Thursday, January 13, 2011

Much More Than a Mere Role Model

Parents, grandparents, and other adults play a crucial role in helping children establish healthy behaviors for a lifetime. However, being a positive role model is just one of many important jobs that adults have in insuring a healthy future for our children. Here are tips and examples of positive ways to influence the behavior of the young people that you love.

Be the best role model you can be.

According to the American Psychological Association, kids are instinctively primed – from birth – to imitate their parents and adult caregivers. They are very sensitive to the messages that you send to them by your own health behaviors – what you eat and how active you are.

When you are active with children, it is really a two-for-one benefit. Your own body gets the incredible health benefits of physical activity – PLUS the kids imitate your habits. A family that plays actively together is a family that stays healthy together. And, there are so many ways to have fun – any month of the year.

Be a responsible gatekeeper.

Until the upper elementary grades, children rarely have to purchasing power or outside access to nutrient-poor food and beverages. During this time, parents and other adults can maximize access to healthful, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy).

Limiting the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages you have in the house is another win-win for family health: When the choices are low-fat/fat-free milk, 100% fruit and vegetable juices, and refreshing water, that is what you and young people will drink. Fortunately, these are exactly the drinks for optimal health and hydration.

Be an influential taste-setter.

Adults significantly influence the likes and dislikes that children attach to certain foods. These influences can last a lifetime. Think of babies who grow up eating sushi or whale blubber or other unappealing (to us) foods because they learn to enjoy them from their parents, grandparents, and the other adults around them.

Mealtimes are the ideal time for family members and adult friends to influence the tastes of children. For example, the best way to get kids to enjoy a variety of veggies is to watch older people eating and enjoying vegetables – without tricks, bribes, or threats. Children eat less and enjoy food less when adults try to force them to eat it.

Be an everyday educator.

Children love to learn about the world around them. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors can teach kids about nutrition, fitness, and health – just by talking about the issues in normal everyday conversations. It’s as easy as talking about the foods that make you grow and the activities that make you strong.

For example, backyard gardens are a deliciously easy way to teach children about the pleasures of eating very local produce. Planting, watering, harvesting, and cooking vegetables and fruits with children is a wonderful way to teach them many lessons – including nutrition, health, and personal responsibility.

Be a passionate advocate.

Any adult can also support child and family-friendly communities. Most cities and towns are currently considering many issues that affect opportunities for kids to get the nutrition and activity they need. These include everything from community gardens to safe routes to school.

Schools are also important places to advocate for children’s nutrition and physical activity programming.

You can push school administrators to: start or increase school breakfast programs; incorporate physical activity or nutrition education in after-school programs; or start before school walking programs.

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