30 Positive Lifestyle Habits For Healthier, Happier Children
Pointing our kids in the right direction and hoping they learn to make good choices once they’ve flown the nest is a journey with one or two challenges, to say the least. In this world of distracting tech, consumer choice overload, too may sedentary choices, a food and drink industry who don’t give two hoots about the poor messages they’re pumping into tiny minds and politicians and religious leaders who choose conflict over communication (great role modelling for the next generation guys!) it’s hard to get your ethos heard by your children over all the noise. Heres’s a few simple ideas that might help:
1. Let Them Lead The Way
So you’re out for a walk, enjoying the scenery, at one with nature, leading your family on an outbound adventure. All good so far. But you can make it better. Put them up front, let them choose the way. Tell them to go ahead and scout, decide the path. Fork in the road? Let them choose (even if you know it’s a dead end). Big hill doesn’t look so inviting? Tough, they’re leading the pack today (and you’ll get fitter while you’re at it). Giving your kids a bit of freedom and responsibility on days out makes things even more memorable for them and gives them an insight into decision making in all it’s muddy glory!
Let them choose (even if you know it’s a dead end)
2. Reducing Screen Time (disconnect from tech)
Screens are ubiquitous. They hover around us in seductive wait of our short attention spans. There’s a reason Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids play with iPads. I introduced ‘Zero screen time’ into our days (and even our weekends) and disconnecting from tech is a wonderful way of reconnecting with your family time. Our kids will be having electronic content rammed into them for the rest of their lives so give them the knowledge that unplugging is a happy place to be now, while they’re still sponges. We go for ‘no screens’ in the morning before school, before jobs have been done, and for set hours over the weekend. We agree these times together so we’re all on the same page. You’ll be amazed at how their imaginations soar and your quality time improves.
give them the knowledge that unplugging is a happy place to be now, while they’re still sponges Click To Tweet
3. Introduce Reading Time (The gift voucher for the soul)
As well as disconnecting from tech, you should try helping them to reconnect with their imagination. Nothing comes close to reading; losing yourself in a different world. Kids will totally get it too. Don’t think their TV and video game addled minds won’t be able to learn the value of a book, they will. We’ve all heard ‘Nah, books are boring, I want my FIFA’ but if FIFA time is FIFA time and reading time is READING time, they’ll get it. I actually keep it as book time, no kindles or reading apps, nothing with distraction or choice. Think of it as a gift voucher for the soul; I love getting an Amazon voucher because I know I can’t spend it on anything other than something I want, unlike cash which would just go on groceries or a haircut. Book time leaves everyone with a single choice – guilt free reading. We do it for an hour, and we ALL do it. Adults too. You know the drill, all screens off, no phones etc. We say an hour but if it drifts on, then so be it…
Book time leaves everyone with a single choice – guilt free reading
4. Acknowledge & Appreciate Them
“Children should be seen and not heard” said some poe faced Victorian moron. Give a child room to grow in stature by letting them have a voice. Watch their confidence grow as they step up to their platform and tell you what they think about something, knowing that you’ll listen and nod and appreciate their input. Big family decisions coming up? Wondering where to go on holiday? Trying to choose a new colour for the kitchen? Ask the kids. It’s not like they might surprise you, they almost certainly will; regularly if you give them the opportunity. And they’ll go forwards confidently and bravely as they grow up rather than meek and unheard.
It’s not like they might surprise you, they almost certainly will
5. Anti-Fairy Tales
I love this. I think being scared in a safe environment is OK, it’s why roller coasters are one of the best things on the planet. Remember hiding behind the sofa when the Daleks came on the TV? Remember sneaking downstairs and catching a glimpse of an 18 certificate horror film and not sleeping for a week? Almost a right of passage. There’s evidence that too many ‘happy endings’ in children’s stories creates an expectation in the child that things always work out. As we know, this isn’t the case in real life and if a child understands that sometimes ‘good’ loses then they are better prepared when they face real disappointments in their day to day lives. Stories that end ambiguously or without resolution can also throw up great discussion topics for you and your kids.
if a child understands that sometimes ‘good’ loses then they are better prepared when they face real disappointments in their day to day lives
6. Small Jobs For Growing Responsibility
As kids get older we often start to think about giving them small tasks to earn or supplement their pocket money so they can start to understand about the importance of work and the value of money. But it’s also important to guide them in the ways of being a team player, a useful and integral part of a pack that can contribute helpfully for the good of everyone and not just for their own personal gain. Giving them small tasks that are ‘theirs’ and encouraging ownership of those tasks can help them to understand the importance of mucking in and to boost their sense of self worth as they become a contributor to the day to day running of the family environment.
Why not try…
If you give them a small task such as taking out the recycling every week then leave them with the task but let them plan when they do it or the best route to the bin or the frequency. Give them freedom and praise them when they figure out better ways of doing things. It starts with the little things.
Give them freedom and praise them when they figure out better ways of doing things
7. Try Everything (go beyond the fads to find the passions)
The fads and trends are upon us in a flash, stripping our wallets with good intentions only to be out the door the following week, replaced by the ‘next thing’. This is old ground and every parent navigates this conundrum. Which fads do we support? How do we deal with concepts like ‘giving up too soon’ or kids seemingly not appreciating the cost of the fad when it’s shunned just a few weeks after the new violin has sucked up the summer holiday savings? Think big, explore every way of trying everything. Kids are only fickle because they’re falling into a world full of so much stuff to do that they naturally want to do everything that looks even remotely exciting. This is what life is about so go with it ALL. Let them give up if they want; when they find their passions, you’ll know. And if you let them, they’ll be magnificent at them.
You don’t need to buy a new violin; just talk to their music teacher or school, reach out on social media or to friends or family. Somebody will most likely have a violin you could borrow on a short term loan until they figure out if it’s for them or not. If they want an electric guitar, start with a £20 ukulele and see if it sparks anything. Pretty much anything can be borrowed or supplied in a beginners class. It’s your TIME and your willingness to let them try everything that they need. Go with it. All of it…
Let them give up if they want; when they find their passions, you’ll know. And if you let them, they’ll be magnificent at them
8. Don’t Focus On Fault
Always looking for someone to blame takes the emphasis away from finding a solution to a problem and creates an environment where people just make each other feel bad all the time. Doesn’t sound good does it? When things go belly up, keep vibes productive and solution based. Look for answers not scapegoats. Life is a lot of problem solving and teaching kids that turning on each other will not solve anything will help them develop strong relationships and find many more positive outcomes when life’s little challenges strike.
9. Surround Them With Positive Role Models
If you’ve cultivated your social circles (your family, your colleagues, your friends etc) so that the ones most often with you are the happy, positive, helpful ones (and if you haven’t, start now) then you need to give your kids access to these people. Your little sponges soak up your vibe, that’s why you lead by example, but they’ll also get a variety of positive influences from your grooviest friends. Don’t always keep them separate and give them access to each other so they can build relationships and learn from each other’s positive outlooks on life (with the added experience that only adults can bring to the table).
10. Move More (Not Just Exercise)
More movement isn’t more exercise. The weekly football training, the weekend match, the hour’s swimming and the PE lesson on a Wednesday is all well and good but between these things could well be endless comparative hours of sitting in class, sitting in front of the TV and sitting in front of a games console or sitting doing homework. The ‘doing’ doesn’t stack up well against the ‘sitting’ in most weekly schedules and habits. Movement is something else altogether; you’re looking for natural movements that their squirmy bodies have evolved for and you need to nurture the kind of movement in their cells that their DNA craves.
The outcome? A lifetime with less injury, bodies that grow to their full potential and carry less inflammation and propensity for serious disease. Worth it. We’re talking about walking barefoot on uneven ground, hanging from branches, swinging on ropes, squatting to do things on the floor instead of at tables. Think “What would a stone-age child do with no furniture, no shoes and plenty of activity required to acquire anything they need”? Keep them walking, climbing, swinging and exploring and avoid sitting in chairs as much as possible (yes, you too, it’s never too late).
A lifetime with less injury, bodies that grow to their full potential and carry less inflammation and propensity for serious disease. Worth it
11. Eating Together
The days can get away from us; always busy and the next thing on the schedule is waiting for no man. Work, school run, all the washing, all the homework, all the wants and needs and prep for tonights cubs/swimming/tennis/juggling club. How on Earth are we supposed to find time to actually communicate with each other? At mealtimes of course. Make them special, make them sacred. Accept no excuses (yours included), mealtimes are for sitting together, talking about your days, sharing the best bits and sharing the challenges that you may be able to help each other with. No screens, no radios, NO PHONES. Slow down, taste the food and be together for a few minutes of each day. This is a healthy habit your kids will remember and will carry on with their kids. You’re building an empire here…
Slow down, taste the food and be together for a few minutes of each day
12. From Junk To Funk
This is a no-brainer and you no doubt already work on this one. With nutrition and children you are fighting a tough battle; school dinners are pretty poor for the most part, the food industry wants your kids hooked on sugar, the ‘healthy’ diet foods are loaded with replacement junk like aspartame and other chemicals, peer pressure can be difficult and not just from their friends but often you’ll find other parents are blindly feeding their kids pizzas, crisps, cakes and coke at every opportunity and what are your kids supposed think? It’s everywhere, JUST LIKE OBESITY. Sorry for shouting but it’s darned frustrating. The best way forwards, I think, is to arm them with good choices. You don’t have to build resentment and rebellion by stripping them of all sugar but you can set some ground rules that everyone agrees on. And don’t be afraid to show them the potential damage, and teach them why you’re taking the stance. Kids love science, make it fun and easy to get.
For example, we have a rule: No fizzy soft drinks (Coke and all it’s evil buddies). I stood up to my urchins and explained why. “Would you put coke in a Ferrari and expect it to work properly?”. They can have a lemonade if we go out somewhere and it’s a treat. At home it’s pretty much all water, milk (almond, oat, regular) and whatever we chuck in the juicer. But get some ground rules in place and stick to them. They’ll become habits in no time.
Another great rule for snacking is simply 1 processed, 1 natural. So if you have a biscuit, the next thing you have must be a carrot or a banana or some grapes. And my personal favourite tip (and this saved me from my own chocolate ‘issue’) – DON’T BUY CRAP! If it’s not in the cupboard, nobody can add it to their waistline or support their impending diabetes diagnosis.
Bottom line with kids nutritional health? Teach them to make good decisions. Teach them about the lies the food industry tells, teach them about food labelling, teach them what happens to their blood sugar when they eat rubbish and what happens to their immune system when they eat vegetables. It’s not always what they eat today, it’s what they choose to eat for the rest of their lives. Empower them. It’s good habits we want.
13. Cut Out The Fizzy Pop
We’ve just covered this but it’s worth mentioning twice because it’s a big. There’s no excuse for it, it’s just giving kids a huge, nutrient free hit of sugar. Fizzy pop is liquid diabetes. Why do that to our kids? Get them into water, the habits will become second nature after a while. Investing in a juicer is worth your time and money too (store bought juices are not much better that fizzy drinks really, just sugar water). We juice broccoli stalks, spinach, carrots and apples and the juice is delicious. You can experiment with your munchkins and find favourites and you can hide more raw nutritional BLAM! in a juice than you can in pretty much any other stealth food strategy…
14. The Label Game
While we’re looking at nutrition, getting kids to make good choices for themselves is the goal and teaching them to check out food labels is a great, habit forming, way to help them understand what’s in their food. Kids love trading cards, we’ve all spent a fortune on Match Attax and Pokemon and those little plastic fellas (Oh goodness, it’s a double rare gold one!). So why not make a game out of the numbers? Food Trumps! Try “Hey kids, who can find the cereal with the most fibre? GO!” or “OK stinkers, if you can find an [insert snack item] with less than 20 grams of sugar – you can have it!” What about “If you want desert tonight it must have more protein than carbs – good luck!”
Get them looking and thinking and they’ll always look and think.
15. Positive Rewards
“Well done, have a snickers”. We all like to hear that but all we’re learning is ‘doing well = junk food’. Not a great association and thus not a useful habit. When you want to set up reward schemes make the reward association something a little healthier; a day out somewhere cool, your undivided attention for x amount of time doing anything they want outside. We used to have a pasta pot when my boys were younger. If they did well, they earned dried pastas which they put in a tupperware container (which they decorated and took ownership of). On the fridge was a chart telling them what they could trade in their earned pastas for: Half an hour Xbox time, Half an hour later to bed on Saturday night, going to the park with daddy to play football etc. It works.
When you want to set up reward schemes make the reward association something a little healthier
16. Be Involved (in everything)
Spectators get nothing done. You need to be active in the various areas of your children’s formative lives. Help out with with their football teams (arrive early and put the nets up, assist in training etc), help out with cub camps, talk to their teachers regularly, not just on parents evening. If you aren’t happy with the school dinner choices, say so – be heard. Some other school policy not sounding right to you? Healthcare issue at you local hospital or surgery? Make some noise; have a voice. If you’re involved with your kid’s lives they will feel and appreciate your involvement (even if they don’t always express it very well). Go the extra mile and set a mega example for really being involved and getting things done.
If you’re involved with your kid’s lives they will feel and appreciate your involvement
17. Monitor Their Content
I’m amazed at the amount of plain ignorance that surrounds this one. There’s always been a sweary music scene that kids will gravitate towards, bad language in books and films have always been there and always will be, and it’s impossible to censor everything they see and hear (thanks other kid’s big brothers!) but video games that are marked 18 are done so for a reason. The graphic and explicit nature of some games is simply very adult in nature. Take GTA 5 for example. Hell yeah, it’s fun but take the worst swear word in the world and have that spouted during scenes of stamping a man to death and you have an idea of what’s inside. Would you let your kid play that? Neither would I and yet there are parents who do. Don’t be one and be careful if your kids have friends with parents that ‘liberal’ (or totally ignorant of what their kids are doing).
My kids know that I know that they know (nearly) all the swears. They also know that I trust them not to use them. They know what’s for boys when it’s just the boys, and what’s acceptable in polite company. Communication and trust work well there. But I have a strict age related content policy that we don’t mess with.
How do we decide on content?
We use www.commonsense.org – A great website that we use together when making acceptable content decisions. The views are fair and constructive, covering movies and video games and offer alternatives when the going gets tough. It also opens up talking points between us that means we can agree on things more easily without difficult impasses or resentment.
Communication and trust work well there. But I have a strict age related content policy that we don’t mess with
18. Talk To Other Parents
I blame the parents! Says everyone, judgementally, at some point and not always without good reason. But there’s no need to blame any parents if you make sure you get to know the parents of the kids your children hang out with. Make sure they know you’re on the case, that you have some ground rules that you expect your kids to follow wherever they are and that you have content guides for your kids that you expect them to follow regardless of who’s roof they’re under.
19. Be Realistic (but still think BIG)
Thinking BIG is cool. Having grand ideas and sky high goals is absolutely a fine idea. After all, even if you fail with your stupendous project, you can’t fail completely, so you’ll still have a smashing outcome! But learning how to set goals should be scaled; help your kids to understand that goals are for reaching not just for dreaming. Setting realistic milestones and working your way up will guide them towards improvements rather than always looking for ways to reduce their expectations just to meet lofty ideals. The more goals they reach, the more they’ll grow in stature and be brave enough to aim higher.
even if you fail with your stupendous project, you can’t fail completely, so you’ll still have a smashing outcome!
20. Be Positive
“A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY” – Roald Dahl
This is a big one folks. Your little rascals are a barometer for your outlook on life. Spend more time telling them what they can do rather than what they can’t. Lead by example and make sure your glass is always half full; that you’re focusing on what you have rather than what you don’t have and that your face is laughing and smiling far more often than it’s looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Never was point number 30 more critical than with this one…
Lead by example and make sure your glass is always half full
21. Be Honest (and be present in every conversation)
Talking to your kids is ace. It’s better than most things you’ll do every day and it’s always better to talk about power rangers and pixies and magic and dragons than it is chewing the fat with adults about cheques and mortgages and bills and crappy boyfriends. But these aren’t just the best conversations of your life (which you’ll miss like hell when they grow up), they’re also an opportunity to be honest with them; build relationships built on honesty and not judgement. Do this now and honest conversations about sex and drugs and smoking and alcohol (adult’s are rubbish aren’t they?) will be easier and more productive. Future proof your communication channels at your earliest convenience.
the best conversations of your life (which you’ll miss like hell when they grow up)
22. Teach Them To Live Mindfully
It’s never to early to start learning to live mindfully. If you teach kids that there’s no point in dwelling on a future that hasn’t happened yet or a past that’s gone then you’ll help them to develop the skills to stay stress free in a complicated world. Of course they’re always in a rush to experience the next thing (there are so many cool things to explore) but they’ll get so much more out of every experience if they settle into what the are doing NOW. Remind them to taste their food, to look around when they’re walking, to stop, smell, listen, to feel gravity holding them in place. If you can get them into the habit of really experiencing the present moment without thinking forwards or backwards, you’ll be guiding them towards a life of happiness, less stress and peace of mind – what a gift!
What I do…
If my kids start asking what we’re going to be doing after the walk or after the meal I remind them that there won’t be anything happening next if we’re not enjoying what we’re doing now! They might need some guidance so try getting them to close their eyes, focus on their breaths for just a few breaths (these are children we’re talking about, small steps eh??) and them make a game out of feeling their feet on the ground, the weight of their body, and then maybe get them to think about what they can smell, maybe listen quietly to see what the most distant sound they can hear is. Little and often, forming new habits. They’ll get there.
help them to develop the skills to stay stress free in a complicated world
23. Ask Them What They Want To Do
Next time you have ten minutes, half an hour or a whole day to spare and you want to spend it with your child, don’t plan a thing. Just ask them what they want to do. And agree with yourself beforehand that you’ll just go with it, whatever they decide. Don’t give them options, just say yes to anything and everything. If you find yourself running down the road dressed as Batman, so be it. If you end up driving to the supermarket to buy all the ingredients to make magic fairy bread, then do it. If they say – “let’s play FIFA in our pants” – go with it, even if you don’t know a game controller from your armpit. These are the things they won’t forget and you’ll ALL be happier for it.
go with it, even if you don’t know a game controller from your armpit
24. Be Present
Whenever you do anything with your kids, do just that thing and nothing else. Be completely present. If you’re watching a cartoon with them then don’t scan Facebook on your phone and nod and pretend laugh when they do – watch the cartoon, get lost in the story, laugh at the jokes and watch their face as they take it in – experience it with them and know what they’re talking about. Turn off your phone and your tablet and your pager (if you’ve traveled through time to read this from the 80s) and exist only in that little bubble with you and your kids and none of the rest of the noise and chaos and information and distractions. All that drivel will be there for you long after they’ve flown the nest – don’t forget that…
exist only in that little bubble with you and your kids
25. Co-Parent Like a Boss
We can’t all be married for ever and whisper sweet nothings into the ears of the other parent in our children’s lives. Some of us have to face up to the reality of separation and divorce. It can be pretty ugly and not a little painful but we (the big old ugly adults) get over it eventually, we move on and for the most part find happiness again. But if you let it affect your kids then they’ll most probably carry that baggage around with them for the rest of their lives.
Separation and divorce is not good, but you have to be BRAVE and you have to put your differences aside and become BEST FRIENDS (or as close as dammit) because that’s the best thing you can do for your kids. You don’t have to agree on anything else, you can argue about money and the house and your pensions and your affairs (imagined or otherwise) and your record collections (Spotify memberships?) and all that guff but you put all that down for five minutes and agree on this: 50/50 responsibility – they need BOTH of you to be there for them. You talk to each other and you make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to school, discipline, activities, difficulties at school or anywhere else. You make time for this and you get good at it. And if one of you doesn’t get it, then the other one has to be the bigger one. Grit your teeth, smile and keep plugging away until you’re doing the best you can for them. Divorce is no excuse for bad co-parenting and precious egos have no place in childcare. You’ve got the rest of your life to be bitter, get their formative years right.
What we did: The moment me and my ex wife separated we agreed that everything we did would be about putting them first. Then we fought and we argued and we dealt with our crap, and in the middle of it all we made time to talk peaceably and selflessly about just them. Even if co-parenting has to be a no-man’s land for a while – you work at it.
26. Introduce Them To Time Machines
My favourite book of all time and space is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. A kind of coming of age story set in 1930s American Mid West. In it we meet a character called Charlie Woodman who introduces some of his buddies to what he describes as a Time Machine. Turns out this time machine is actually an elderly gentleman who sits with the boys telling them stories about the war. He’s their connection with real adventures that took place many years before they were born; a genuine piece of that history and therefore a real life Time Machine.
I fell in love with the idea of seeing old folks that way and sat listening to my own Grandma with my two sons whilst she told us about our previously unknown Irish heritage and her memories of living through both wars. She was a time machine and so are all old folks and it’s good to remind our kids of this because the time they spend is their company is both rare and magical, for both parties. Teaching them that the age gap isn’t so great and that they can happily meet in the middle is a good thing and the company (and maybe some small helpful jobs) the kids can provide in return for these tales would spread good vibes in both directions. Maybe there’s somebody in your street who might like a visit….
27. Go Off Road
Next time you’re out for a walk, make sure you stray from the path. We always used to do this when we were little and to this day I’m not a massive fan of paths. Going off road is all about making our own path, exploring, not knowing what’s around the corner and not being afraid to get lost. All that starts on the little walks you take when you’re small. So next time you see a gap, don’t tell them to stay out of the mud – tell them to get stuck in and see where you end up.
Going off road is all about making our own path, exploring, not knowing what’s around the corner and not being afraid to get lost.
28. Go With Your Gut
There is so much information on TV, in magazines and newspapers telling what the ‘latest study’ has shown about what you should or shouldn’t feed your kids, or how to correct their behaviour or what medicine they should or shouldn’t have or what does or doesn’t cause allergies or intolerances. Most of it will be your fault and the Daily Mail will sell more copies. Let me tell you (because I’m interested, mildly OCD and passionate about this stuff) most of it is utter tosh. I could write what you should eat on the back of a postcard (Loads of veg, some fruit – berries of all kinds – nuts, seeds, eggs, some lean meats, water, some caffeine, almond milk, red wine in moderation when you’re old enough, greek yoghurt and dark – 85% – chocolate – that’s it). But don’t even listen to me; listen to you. Listen to your gut, trust your experience. These are YOUR children and if you’re not comfortable giving them the drugs the doctor prescribed, don’t give them to them. If you think they should eat, drink, do or think something, support it. If you don’t (regardless of what the experts or your friends or family or doctors say) you stick to your guns. Trust your judgement, we’re all well evolved enough to do the one thing we’re here to do – make the right choices for our own kids.
But don’t even listen to me; listen to you. Listen to your gut, trust your experience
29. Less Cotton Wool
Theres a lot of cotton wool about, we all know that and often have fun mocking this generation by comparing it to our own, more rough and tumble style, childhoods. But there’s really nothing wrong with the odd bump on the head, or getting covered in dirt or making a complete jerk of yourself. Getting things wrong is how we learn; more importantly it’s how we improve. Let them hand their homework in late and incomplete and they’ll learn that they need to take more responsibility themselves. Allow them the space to cock it up once in a while and they’ll learn far more than if you wander around behind them with a hand on their head, protecting them from every sharp table corner that life throws at them. You never learn to look up if you’ve got a pillow strapped to your head. Guided freedom will help them to grow on their own terms to their best potential.
30. Lead By Example
You’ve probably noticed by now that although there’s some 30 or so bits of pretty sound advice in here about developing better habits for happier, healthier children, most of them are about you. Our kids look to us to show them how a life should be lived, we are their first and most important role models and how we live will be reflected in the hearts, minds and bodies of our little stinkers. Their life might just be beginning but the path to a happy and healthy life for them starts with you.
Be the life you want them to lead; prove that it works and that legacy of real love and the spirit of adventure may well last for generations to come. Well done you.
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