4 Tips to Raise Healthy Kids - Without Losing Your Mind
Everyone likes to bemoan “kids these days.” They sit too much, eat too much, complain too much, or stare at screens too much.
But, the truth is - it isn’t the kids that are the problem.
As a mom of three elementary and middle school-aged children, I can assure you, kids are pretty much the same as they were back in my day – except we didn’t have smartphones in our hands at all times. No, it’s us, the parents.
Related - How We Can End Childhood Obesity
We are tired. We are checking out a bit. We don’t sign them up for activities because we don’t want to have to drive them around. We let them eat giant bowls of cereal for breakfast because they can make it themselves.
We give in to the fast food because it’s 8 p.m. and we are too hungry to wait for dinner. We let them occupy their time on the internet because, let’s be frank – they’re quiet enough that we can sit, have a drink, and scroll social media, ourselves.
But childhood obesity is becoming a serious problem, especially in America. It has tripled since the 1970s, with one in five children fitting into this category.
One in five; let that sink in.
Obesity carries many health risks, including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. To top that off, obese children are more likely to be bullied for it, or shamed, and become anxious or depressed, which can turn them inward further, causing more binge eating and poor self-esteem.
Poor self-esteem will cause them to shy away from physical activity instead of being drawn to it.
We all know tweens and teens are touchy enough about everything, as it is. If you push something, they tend to rebel, hard. And as much as we like to imagine going off like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket-style, the fact is your own kids don’t usually respond well to that.
It becomes a miserable battle of wills. And guess what? They have all day to dig in, whereas you are far busier.
So, how can we, as parents, stop this cycle without turning everyone completely off (including ourselves?) By creating the right environment, instead of pushing an agenda.
How to Raise Healthy Kids
Tip #1: Internet Timers and Docking Stations
One of the biggest drains on everyone’s motivation is exactly the place we all turn to be motivated: social media. Like it or not, most of us have some level of addiction to these devices and our kids are being raised with them. It is imperative that parents get a hold of their kid’s internet time.
One easy way to do this is with internet restriction apps or products like Google Home, which allow you to block specific devices from the internet for certain time periods. You can block the internet during homework time, or at bedtime, or on days you want to remove distractions.
Bonus, on Google Home, you can be specific about which device gets internet privileges. So, if one kid is grounded and the other is not, you can punish accordingly.
Instead of letting kids keep their phones and tablets in their bedrooms, have a family docking station in a communal space. This way, kids are sure not to be up all night playing senseless phone games. If they don’t get proper sleep, they won’t feel good and be less inclined to get moving.
Tip #2 - Have Nutritious Food Available
The food you have in your home matters. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it does need to be nutritionally balanced if you want your kids to maintain a healthy weight and feel well enough to be active.
Too often, American kids eat sugary cereals for breakfast and chips and pop for lunch. This is not conducive to avoiding sluggishness.
One way to circumvent all the unbalanced sugar is to scoop some protein powder into their muffins, pancakes and plain cereals. It adds sweetness and flavor, but also protein for their growing bodies. This way, less sugar is needed and more nutrition is served.
Keep fruit in the house, not candy.
Make healthy shortcuts at dinnertime if you are busy. For instance, it doesn’t take long to steam frozen vegetables in the microwave. There is a plethora of salad kits at the store these days, all you have to do is pour it all in a bowl and toss.
Instead of going to a drive-thru, grab a few rotisserie chickens from the grocery store, pair it with one of the aforementioned easy vegetable sides. BOOM.
Show them how to make a Greek yogurt smoothie, instead of eating ice cream. My daughter makes a bomb pineapple smoothie, using low-fat yogurt, frozen pineapple and a splash of coconut milk. It tastes like a treat, but the macros are pretty good!
Simply keeping snacks and sugary drinks out of the house will do well to pave the way.
Tip #3 - Be Strong, Yourself!
Honestly, if you aren’t active yourself, what motivation is there for your kid to kick ass? It’s time to lift some heavy weights, or take some martial arts classes, or take up a sport that has you able to live the life you preach and look cool to boot.
Your kids will do as you do, not as you say. Since I go to the gym and train MMA as a hobby, my kid’s friends are a little scared of me and that makes my kids proud. This has, in turn, inspired them to start coming with me to classes and learning a few moves themselves.
When I have told them how much I can deadlift, squat or bench, they have acted less than impressed, but later on, I’ve seen dumbbells and little kettlebells tucked in corners next to their beds.
We influence them more than we know. Try to be a good influence.
Tip #4 - Provide Incentive
Even adults need that carrot on a stick to keep grinding, sometimes. We probably wouldn’t go to work if we didn’t get paid. You can’t expect your kids to be different. Try meeting them halfway. If they pick a sport and stick to it for a time period, they earn a new video game or toy or gift card to their favorite store.
How about a fun run of your own? Have everyone do laps around the block. They can run, walk, jog or skip – however, they want to do it, within a fixed amount of time – and each lap gets a specific amount of allowance money. You can do it once a week for an extra “cash grab” – but you obviously have to be outside yourself, running and/or counting laps.
Do your kids want a family pet? If they can go on a daily walk for three months, consider getting a dog. Then, make the kids walk it every day. They can rotate this chore.
Basically, you want to kill the distractions and provide some impetus for action. If they do not have the options for junk food, they can’t eat it. (My kids actually started eating apples when I stopped buying so many snacks.) If the internet and the TV aren’t on 24/7, they need to find something else to do. If you are fit yourself and provide some positive encouragement to do the same, the chances are greater your kids will follow suit.
But any way you approach it – you have to be the one to make these changes and live the healthy example you want to see from them.