How I’m Doing It: Raising Healthy Children

The following post first appeared in the How I’m Doing It blog for Experience Life magazine. Read my original April 2014 magazine article here, in the How I’m Doing It column.

“Eat good food. Exercise. Sleep.” This is how my 4-year-old describes the three things she needs to do to be healthy.

IMG_1512Hearing her recite what I’ve taught her as these most important things she can do to be healthy makes me beam. She’s already learning that only she can take care of her body.

Talking about being healthy is as important as practicing being healthy. Think about it: Talking and practicing are two different ways of teaching and learning. As parents, we can talk about what we are teaching — describing what it means to be healthy and engaging children in discussions in how to live a healthy life.

And then there’s the doing: We adults model healthy behaviors, and kids have time to practice them.

Just as it’s important to teach kids academics, it’s important to actually teach them the role health has in their lives and how to take care of their bodies. Let’s examine my family’s three tenants of health.

Eat Good Food
I focus on teaching my daughter about “real food.” Being still quite young, she’s easily lured by the dazzle of a Dum Dum and the call of candy. When she gets her hands on these, I use it as an opportunity to teach her about real and fake food. “Real food comes from plants and animals,” I tell her. When it is time for a treat, I give her the good stuff: nice chocolate, real ice cream, homemade cookies with high quality ingredients.

DSC_0236Cooking together helps a lot. My daughter is learning about what makes up her food, and is developing a relationship with what she puts into her body. She also equates cooking, and the resulting eating, with fun.

We also do some intermittent “stealth health” moves, like putting chopped spinach in anything I possible can (pasta sauce, smoothies, eggs), and even making black bean brownies! The knowledge I gathered over years of reading Experience Life helped me write a Healthy Eating series on my blog, with tips on identifying family food culture and boosting meals to higher health potential.

Exercise
Bug in bike, with friend LucyMaking time for exercise (a.k.a. “play”) seems quite impossible in our culture of busyness. Yet, I’ve realized that carving out time for exercise is earned back in the energy and clarity of mind I feel.

When it comes to teaching my daughter about exercise, I have several approaches. For one, I try to model making time for exercise by letting my daughter know when I’m going to the gym. My husband and I also include her in our exercise, like taking her biking – first in a trailer, and soon, alongside us! And finally, I point out when my daughter is doing exercise, whether it’s swimming in the pool, running in the yard, or dancing. Naming what she is doing as exercise raises her awareness that it has a place in her life — and that she’s already doing it.

Sleep
Bedtime often seems like the hardest time of day for kids and parents. While energy levels are low, there’s usually a last burst of energy by kids to rally against the dimming light.

My husband and I try to remind our daughter that rest and sleep is what’s needed before another fun day can start. We recount the day, asking her for her favorite part. I’ll sometimes ask her to join me in taking three slow, deep breaths.

Bedtime is sacred in our house. Sometimes I feel we’re slaves to the routine, but if we don’t keep it, we all pay for it the next day. Children need time to sleep (our children log 10-12 hours nightly). We adults need time to unwind from the day so we can get ready to sleep ourselves. This is so difficult to do, but I keep trying because I know that without sleep, everything unravels.

There are many ways to eat, exercise, and rest in family life. This is just how I’m doing it — for now!

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