While potty training a child, many of us, in an exasperated state, have probably wondered if we’d ever be successful. But then, one day, your little one completely masters the potty and leaves diapers behind for good. There are many other necessary but possibly challenging tasks for teaching healthy habits that we, as parents, guardians, or caregivers, are responsible for imparting prior to our children leaving home to soar on their own. And you can do it! It just takes time, effort, consistency and role modeling, which are all things that come with the parenting gig.
Listed below are the top 10 healthy habits that kids should have before leaving home:
- Teaching children from a young age the fundamentals of healthy eating to fuel a healthy body is imperative. Research has shown that the first years of a child’s life may be the optimal time to promote the development of healthy eating behaviors. Food preferences begin in infancy and continue developing during transition to solid foods and are influenced by parental modeling, availability, accessibility, and familiarity. So for a child to learn to prefer and select healthy foods, it’s important to have the foods available to the child, have them prepared and presented to the child several times, and have parents model eating the foods.
The MyPlate is an excellent guide of what we should have on our plate at each meal to promote healthy eating habits and smart food choices. With sections labeled fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein on the plate with a reminder for dairy on the side, we have a constant reminder of what we should strive to have at every meal. The MyPlate Guide gives fantastic reminders of the best way to put together a healthy meal, and this plate aids a family in teaching healthy eating habits for a lifetime of nutritious meals.
How do we teach our children to have a healthy mind?
- Provide unconditional love. Let your child know that love will be given regardless of accomplishments.
- Share your peaceful place with your child. Whether it’s through religion, meditation, journaling or another method, share with your child how you find peace and reign in stress.
- Encourage active learning and reading to keep the mind engaged.
- Provide tools needed to make decisions/choices and to foster self-control. This is done through giving guidance and providing discipline. Let your child know the rules and the reason for the rules. Discuss your family morals and values.
- Provide a safe environment. Make sure your child feels safe and knows that he will be met with love and patience at home.
- Nurture confidence and self-esteem. Praise your child for effort and help your child set realistic goals. As a parent, be honest about your mistakes and avoid sarcasm.
- Open communication. Make time for sharing and for listening.
We recently made a glitter (or mindfulness) jar at home at my daughter’s request.
Its purpose is to remind us, as when the jar has been shaken and glitter is dispersed throughout the liquid, to give ourselves time to take deep, calming breaths to sort through all the thoughts and feelings that can be floating around in our minds and calm down before speaking and reacting. The glitter re-settling back at the bottom of the jar represents being calm, with feelings, thoughts, and urges no longer keeping us from making a good choice.
It is a fantastic lesson that you can discuss over and over when needed even if the jar is not with you. My son recently said to me, “Think of your mindful jar, take deep breaths, and calm down” as he patted my back when he saw me looking stressed after an incident in the grocery store. My son recognized my stress and wanted to calm me by thinking of our jar. This showed me that our jar taught him about breathing and relaxing. Another way to use the jar is for having your child learn to take time for deep, calming, mindful breaths while allowing the glitter to settle as a way to relieve stress and anxiety.
There are so many facets to maintaining the healthiest body possible other than healthy eating, which is definitely important too. Some are listed below.
- This family fitness article has ideas to get the whole family moving.
- This four steps to better sleep article is great for families looking to improve sleep habits.
- Suncreen use recommendations can be found here.
- Get checkups with your doctor(s) and dentist at the recommended times.
- Teach your child to do self-checks when old enough.
- Seek out help when needed.
- Play. Before leaving home, you want to teach the importance of play and relaxation. Taking time out to explore and “smell the roses” is necessary for good health. Play helps children be creative, learn how to get along with others, and to develop problem-solving skills and self-control. As an adult, play is for enjoyment, but it is also important for problem solving and creativity. Teach your child to do things he enjoys and learn a hobby or two. Share your hobbies to provide exposure to what you enjoy.
- Money and budget. Teaching your child about the value of both money and having a budget from an early age is important, and it is a lesson that can take place in real world settings over and over throughout the years to help your child understand managing money when he leaves home. Comparing prices, discussing needs versus wants, saving for something important, learning when to use credit cards and banks, when to get a loan, et cetera are all wonderful life lessons that you can share with your child to help him be financially healthy and responsible. The age by age guide to teaching kids about money and money lessons at every age are resources that you can use for teaching about financial matters.
- Choose companions wisely. While you can’t pick your child’s friends, you can help guide friendships that you feel are healthy and teach your child what to look for in a friend. The articles Friend or Foe and Teaching Children About Choosing Friends have great information on friends. The information can be used throughout life in choosing friendships to pursue. One thing that I read long ago that has stuck with me is to be the carpool mom (or dad) and have your home be the hangout place. This allows you to monitor what’s going on and have teaching moments when needed.
- Cleanliness and safety. Make sure to teach good body hygiene to your children. This will serve them throughout life. Teach proper tooth brushing and flossing, and how and when to clean the body, hair, and clothes. Teach your children the importance of and the proper way to wash hands and how to minimize germ transfer. When your child is developmentally ready, teach him about how to care for his finger and toe nails.
It’s important to continue to teach cleanliness throughout the different stages of childhood. Changes during puberty require discussions on proper cleaning of your child’s changing body.
Teaching safety is imperative also. Just as you held your child’s hand when he was three to safely cross a road, you want to help him successfully navigate other possibly dangerous situations when you may not be present. This will be taught throughout your child’s time with you, and will include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Internet safety. Contracts for online safety can be found here.
- Driving safety.
- Dating safety.
- Biking safety.
- Fire safety.
Engage and value others
In our society with so many electronic devices, it is imperative to learn to balance using them while still being able to value human relationships. It’s important for parents to role model this behavior. To do this, you can:
- Limit time on electronics. Maybe your family would benefit from an electronics contract limiting the time on electronics to a certain amount.
- Put the electronics away. Have a time of day where the electronics aren’t in use. Make the family dinner table off limits for electronics. Put cell phones away during certain periods, maybe for a couple of hours after school, to talk about the day and do homework. Collect cell phones and other electronics for the night so that no one wakes up to text or other alerts that disrupt sleep.
- Make eye contact and listen. Respect others and show them that you care and also want to listen.
- Attitude. Try to role model good attitude and help your child see the positive in situations. Teach your child manners and how to be respectful, and teach him about thinking of how his actions or words can affect others. Encouraging a positive attitude by creating a positive environment is a resource you can use.
- Community. Teach your children to be a part of the community. Giving back to the community that you live in, whether it’s through helping with a gardening day at school, shelving food at the food pantry, or playing music at a retirement home, fosters a love and appreciation of your fellow man.
Providing your child with the knowledge of healthy habits, as well as your time, effort, consistency and role modeling in teaching these healthy habits, gives your child the tools necessary to take the leap from the nest and soar to success.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie