You're so not alone if you worry about what your child eats (or doesn't eat!), or how much time they spend on screens, or perhaps you wish they were more active or spent more time outdoors. You may worry about their health as a result, or might be concerned about their weight. And sometimes it's all of the above with one problem contributing to the next!
So how can you best help your kids improve their lifestyle choices? How can you encourage your child to make good choices, you might be wondering! Firstly, on the subject of their weight, I honestly would say there probably isn't a way to bring attention to a child’s weight without making them self-conscious, potentially feeling shamed with a high risk of your reflections being anxiety provoking. Often kids put on weight temporarily and there really isn’t any cause for concern. There can be those growth spurts when they awkwardly grow out before growing up and then everything balances out! Yet if you believe your child’s weight truly is a concern, I equally urge you to be proactive. A child being underweight can sometimes point to a deficiency that needs addressing. Childhood obesity rates have been rising at an alarming rate and it really is a big health concern.
Conversations about over-use of screens and not getting enough exercise are probably a bit less risky but still always important to proceed with caution! Tact, diplomacy and sensitivity in those tricky conversations with our kids are just as important as it is with another adult in your life. I would argue even more important!
Also read What every parent needs to know about kids and screens and part II; navigating screen use. First published in The Natural Parent Magazine.
Keeping it light! Whatever we do to improve the health and choices in the family possibly the most important factor is to avoid it becoming an emotionally charged “heavy topic”. When the subject gets tense, sadly parents lose their positive influence and can expect constant power struggles. So the first stage is often to work to take the tension out by owning our own feelings and working to create more inner peace and clarity. Our kids have a radar for when we're frustrated or exasperated about their choices, which generally causes kids to feel criticized, judged and under pressure. And needless-to-say this makes it harder for them to feel positive and empowered and much more prone to shut down and refuse to engage with us or be argumentative. Which leads to more of the not great choices. Going on those screens or eating unhealthy foods provide an escape from the stress of tensions in the family. You’ll know you’ve developed more inner peace, clarity and confidence when you can talk with your kid on this topic without getting easily stirred up.
"Going on those screens or eating unhealthy foods provide an escape from the stress of tensions in the family. The deeper problem is often the parent's (very understandable) struggle to keep those conversations calm and positive."
And once again the focus is on us to manage our stress! Few of us managed to escape internalizing body shame and excessive self-consciousness around body image, so there’s all that for us to unpack and become more mindful of if we’re to not pass on to our kids the toxic stuff that was passed on to us. “Really Genevieve does every parenting issue come back to OUR journey of personal development as parents” you might ask. Well eh yeah if we’re to, you know, keep breaking those cycles for the benefits of our kids, their kids and the generations to come.
Recommended resources: Our Mama Meltdown eCourse is designed especially to make the job of increasing patience as a parent easier to achieve and less overwhelming. My Stress Relief for Parents CD has four tracks, each facilitating an important process to help parents become more mindful and more empowered around taming their triggers. I recommend reading “When the meal table becomes a battleground” and “dissipating power struggles” and “the food-mood connection”. Our Natural Health and Nutrition group has lots of great information; links to websites with lots of recipes, all healthy and yummy, information about nutrient deficiency, heavy metal detoxification, gut healing and so much more!
Educating and empowering instead of criticizing and moralizing. The challenge is to be self-educated, to educate and empower our children while overall helping them feel positive and following their own intrinsic motivation. Once you’re confident you can keep the subject pretty light, you can work to include everyone in activities and choices relating to healthy food, exercise and screens. Instead of singling out the child who has the problem behaviour it can be more effective to take a whole family approach to healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle choices. Take the approach of educating and informing instead of criticizing and moralizing. Aim to make agreements rather than rules because kids are more motivated to work with agreements they’ve been involved in creating. Problem-solve together instead of lecturing. Don’t be afraid to be clear on what you believe to be reasonable limits.
In these videos, Parts I, II and III Genevieve tackles the topic of kids using TV and screens. How to encourage self-directed play and preserve their intrinsic motivation to be creative and to learn following their curiosity and how. Available to Village Members.
Get active with them. Instead of telling kids to get more active, parents can get active as well. Engage in healthy activities with them, especially when they need to get back on track to being more active. It's a great investment in time to spend more time outdoors and more time moving the body. The more time parents spend with kids being active especially in the outdoors when they're younger, the more likely they'll always come back to remembering that they enjoy nature and being active. Jumping on the trampoline, just spontaneously starting a game of tig and take it outside are simple ways to get them moving. Walks and hikes in beautiful places I think are particularly inspiring because it reminds us how energizing and healing and calming it is to be surrounded by beautiful natural spaces. But even indoors there are endless fun physical activities that are so healthy for all concerned. Around the age of 12 or 13 my daughter's activity decreased with longer school days, so we started doing yoga classes together, which helped me prioritize my own yoga practice.
The food we bring into the house. The choices we make around the food we bring into the house and the meals we make and involve them in preparing is where we have a huge amount of influence. You’ve probably also read or heard that in terms of the influence of diet and exercise that it’s generally agreed to be 80% diet and 20% exercise that influences one's weight. But of course, it's a really complex mix and everyone is different.
Make an achievable first-step goal. If making changes to provide a higher percentage of truly healthy whole foods sounds pretty daunting to you, just start wherever you are at the moment. Perhaps a goal to start with might be to not have any junk/ fast food for a couple of weeks. Then keep extending the length of time in between the foods that put the body under a lot of stress.
Becoming mindful of the mind-body connection. Instead of food choices being "good or bad" it's much better to always put the focus on how we feel in ourselves, how we feel after eating a certain food or after doing some exercise etc. For example, you might say; "those chips were yum but now my tummy doesn't feel great" or "wow I was so tired earlier but since coming back from that walk/ run/ hike/ yoga class I've got so much more energy and just feel really good in myself". When kids grow up with lots of communication that's mind-body connection focused, it becomes a normal part of their own way of thinking, observing and hence talking. We eat a particularly healthy whole food plant-based diet in our family as a general rule and it’s just so normal for one of my guys to exclaim; “wow I just feel so good after that food” and they talk about how sluggish people must feel when they eat unhealthy foods most of the time.
Focus on feeling good instead of looking good. My children are 17 and 22 and both really big into their healthy food and exercise. One of my daughter’s fantasies is to one day own or manage a plant-based organic restaurant. When we travel to new places, they’re both googling to dig out those funky organic cafes are. They really are like the kid in the candy shop in places like that; yummy AND healthy is always exciting and forms a big part of our exciting and enjoyable moments in daily life! The focus has always been on feeling healthy rather than appearances to avoid any body shaming or anxiety. I've been really conscious to not talk about my own weight in front of them, again to avoid the weight being the focus.
Everyone just wants to eat yummy food and enjoy their day. Learn new recipes for super yummy foods made completely from healthy ingredients. There are lots of links in our natural health and nutrition group in the Membership Village. Involve the kids in choosing the recipes (from a range of all healthy choices). I don't believe in diets with the focus on losing weight, I believe in improving one's diet to improve health, trusting that this is overall beneficial to the person's body, mind and wellbeing in general. To this end, as well as inch by inch bringing in more of the healthy foods and reducing or eliminating the unhealthy foods, I've always been pretty big into doing cleanses and so my guys have grown up with that being something we do that results in everyone feeling so much lighter and energized in our bodies, clearer thinking and just generally feeling better. Increasing the percentage of raw, doing a week or even a couple of days of no sugar and low carbs can help reset the gut, or doing a week of veggie juicing or more green smoothies.
There are endless ways of inching towards creating a healthier lifestyle, what's most important is to work on being at peace with yourself and your child, accepting and loving you and your child for the person you are and they are. And making the necessary changes from a place of love and care. ❤️️
Disclaimer: Learning about nutrition and natural medicine has been a huge passion of mine all my adult life, so I always enjoy having conversations about the food-mood connections with the parents I work with. However, I'm not a trained dietician or naturopath and I do always recommend having a consultation with a naturopath or an integrative doctor who will consider your child’s specific needs, medical history and who has the facilities to undertake whatever tests are necessary to make assessments.