.
- Be sure to help your children avoid any unhealthy habits they may pick up unconsciously, such as eating while watching TV or drinking soda after dinner.
- Get your kids in the kitchen with you and make meal preparation an enjoyable activity for them. They will learn to appreciate the flavors of good health!
- Turn your weekends into active family time. Go out together and do something fun that gets you all moving. This way, you will teach your children to enjoy being active.
- Be willing to try new foods. This will help expand your palates and allow your children to gain acceptance of all that is healthy.
- Do not use food as a reward for your children’s good behavior. It may encourage emotional eating.
- Keep food from being a solution to boredom. Find alternate things to do if you are bored and encourage your children to do the same.
- Stock your food with healthy but enjoyable snacks. Your kids will learn to appreciate them and will adopt them as the norm.
- Gradually cut back on unhealthy snacks and foods. Doing it all at once will be difficult for both you and your children.
- Give your children the occasional treat. For example, come to an agreement that Fridays are ice cream nights in your household.
- Don’t ever push your kids forcefully into a healthier lifestyle. The key to success is acknowledgment and acceptance on their part. To do this, you must be gentle and age-appropriate in your changes. Give reasons for the decrease in junk food, make cooking fun, and turn healthy food discovery into an exciting “adventure” for your young ones. With your teens, make them feel involved in the decision-making and appeal to their need to express themselves, whether it be through food or activity.
Healthy eating habits start young, but they are not immune to change. With the right attitude and cooperation, both you and your families can pave the way to a healthier life. The most important thing is for you to keep in mind that your children learn through observation. Your behavior and attitude towards food and exercise will likely influence their own habits and attitudes. Never underestimate this truth! Your children’s future health begins now, and you can play a role in shaping it for the better!