Teaching by Example: Making Healthy Choices for Yourself, for Your Kids

Help your family build a healthy lifestyle by setting the tone yourself. Not sure where to begin? We have some pointers to get you started!

It seems that sometimes we expect more of our children than we expect of ourselves. We hold them to a high standard, but we have no bar of expectations of our own. I’ve preached countless messages to my kids that I have been unable to reinforce with my behaviors. But I’ve learned something in that process. You can’t expect your children to do things you are not willing to do. You have to set an example for them to follow. You have to be the leader who paves the way if you want them to make the right choices.

Igniting Passion

Have you ever met a family that had such a strong passion about a particular activity that it almost defined who they were as a family? Know any families who are college football fanatics, for instance? Come football season, they decorate their cars with stickers sporting their team’s logo, they wear their team’s jersey, and they schedule their life around game days.

The kids who are raised in this type of family weren’t born with such a huge passion for football. It was created in them by watching how excited their parents got when football season rolled around. Somewhere along the line, football madness became a normal part of these kids’ family life. They are the football family. It’s just what they do.

You can be passionate about almost anything. I think the best thing to throw your passion into as a family is health and fitness. You can make eating right and exercising a part of your family identity so it becomes synonymous with who you are.

Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of running in and hosting several races. I’m always excited to see mothers and fathers running with jogging strollers or running with their older kids at their side. These parents are role-modeling a healthy lifestyle for their children and igniting a passion for an activity their children will likely engage in as they get older. These families run. It’s what they do.

Amazon.comSimple Steps

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. By maintaining a healthy diet, you decrease your risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and some cancers. This fact is supported by studies from the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control, American Diabetes Association, and American Cancer Society. All of these agencies agree that a healthy diet is the key to preventing life-threatening diseases.

A main key to good nutrition: Eat more natural foods and fewer processed foods. Stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Don’t keep packaged or junk food in the house. If you have unhealthy food or snacks around, you and your kids will be more likely to eat them. We have a bowl right on the kitchen counter that is always full of all kinds of fruits. We also store in the fridge little baggies of veggies (such as baby carrots) that are quick and delicious to snack on.

Exercise regularly. Exercise also helps decrease the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Not only that, but it helps boost your immune system. It reduces stress. It helps keep the blood circulating through your heart and lungs, which gives you more energy. Exercise even makes you sleep better.

By exercising regularly, you are not only improving your health and happiness, you are also teaching your children they need to be active. Being active with your kids is a great way to be healthy and an opportunity to spend quality time together. Play a round of tennis. Take them hiking. Go for a walk. Play Frisbee in the park. Go swimming at the local pool. They will soon develop a love for fitness and will appreciate the time you spend with them. Our family loves to go for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. It gives us a chance to stretch our legs and catch up on the day’s happenings.

Spend less time watching television. By turning off the TV, you and your child will have more time to do other things together. Instead of staring at a screen watching other people live their lives, you can learn a new hobby, play a sport, read together, or go old-school and simply get out in the fresh air and play.

An article in Science Daily connects childhood obesity with watching too much television. It offers the American Academy of Pediatrics’ suggestion that children watch no more than two hours of television a day. Spending time with your children each day makes them more likely to make healthy choices.

And remember, don’t just limit your children’s TV or video game time, limit your TV time as well. Instead of watching your favorite reality show or HBO drama, go for a walk or take your child to the bookstore or the playground.

If you choose to drink alcohol, drink responsibly. If you don’t drink, great. If you do, make the choice to limit your alcohol intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol is a factor in 41 percent of all deaths in the United States from motor vehicle accidents. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 75,000 deaths per year.

I know we can’t keep our kids from drinking when they get older, but we can set the foundation to prevent underage drinking. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t use alcohol to fill a void in your life or to numb yourself from pain. Model the right behavior in front of your kids and show them the dangers of alcohol. Phillip and I live by the principle that anything in excess is not good (this includes drinking alcohol), and we make sure we communicate this to our kids by example.

Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products. This is an easy one. The American Legacy Foundation reports that children of smokers are twice as likely as kids from nonsmoking homes to try a cigarette or smoke regularly. Extensive research has been conducted on the dangers of cigarette smoking. Smoking can cause asthma, lung disease, and even lung cancer. Smoking also has hazardous secondhand effects.

If you smoke, now is the time to quit and show your family that you are motivated to improve yourself even if it’s hard work. Don’t be a prisoner of cigarettes or tobacco. It doesn’t affect just your health; it affects the health of your children as well.

Deal with stress appropriately. This is a tough suggestion for any parent, but think about this: Children learn how to cope by watching their parents deal with stressful situations. Stress usually comes from life changes such as getting a new job, moving to a new town, dealing with illness, and switching schools. Most people don’t like change, even if it’s good for them. The kind of change is not as important as our reaction to it. Your reaction will determine the outcome of your situation.

Even when you don’t think your children are watching you, know that they are. And they are also learning from your behaviors. If you yell and scream when you’re upset, they’ll learn to do the same. If you are even-tempered and levelheaded, they will react in similar fashion. When conflict arises, teach your children to discuss things calmly and rationally. Exhibit calm and rational behavior such as patiently listening to all sides of an argument and showing respect for all parties involved. One thing is certain: Stressful times will come. It’s up to you to handle them the best way possible.

Plan of Action

  • Set the example. Role-model good health for your children.
  • Be passionate about a particular healthy activity or a general healthy lifestyle. Get excited about it so your kids will catch your enthusiasm.
  • Talk to a physician or evaluate your own health to determine what areas you can improve.
  • Take small steps to increase the quality of your health each day. Believe me, your kids will notice.

Adapted from: “The Amazing Fitness Adventure for Your Kids” © 2011 by Phil and Amy Parham. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.