How to encourage healthy habits in children?
How to encourage healthy habits in children?
Be the change that you want to see
Want to develop heathy habits among your children? Show them the way, rather than forcing the change
Your children look up to you, be the role model that you want to seen in them!
Our memory loves images and retains them well, what we see takes deeper roots in our minds than what we are told.
More often than not we follow what we see. Seeing not only leaves impressions on our minds, it also influences our feelings and behaviour.
Our mind tells us: “if you have seen it then it must be true,” even if what you have seen is something fabricated or manipulated.
You see something often for a few days, even though those were isolated incidents occurring only at that particular period, you begin to believe that to be normal, common or rampant.
What we commonly do is an imitation of each other. Every day we copy each other in the way we dress, the way we behave, what we eat, what we watch and how we talk.
That is the reason why children and teenagers (even grownups) copy the celebrities in the way they dress, eat, talk and behave. That is why new trends become norms so quickly – be it fashion, food or behaviour.
Even if you don’t follow the celebrities, you pick on trends that are prevalent around you. It’s seems natural to fit in and belong! But, everything that is natural may not be healthy!
Children are humans
Children are the miniature models of adults, with similar impulses, desires and tendencies. Hence to mould their habits and character, we have to take into consideration their human nature.
Since, children naturally adopt most of their behaviour by observing those around them, it is important for us, as parents, to set the right examples to help our children adopt the right practices.
As they grow, they imitate and follow what they see, hear and observe. They pick our dialect, they pick our accent, they pick our behaviour, they develop similar tastes and food habits.
Do we teach toddlers to walk or talk? NO! They learn to sit up themselves, they pick on the words themselves, they try the first steps themselves. In doing so, they are trying to repeat what they have seen or heard.
As they grow up, they would basically try to do what you are doing. They would want to dress like you. They would want to eat like you. If they see you always hooked on the phone, they would copy that. If they see their father glued to a laptop they would want to do the same.
This is normal human behaviour. But, here lies our challenge of moulding the characters of the little ones. Their natural tendency to imitate is our opportunity to develop their personalities.
Be the Hero
Generally, parents have the tendency to
curb the children’s instincts at every step, which actually proves counter productive and forces them to develop a stubborn attitude.
Rather than forcing them to realign their behaviour, we have to focus on changing ourselves or changing their environment. Setting the right example through our actions is the best way to direct them towards the right lifestyle.
We expect them to develop healthy habits, but often we forget ourselves. Do we constantly work on improving our habits?
We want them to have discipline in their lives, while they hardly see us doing the same!
We want them to eat healthy, while our own eating habits are haywire!
We want them to develop a healthy balance in life, while we ourselves struggle to maintain balance.
Parenting is nothing but human development and to help those under us develop, we must continue to develop as humans simultaneously. Only a healthy and nourishing seed can bear a healthy and nourishing fruit.
So, what do healthy habits include?
Healthy habits do not just include our physical health, it should also cover our spiritual and moral wellbeing.
There is no point in having a healthy and fit body, while our heart and soul are rotten. It will prove counterproductive. Life is all about balance, once this balance is lost, no amount of healthy eating and physical activities will help you acquire the internal peace that is essential for a good life.
For our children to develop healthy habits, we can’t force just a few isolated actions on them, rather our living culture at home or our entire lifestyle has to change.
It includes, when we sleep and wake up, what we eat, when and how we eat, how socially active we are, how connected to nature we are, how purposeful and meaningful lives we lead, how mindful our actions are, how truthful and honest we are etc.
It also includes questions such as: Do we read? Do we constantly work on our development and discipline? Do we introspect and constantly do course correction? Do we give and help others? Do we empathise and forgive? All these matter immensely as these actions work to form our environment and our children constantly draw inspiration from the culture they live in and the people they live with.
Here is what you can do:
Make them feel at home
Home should be a place where children should feel at ease. It should be a place where they are confident to be their natural selves. In your quest for good habits do not take this away from your children. This will make them two-faced and force them to develop double standards, one in front of you and one when you are away.
Build an atmosphere of love, care and empathy at home. Show your children that you genuinely care for them. Do not be too strict or harsh. Try to understand how they feel and what they want and why they want to behave in a particular way. This way, you will help them find the folly of their own choices and take better decisions based on reason and logic.
Patience is the key
Do not force things, as force usually breaks the bond. Patiently, try to build a bond and gradually help them mould their character and form new habits at their own pace.
Developing new habits takes time. According to most psychologists, it takes at least three months to make a practice turn into a habit.
A habit is easily adopted if it is part of a larger lifestyle, so patiently work on developing a lifestyle that is conducive and supportive to new habits that are adopted.
Warm and conversant
Develop an atmosphere of having a healthy conversation, especially around the dining table, about what is good and what is bad or what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Be frank and open, make these conversations lively and fun.
Reason with your children and make them think. Seek their ideas and opinions about the good and bad and about various habits. Give examples and help them see the consequences of both the good and bad choices.
Rules are Rules
It is essential to have certain non-negotiable rules that should apply to everyone in the family. These could include eating together, time of returning home, screen-time, going to bed etc. These rules should be explained effectively to each member of the family, rather than dictated. Making them understand and accept with reason is the key.
Remember that there are always exceptions to the rules. Allow for some occasional exceptions, but make sure they are just exceptions and don’t let them become the norm.
Parenting is the toughest and most noble job on Earth. It asks for active involvement, immense sacrifice and patience. This is the reason why parents have always occupied the highest status in the society, in all civilisations across history.
Be patient, shaping a life is a miracle and miracles often take years to manifest!