Hannah, mum of Olivia and Kids Matter programme developer (plus ad hoc strategist!), shares what she’s learnt about developing healthy habits in the life of her little daughter…
At 18 months old, our daughter, Olivia, already steps onto the yoga mat I’ve left out in the living room and starts to do squats and Downward Dogs. She also finishes the sentence ‘Thank you God for…’ with the word ‘cake’ – and a huge, hopeful grin. I’m no expert, but this says to me that kids, at any age, are quick to learn and pick up habits around food, exercise and wellbeing!
The internet is full of articles such as ‘Habits of Extraordinarily Healthy Families’ and ‘50 Healthy Habits to Adopt as a Family’. Pinterest alone has more than 1.7 billion recipe Pins. But when we’re faced with the choice between whipping up a veg-packed dinner and putting fish fingers in the oven for the 3rd time this week, or switching on Cbeebies instead of taking a walk around the block, it can feel like leading our families in healthy habits takes more energy than is left at the end of the day.
No parenting blog would be complete without a hefty disclaimer: whatever you are doing to raise your family right now, be encouraged that by showing up and loving those around you, you are investing wisely. Guilt and dread alone are not helpful motivators!
So, what does it look like to aim to raise a healthy family without that guilt and dread that so often is attached to all things food and exercise?
According to NHS Digital figures, a child is less likely to be obese if their parent is a healthy weight. Like in our recent blog on Looking After Ourselves, healthy family habits start with ourselves. What would it look like to try out one healthy habit this month? It could be switching a morning Digestive with a handful of dried fruit and nuts (through in some dark chocolate drops to start with if that makes it feel less like eating bird feed), walking to a friend’s house rather than getting in the car, or picking up a YouTube workout one evening a week. Whatever it is, looking after your own health will begin to role model the importance of that for your children.
Knowing how to talk to kids about healthy habits is a challenge; the balance between emphasising the importance of what we eat and how often we exercise, and not adding inappropriate stress or even body image pressure to our kids’ wellbeing is one that you know how best to approach as you best know your kids. I recently read how talking about foods as ‘ones to fill up our tummies and ‘ones to try out and taste’ can help when describing a balanced diet. We’ve adopted this simple distinction with Olivia to get into the habit of avoiding the stigma of ‘good and bad foods’ or ‘healthy foods and treat foods’. It’s helped me, too, to remember this when I reach for another handful of crisps!
There are endless resources online and Instagram accounts of full of inspiration for what to cook and how to exercise as a family (Joe Wicks alone has revolutionised squats and lunges in the front room). But the most important thing to consider? What can we do that will stick? Crash diets, training for marathons and juicing can get us to some big headline achievements, but equipping our kids (and ourselves) in how to form healthy habits will set us up for success – beyond the next meal and for the years ahead.
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org