Every parent knows that fostering healthy habits in children is important, but there is no instruction manual for how to go about it. It can be tough to recognize habits forming before they become routine, and, as most parents know firsthand, bad habits are hard to break. In the middle of a tantrum or a broccoli boycott, it can even seem like giving in to unhealthy habits is the only option. But healthy habits are some of the most crucial behaviors children can learn, and they can be taught successfully with a little preparation and a lot of encouragement.
Before plotting your next attempt to turn TV time into book time or to camouflage green beans, keep in mind the following bits of information from Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician, author and member of the Primrose Schools Early Learning Council:
-The numbers add up. Adults tend to dismiss habits like having one sweet after dinner or taking a daily stroll around the block as being too small to matter, but the numbers really do add up. Even the smallest actions can make a difference in a child’s future behaviors.
-It’s never too early. The earlier a child forms a healthy habit, the better. Don’t let age discourage you from promoting a healthy routine as long as it can be done in a safe way.
-Take a step back. Parents are busy – it’s a fact. Try to take a step back every now and then to evaluate whether your actions with and around your child are promoting healthy habits, and readjust as needed.
Dr. Jana also offers the following advice to encourage three very important habits for young children: tooth brushing, reading and healthy eating.
If you want your child to remember and even enjoy tooth-brushing, don’t wait for teeth. Infants love putting things in their mouths and having their gums rubbed. Establish a fun routine using baby toothbrushes, which are designed specifically for an infant’s mouth, to kick-start a healthy habit before your child reaches the tumultuous stage of toddler hood.
Make reading fun before it becomes a challenge your child has to overcome. Start reading together even before your child can sit up, hold a book and understand all the words. After all, the goal isn’t just to raise a child who knows how to read but who loves to read. As your child gets older, find ways to expand the routine or to make it more fun.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Don’t give up if your child turns up his or her nose at fruits or vegetables – it can take trying a food up to 15 times for children to like it! Consider teaching your child to take a “no thank you” bite to promote trying new foods. If they try it and don’t like it, respect their preference. Getting children involved in preparing and serving child friendly snacks is another great way to promote trying new foods. You can also help your child establish healthy eating habits by having a consistent mealtime, which ensures that children know what to expect and are hungry for meals, and by being a good role model by eating a wide variety of foods.
Encouraging healthy habits in children is no easy task, but getting a head start, taking small steps, and looking at the bigger picture every now and then can make all the difference.