23 October 2009 11:57 AM

Encouraging Healthy Habits in Kids

by Dr. Rick

We teachers and parents share enormous responsibility in teaching our children healthy habits, values, and attitudes about their lives – school, learning, relationships, and their futures.


The best time to set the foundations for these healthy habits, values, and attitudes?  Common sense, backed up by a ton of research and centuries of philosophy, tells us that earlier is better than later.


And that doing is better than telling.


So, here are some tips about fostering healthy habits in children.  Because this is an education blog, I’ll focus primarily on healthy school habits.  But the same underlying theme is true of all kinds of habits, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.

  1. Be a positive role model.  You knew this would be first, didn’t you?  Remember, doing is more powerful than telling.  Let your children see you reading for information and for the pure joy of the experience.  Let them see you doing math as you run your household, your business, and figure out the tip at restaurants.  (You’re not allowed, ever, to say, “I can never figure this out.”  You may say, though, “Let’s do this together.  What’s 20% of $38?”)  Let them see you writing to communicate, to express your opinions, to say thank you.  Let them be a part of your family’s religious heritage and beliefs. 

  2. Be active.  Limit your children’s “screen time,” the hours spent in front of any kind or size of screen – TV, video games, cell phones, etc.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but, let’s face it, we can all tell when kids are over-indulging.  Spend some family time playing games, both indoor and outdoor games. 

  3. Set goals together.  With your children, decide what goals will be important this school year, this semester, this quarter, or this week.  (For some kids, day-to-day goals make sense.)  Decide together appropriate rewards.  And consequences.

  4. Organize.  Help your children organize their space, their things, and their calendar.  Show them how to minimize distractions.  This can be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give them.  Disorganized kids running through the house in the morning as they dash late to school turn into disorganized adults running through the house in the morning as they dash late to work.  Don’t condemn them to that.

  5. Check their work.  Periodically for some kids, nightly for others, monitor the work they’ll turn in the next day.  Don’t accept sloppy, careless, unthoughtful, disorganized work that doesn’t live up to their potential or meet their and your goals.  Trust your instincts.  If it’s not good enough for you, it won’t be good enough for the teacher.

  6. Communicate with teachers.  You don’t need a daily conversation, of course, but keep up-to-date with teachers, guidance counselors, and coaches.  Meet with them at conference time, email them when it’s necessary, read their pages on the school’s website.  Show them that you’re involved in your children’s progress.  They’ll appreciate the support.

  7. Be firm.  Especially with habits like tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, there’s no room for anything but firmness.  You won’t allow it.  Explain the dangers, harms, and your feelings.  While you’re at it, talk about peer pressure.  Know their friends and classmates they’re hanging out with.

  8. Give earned praise.  Kids love to be praised (adults do, too), but they can spot hollow praise or an empty compliment faster than they can make a mess in the kitchen.  Acknowledge their effort and accomplishment, not just their potential.  I’ve taught many a kid with “great potential” who never turned in assignments or showed any initiative in class.

  9. Review the time commitments of your teens.  Study time should exceed part-time jobs or socializing.  If you’re not happy with their report card grades, if you suspect they’re not reaching the goals you set with them, you’ll have to reconsider their out-of-school time commitments.  Don’t succumb to their blandishments.  You know you’re right.

  10. Enjoy your kids.  It’s not always easy being the adult, but like most things in life, it’s easier and more pleasant to be positive than cynical, angry, or discouraged.  Besides, if you can’t find anything positive about helping your kids, anything to make you smile and laugh, then you’re in the wrong job!




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