Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University
If you want your child to be healthy both physically and emotionally, your best path for achieving this is for you as a parent to model these behaviors for them. This is of course easier said than done. No parent is perfect and unfortunately many of us have unhelpful habits that have dogged us most of our life. But, let’s take a closer look some of the most important behaviors your child needs to learn and how you can help them build these into their lifestyle.
It’s no secret that we have a societal problem with too many people being overweight. Currently, one in three children and teens is overweight. One in six is obese. Research shows that most of these children already have poor lifestyle habits that will continue into adulthood and put them at significant risk for a number of health problems.
Where do many of these kids learn their poor eating habits? From their parents. Nearly 50% of the average family food budget goes toward eating out. And eating out is usually a time where people are in a hurry or they indulge in foods that they want versus those that may be healthier for them.
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But you could simply build new eating habits by eating more meals at home and getting your children more involved in the food preparation process. Plan at least one meal a week where you ask your child to help wash, cut, cook and serve the food. Choose whole fresh foods versus packaged ones. Buy only healthy snacks, such as fruit or make your own. Research has shown that as children interact more with real food, they are more mindful of making good food choices.
A close partner to good eating habits is regular activity. You don’t need to be running a marathon or even doing something strenuous in nature. A bike ride with your kids, a brisk walk, a hike in the nature preserve or a game of tennis all get you moving and send the message that regular activity is important. But, don’t just encourage your child to step away from the computer and be active, invite them join you in the activity. Remember, you are trying to model the behavior you want to encourage.
Many adults have difficulty identifying what they are feeling at any given time. But, this is a lifelong skill that will benefit you and your child their entire lives. One important way of doing this is to look for natural opportunities to bring out emotion in daily conversation. For example, as you dialogue with your spouse and child you should try to include references to your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories. When you help your child to have awareness of their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories you help them feel comfortable with their inner life and you help them develop compassion and empathy for others.
Organization is both physical and mental. On a physical level it can be as simple as showing your child that objects have “homes.” A home is the place where that object belongs when you are not using it. For example, your shoes have a home, which is your closet, when you are not wearing them. The home for dishes is not in the sink but in the cupboard. The home for a bicycle is the garage, not the front lawn. This is a tough lesson for many kids but if you will consistently show them how it is done, you will likely get compliance over time.
Organization is also mental. Studies have clearly shown that when your environment is cluttered, so if your ability to organize your thoughts. Productivity decreases in messy environments. If this disorganization goes on long enough, it becomes the norm and an ingrained habit that is hard to break.
Social skills start with being polite and having manners. But social skills go beyond manners and involve showing kindness to others, being comfortable asking questions, responding with empathy and learning to listen instead of persistently talking about you. Many adults are not mindful of these social skills because they themselves did not have them modeled while they were growing up. But, I can’t emphasize how important it is that you help your child learn social skills. It is the number one attribute of successful people; even more important than a college education according a survey given to dozens of very successful and wealthy people.
If needed, reach out for help
Children desperately need for us to model the very behaviors that will give them the skills and resources they need to be healthy adults. If you don’t feel as though you have the skills you need, reach out to a counselor, minister or good friend to locate the resources that can help you and in turn it will help your children.
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