Martha Nelson, PA-c is a physician’s assistant with the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University. The program focuses on empowering kids and families with the skills and knowledge needed to live a life of healthy eating and active lifestyles.
Consider this: The mother of an 11-year-old girl tells me, “I’ve tried everything. She won’t eat breakfast, she won’t stop drinking Mountain Dew, and she won’t touch a vegetable with a 10 foot pole! TV? I don’t even want to talk about it. I’ve tried everything. I’ve nagged until I’m blue in the face; I’ve offered to pay her for every vegetable she eats. I’ve hidden my Mountain Dew. I’ve disconnected the cable TV in her room. Nothing is working!”
I gently ask Mom questions along the lines of: Tell me what you typically eat for breakfast. How many vegetables do you eat daily? What do you like to do for exercise?
Her reply: “This is not about me. This is about my daughter! I’ll worry about my health once we get her on track.”
Kids these days…sabotaging good health by drinking sweet drinks, staying up too late, not eating vegetables, snacking on junk food, plopping down in front of the TV or computer every time they have a free moment. How in the world can we MAKE them take better care of themselves?
They often laugh when you “lay down the law”. Nagging, harsh words, and punishment only seem to bring resentment. Bribing/reward systems work for a little while, but the novelty wears off quickly.
One of the most effective parenting strategies honors a concept that can be summed up in one short sentence: Children do what they SEE their parents do, not what they hear their parents SAY to do.
If you want them to do something, let them see you doing it! Every day! Those little rascals are watching us. When we take time out to exercise, they notice. When we choose to sit at the table and eat with them, they notice. When we eat vegetables and drink water, they notice. When we turn the TV off and close the laptop (or put the smart phone away), they notice. When we make time for breakfast, they notice. We don’t have to yell and nag. We have to BE a good example. Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, this strategy will work. And, of course, you’ll be healthier for it as well!