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Published on September 03, 2015

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Five Tips to Help Children Develop Healthy Habits

Teaching children healthy habits can seem, at times, like your family’s pile of laundry: you work on it all the time, but it’s hard to see any notable progress.

The key to success with building healthy habits is having children practice the habit consistently, whether it’s wearing their bike helmets, washing their hands before and after meals, or brushing their teeth.

“Hopefully a good habit will develop and stick so that it becomes part of the child’s routine,” said Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Instructor at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

Tips to Help Your Children Form Healthy Habits

Do: Develop good habits at an early age.

Starting healthy habits when children are young is especially important because of the cognitive development that takes place at those ages, explained Wilcox.

Toddlers and 3-year-olds are concrete thinkers. The way things are done are the way things are done all the time. When you buckle up, kids expect it to be that way all the time.

“Hopefully as children become abstract thinkers later, and they start to question the way things are done, the habit will be ingrained enough that they keep doing it,” Wilcox said.

Don’t: Nag. Instead, teach.

Nagging children to do something isn’t very effective. Instead, teach your children in a positive way. Also, get involved. For example, double check that your children brush their teeth and wash behind their ears.

Don’t: Give out rewards for everyday actions.

Use caution when rewarding children for doing certain activities. Children can get used to the reward and then expect to get a reward for everything. “I worry about over-rewarding kids for things they should just do. If you take the reward away, they quit doing it,” Wilcox said.

That said, if rewards do work for your child, go ahead and use them — just don’t overdo it.

Do: Model good behavior.

If you’re asking your children to do something, like wearing their seat belt or bike helmet, make sure that you model the good behavior. “If you don’t, they get the message that this is something only kids, not parents, do. Then when they’re older, they might abandon the action,” Wilcox said. Work on establishing the action as a safe habit that everyone does.

Don’t: Make kids eat their food.

Never force children to eat or reward kids for eating. “Eating is eating. You eat because you need to nourish your body; when you’re not hungry you stop. We do want kids to eat a variety of foods. We don’t want them to have to eat,” Wilcox said.

One creative way to manage picky eaters is to have everyone take a “thank-you bite.” “We can say that everyone in our family takes a ‘thank-you bite’ to thank mom or dad for cooking the meal, the grocery stores for having the food, and farmers for raising the food. Anything new, you taste that and make a decision,” Wilcox recommended.

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