How to cultivate and encourage healthy mental, physical, and nutritional habits in the home – for kids of all ages.
As a dad, one of the most rewarding parts of parenthood is getting to watch my children grow and knowing that I’m doing my best to ensure a bright future for them. When I think of what that future looks like, I imagine my kids as compassionate, kind, strong, and successful. But there’s an aspect to that future that not every parent considers: good health.
We all want our kids to be happy, successful, and part of healthy and supportive relationships. But what about their relationship with their bodies, food, or exercise?
Now more than ever, the physical health and fitness of our children is at risk; here are just a few reasons why.
Cultivating and encouraging the development of a healthy lifestyle helps reduce our children’s risk of obesity-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure while improving sleep quality, bone health, and BMI. It’s also a chance to stay active and spend valuable time as a family while still working towards your wellness goals.
And best of all, the tried-and-tested tips below work no matter your family’s health goals— whether you’re short on time, are still improving your own health, have a child with weight issues, or just want to get the family off the couch.
I know that even the idea of new family routines is exhausting, but keeping your family fit can truly be FUN and so worth the effort. To help, these simple strategies are guaranteed to make your kids happier AND healthier.
Kids naturally like to mimic and follow their parents because we’re their role models, so use this to create teaching moments. When you’re grocery shopping, cooking, or exercising at home, take the time to explain to your kids why certain foods are better than others or how exercise helps protect the body from disease.
Even if these conversations last only a few minutes, your actions and explanations will stay with your kids long after you share them.
As adults, many of us parents have forgotten the joy that comes with being active. When we were kids, we weren’t counting calories or trying to set a PR; we were just moving our bodies and enjoying the process.
That’s the feeling you should be sharing with your kids when you exercise together. The physical benefits are important, but the greatest after-effect of all is the time you get to spend together. And when it comes to kids that may be struggling with their weight or body image, remind them of their positive attributes to keep motivation up.
It’s clear our kids spend more time on screens than we ever did, but the real enemy isn’t phones and computers— it’s a lack of balance. Technology can be a great tool for learning and improving communication, but its use should be measured in tandem with exercise.
One of my and Heidi’s favorite ways to do this is to have our kids earn their electronic use through chores or small activities. This keeps them active and helps them understand the importance of moderation.
Just like you wouldn’t give a picture book to a teen or an encyclopedia to a toddler, fitness needs to be developmentally-appropriate. Exercise can’t be boring or frustrating, or your child will struggle to stay motivated.
For small children, focus on movements that strengthen muscles and motor skills: running, jumping, climbing, etc. For school-aged kids you can add an element of learning to stimulate memory and problem-solving skills, like matching, colors, and numbers.
Teens, on the other hand, have more opportunities to stay active within clubs and teams and rely less on home fitness. Help coordinate transportation and finances if your child wants to participate on these teams, or purchase a gym membership for the both of you. If you do try home fitness with teens, games and competitions can help keep them motivated.
“Gamifying” fitness, or making a game of ordinary tasks, is actually something our kids came up when we were working in the garage one weekend. Our two eldest children grabbed cones and other items from the garage, laid them out across the yard, and started making rules and competing against one another. It was such a great lesson for us that you can be creative and spontaneous within fitness, and still get healthy.
You can try this with your kids by making relay races or obstacle courses out of everyday tasks, and always ask yourself, “How can we make this more interesting?” Fitness should be fun for adults too, and gamifying is a great reminder of that.
When it comes to games, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Some of the games we played as kids ourselves are perfect to introduce to your kids! We especially love tag, sharks and minnows, and follow the leader.
The great thing about these popular childhood activities is that they’re designed to be something everyone can take part in, and most don’t require any equipment. Your kids may even enjoy learning about some of the games their parents played before the world of screens.
Another no-equipment idea: take a hike! This is one of our family favorites thanks to Arizona’s beautiful landscapes, but it can really be done anywhere. If you don’t have time to prep rules or gather equipment, a short excursion outdoors can be plenty to get your family moving and exploring.
Take a hike, go for a swim, have a picnic in the park after playing some games— the possibilities are endless.
As your kids become more comfortable in their own fitness, it’s important you give them a chance to showcase and strengthen those skills. Give each child a turn to choose activities and games, and keep games flexible if they come up with suggestions or alterations to an existing game. Providing a choice of active toys like jump ropes, balls, and weights also strengthens their agency and encourages them to try new methods.
This part is crucial to boosting your child’s confidence and showing them that their ideas regarding fitness and health are important. If you do this, they’ll continue to keep their health a priority for life, and we couldn’t possibly ask for more.
Last but not least, enjoy yourself. It’s a true blessing to be able to play and be creative with your family. Keep it simple! By creating wellness goals together, instilling healthy habits, and making fitness fun and accessible for everyone in the family, raising a healthy household doesn’t need to be that far out of reach.