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Question to an expert: How to instill healthy habits in children

We are used to searching online for ANSWERS TO MOST OF THE QUESTIONS THAT HAVE EXCITED US . In the new series of materials, we ask just such questions – burning, unexpected or common – to professionals in various fields. 

When raising children, no one wants to repeat the mistakes of their parents – this does not always work out, and no one is immune from new problems. Working on good habits is important from an early age – that’s when you can make it a game and interest your child; but even so, you can overdo it without achieving the desired result – or even getting the opposite. We asked an expert about whether you need to show everything by your own example and how not to overdo it with upbringing.

Ekaterina Sigitova

psychiatrist, psychotherapist , author of the book “Recipe for Happiness. Take yourself three times a day ”    

 It is clear that most parents want their children to eat right, play sports, not get sick and not have bad habits. At the same time, instilling good habits is so difficult that it is not clear how to achieve results. We all remember how parents were constantly bored about exercise, the harm of smoking and eating sweets – but this information reached the age of thirty, and even then not everyone.

Perhaps you yourself are not very good friends with sports and intuitive eating, and your attempts to lead a healthy lifestyle more often fail than succeed. In this case, you can still convey to children some of the important knowledge, but you will have rather serious limitations in the form of your own lifestyle. Children will inevitably learn something right from you, and this will not require a lot of conversations. If something contradicts the content of conversations about health – “do as I say, not as I do” – then the child will have an internal conflict, and it is not known what will win in him. Perhaps what lies closer (family habits), and perhaps still conversations and knowledge. It greatly depends on the nature of the child and the conditions in which everything happens. In general, you should make allowances for yourself.

It is better not to repeat the massive mistake of our parents’ generation and not to learn from every situation in life. Children should be allowed to rest. Not every person with a cigarette should be a pretext for the moralizing “You see, son, do you remember I said that smoking is harmful?” Do not overuse hackneyed tricks to engage children in conversation, such as repeating questions with given answers: “What should we do every day?” – “Brush your teeth …” All this works only if it is rarely used. If you grasp the methods and the ability to teach like a bulldog, then the child will quickly learn to recognize the didactic layer and turn on the defense, listening half-heartedly. In addition, the child may become angry and the effect will be reversed.

We cannot guarantee children that what we teach them will always be considered useful. But this is
not necessary. It is enough to explain that there are basic, long-known usefulness

Children have no sense of the future and find it difficult to grasp the idea of ​​long-term consequences. Therefore, in the case of a healthy lifestyle, such explanations do not work well – the result is too delayed. Many parents follow the path of horror stories “Don’t eat dry food, your stomach will hurt!”, “Buckle up, or you’ll catch a cold!”, “Don’t eat a lot of sweets, otherwise we’ll go to the dentist, and it will hurt to drill your teeth!” What do children learn from this? That they are vulnerable, the world is dangerous, all actions lead to something bad, and the main goal is to avoid various scary situations.

It takes several years to form a solid foundation for a healthy lifestyle. If the children are under eighteen and they are still living with you, then you have this time. So you do not need to take it hard, walk at a normal pace and do not be discouraged if it does not come out right away. It’s also important to let the kids go through a few trial and error and slowly get to something on their own.

It is worth mentioning that ideas about what is harmful and useful are constantly changing and have changed several times, even in our short life. Of course, we cannot guarantee children that what we teach them will always be considered useful. But this is not necessary. Suffice it to explain that there are basic, long-known benefits – like getting enough exercise and eating a balanced diet. The rest – particulars and details, the so-called superstructure, such as the question, which is more harmful, carbohydrates or fats, red meat or butter. The main thing is to provide a base from which to switch between add-ons, in case scientists find something again and everything turns upside down.

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