Your kids are always watching you and always learning. Inevitably, children follow the examples of the adults around them, both good and bad. Many of these habits and attitudes they develop while young will become deeply ingrained and even follow them the rest of their lives.
You’d be surprised how often parents wait until their kids are older (around kindergarten age) to start teaching them healthy habits. They think that toddler and daycare-age children are too young to understand the reasons behind what they’re doing—but waiting too long will make these lessons much harder to turn into lifelong habits. Here are six health lessons you should be instilling into your children from the time they’re toddler, so those habits can easily follow them into adulthood.
Lesson 1: Reach for the healthy foods first
Adult obesity is currently at an all-time high. And while stealing an extra cookie from the kitchen once in a while doesn’t need to warrant an overaction, allowing children to repeatedly satisfy cravings for unhealthy foods can become a very costly behavior later on. So focus on teaching them that eating healthy foods should be their first option, and cheer them on when you see them exercising self constraint in foregoing unhealthy options. Talk to them about how great fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods are for giving us energy and nourishing our bodies.
Make sure you don’t make junk food like candy and chips completely forbidden in your home. You know how kids get when they can’t have something—they want it even more. This kind of scarcity mindset should be avoided at all costs. Rather, moderation in all things should be part of your lesson to your child. Strengthen kids’ resolve to eat healthy by stocking your fridge with healthy foods. That way, when looking for a snack, they’ll gravitate to those types of food instead of the unhealthy ones. If you start this habit early on (and follow it yourself) they will carry the mindset that they should prioritize their body’s needs over its wants.
Lesson 2: Care for your posture
You hear it all the time growing up: “sit up straight.” While it can be annoying to hear the reminder all the time, having good posture can keep your spine and body strong as it develops and well into old age. The head is about the weight of a bowling ball, and correctly managing that weight is so important for the spine’s wellbeing. Sitting in front of a screen all day or hunched over playing video games can hurt your body over time. Scoliosis and other posure issues usually start to become apparent during your child’s early teens and can lead to much worse issues. Even though many spinal issues can be genetic, teaching them about the importance of proper posture when they’re young could keep them from having issues in the future.
Lesson 3: Own your phone, don’t let it own you
From a young age, your child will constantly be surrounded by screens—and it will only increase as they get older. People are watching 3.2 hours of Netflix every day, and at work, almost 300 billion emails are sent every day. Your role as a parent or caretaker is to teach them about technology and media, as well as how to use them in a healthy way. Teaching them about how to have a healthy relationship with technology will keep them from it taking over their lives as they grow. Along with lessons about the problems around watching violent or sexually explicit content, teach them about how to have civil conversation on the internet and the dangers of cyberbullying. Technology and media can be a great resource, but they need to know that it shouldn’t control them.
Lesson 4: Get outside and get some sunlight
We all know that as an adult, going to the gym can be a pain. But when you were a kid, you didn’t have to go to a gym and run on a treadmill to stay active and healthy. You just went outside. Learning to enjoy exercise at a young age and cultivating interest in those activities as a parent will keep your child physically healthy as they grow. If your child is showing interest in an outdoor activity, support them in that interest (even if it may cost a pretty penny upfront, it’s worth it). If they are interested in playing soccer, try signing them up for a local team. If they like to play outside, give them a nice pair of hiking boots and take them on a nearby hike this weekend. Giving them the emotional, physical, and financial support they need to fall in love with the outdoors and with exercise will bless them for the duration of their life.
Lesson 5: Stay away from addiction and harmful substances
It’s never too early to teach your kids about the dangers of some substances. Every year, U.S. poison control centers receive more than 2 million calls about human exposures to potentially toxic substances—about half of those calls are for children under six years old. It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your child about the dangers of household items like pills they see in the bathroom or the cigarettes they see their neighbors smoking.
As they grow older, you should also make sure to have a conversation about peer pressure regarding addictive substances. Try not to scare them, but make sure they know about the dangers associated with that kind of activity. If they know what they’re going to do in those types of peer pressure situations beforehand, they’re more likely to make the right decision and keep themselves safe.
Lesson 6: Make good sleep a priority
When your child is a toddler, nap time is the last thing they want to do (and the only thing they want to do as an adult). But these days, forgoing sleep for work and your job or schoolwork is commonplace and often seen as a badge of honor among peers. Make sure your child grows up knowing that sleep is a crucial part of staying healthy. Getting eight hours every night is difficult, especially if you have a hectic lifestyle as you get older, but it’s something everyone should prioritize. Teach your toddler about the importance of sleep and that the amount of sleep they have can affect their brain’s development. Understanding that when they’re young, they’ll make sure those eight hours are a priority as they grow older.