This post was written by: Amanda Henderson

You have many enemies in your fight to help your children make healthy lifestyle decisions — peer pressure, advertising, poor role models. Left to their own devices, many children will naturally gravitate toward unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles and excessive internet habits. However, with the right tools, you can win the battle and encourage healthy habits that will last into adulthood. Here are some techniques and strategies you can use to that end.

Healthy Eating

KidsHealth has five key rules to encourage your kids to make healthy food choices. First, have family meals set at the table, rather than in front of the TV. Studies show that this can reduce the risk of obesity in later life. Second, serve a range of different foods, giving very small portions of foods they don’t like to help them develop their palate without making the meal overly unenjoyable. Third, be a role model — your kids will copy your own eating habits, so be sure to set a good example. Fourth, don’t force your kids to eat healthy food through coercion or threats as this can lead them to unhealthy food choices as an act of rebellion. Finally, get kids involved with the whole process of eating, from shopping to cooking.

Reducing Stress at Home

Stress in childhood can lead to poor health choices and more risk-taking behaviors in adulthood. However, you should still do what you can to create a stress-free home environment. You can do this by setting and sticking to clear boundaries, regularly doing fun activities together, and putting work into maintaining a good relationship with your spouse. Make sure the physical home environment is safe, too. Keep your rooms free of excessive clutter, and secure adult or dangerous items in locations that your children cannot access.

Activity Level

It can be tough to get children moving when today’s entertainment including TVs, phones, and computers is consumed in a sedentary manner. But, there are a few things you can try. First, encourage your children to play outdoors. If you teach children to embrace nature, a high-activity level will follow naturally.

You should also be a good role model in the exercise arena — ideally through shared activities such as bike riding, swimming, or just playing ball in the yard. Also, make sure they have toys and other equipment that facilitate active play such as balls and jump ropes, or you could set up a basketball net.

Social Media Usage

Social media has some great benefits in terms of information sharing and keeping in contact with friends — but it certainly has a dark side. Heavy users of social media are at higher risk of mental health problems, and on top of that, there is the risk of cyberbullying or being contacted by strangers. To minimize the risks, keep computers in public areas of the house, use parental controls, and limit usage to a healthy amount, especially at night when screen usage can interfere with healthy sleep patterns.

Talk to your kids about online safety. For example, tell them not to connect with strangers and to think twice before hitting “Send” on any message, because once it has been sent, it’s out there permanently. You should also teach children to be respectful to others online, using the “What would grandma say?” rule — don’t post anything they wouldn’t want Grandma to see!

Overall, the best strategy is to give your children some sense of control. It takes time for children to adopt new habits, so you’ll also need healthy doses of persistence and patience. In time, you might even find your children steering your habits in the right direction.

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