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Setting a Healthy Example for Your Kids

May 11, 2008
When you're home with the kids all day, they get to know all your habits, good and bad. Children are very observant and even if you think you're pretty sneaky about some of your bad habits, they probably know about them.

Sure, you try some of those foods that you really don't like but want your children to experience. I do that when it's something my husband likes but I don't. It can be challenging at times, and some of my food preferences my kids do know about, but I do the best I can.

And while there are ways you can sneak vegetables into your children's food, better yet is to teach them how to enjoy them. You may find only a few at first that the kids like to eat, but it's a start. It doesn't matter if they only want to eat frozen corn or peas, they're vegetables and a much better part of a snack or meal than many other foods. If you're dealing with a picky eater you take what you can get and set the example for something better.

Some of what you can do may be very subtle. Things like using olive oil instead of vegetable oil in cooking so that you're using a healthier kind of oil when you need it. Young children won't get it. But as they learn to cook it will be something to talk about.

Being healthy is about more than teaching good eating habits, of course. Healthy eating matters quite a bit, but so does exercise and making other good choices.

In our family, formal exercise isn't really a priority. However, we're currently taking daily walks. We found some hiking trails just a couple blocks from our house. The kids enjoy them even more than the local playgrounds. We all come home dusty and a bit tired from these hikes, but we're all getting exercise just as a matter of routine and the kids are learning about nature.

Now if I could just convince my son that they are "ladybugs" and not "potato bugs!"

The idea is to just make physical activity routine. We set the expectation and try to live up to it ourselves. We don't do everything we expect of the kids; they're often sent out to play in the back yard while I work on my computer. They learn to spend time away from any electronic entertainment and I get peace and quiet to work.

Your own bad habits can be a bit of a challenge. I can explain away my computer time because it's necessary to how I earn a living. But actual bad habits can be more problematic.

Think about any parents you know who smoke. It's much less common than it used to be; I don't think any of my close mom friends smoke at all. But if you have a bad habit such as smoking or even biting your nails, children do notice and it's harder to explain why they shouldn't.

While it may not stop your child from picking up the habit in question, simply admitting that yes, you have a bad habit can be helpful. You're being honest and it gives you a chance to explain why it's a bad habit in an age-appropriate way. Sometimes kids will cheerfully try to get you to stop.

No one is a perfect parent, and I wouldn't suggest trying to be one. But you can work out ways to set the examples you want to, and try to break out of the old routines that aren't teaching your kids what you really want them to learn.
About the Author
Stephanie Foster runs http://www.homewiththekids.com/ as a resource for stay at home moms. She offers more parenting tips for stay at home moms at her site.
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