In our first article on New Year’s health resolutions, Kelly Snyder, M.D., and Scott Arthur, M.D., discussed steps adults can take to get on the path to better health. Today, pediatrician Allison Couden, M.D., shares five approaches parents can adopt to help children kick off the New Year with a healthier lifestyle.
1: Do it as a family
Implementing a healthier lifestyle can be difficult for parents and children. Couden said the best way to encourage children to lead a more healthy and active lifestyle is to involve the entire family.
“If you are wanting your child to be more active or to lose weight, that can be a very delicate conversation,” she said. “It has to be about the family and not just one child. Making it a family goal not only takes the pressure off the child but is a much more gentle approach.”
2: Take baby steps
How do you make health goals less daunting to a child? Couden said taking small, incremental steps is a better path to success for children as well as adults.
“Rather than setting a lofty lifestyle goal, I recommend breaking it down into bite-size pieces,” said Couden. “Focusing on what you want to achieve for the week or month makes it that much more manageable in the long term.”
3: Practice what you preach
Don’t just tell your children what they need to do to be healthier, Couden said. Parents should lead by example if they want their children to embrace a new lifestyle.
“The best thing a parent can do is to be a good role model for their children,” she said. “If you are focused on making exercise a priority and demonstrating a commitment to eating right, it will set the tone for your family. Children learn by watching their parents, so it’s important to set a good example.”
4: Praise the good
Maintaining a positive outlook makes all the difference, and motivates children to make better choices when it comes to their health.
“If you want to keep your family motivated, it’s important for parents to acknowledge the moment when your child makes a healthy choice,” said Couden. “However, it is just as important to not be overly critical when they fall short. If parents search for ways to encourage their children, those not-so-good choices will become fewer and farther between.”
Creating a rewards system is a great way parents can encourage positive behaviors in their children. “If your child makes the choice to take the stairs or try a new vegetable you can reward them with a sticker. Then, after they receive five stickers, you can reward them with a small toy of their choice, or something that will reinforce that good behavior,” said Couden.
5: Think about the bigger picture
When it comes to setting your family up for success, Couden’s final advice to parents is to think about the overall goal of better health. “As a pediatrician, I tell parents to not think about a specific amount of weight they want their child to lose,” she said. “We really try to talk about overall health and the steps they can take to get there.”
According to Couden, mindful changes are key. “Try to pick three things you and your family can do to move in a healthier direction,” she said. “Whether that means eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting down on soft drinks or trying not to snack in between meals, small changes can have a significant impact in your family’s pursuit toward a healthier lifestyle.”
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