No matter a child’s physical or mental abilities, healthy lifestyle choices are important to overall wellbeing. Today, guest writer, Amanda Henderson, gives some easy and practical ways that you can encourage your child to develop positive lifestyle habits early.

By: Amanda Henderson, Safe Children

Children are bombarded by negative influences every day through television, computer games, and social media. Despite this flood of stimuli, parents remain the most powerful influence over their children’s behavior and lifestyle choices. Being a good parent and setting a good example is an important responsibility, one that has a profound effect on how children grow up.

Get Active

If your children aren’t into exercise, find ways to make it fun for the whole family. Go on bike rides together and teach your kids how to play soccer, dribble a basketball, and hit a softball. Try hiking as a family activity. It’s a fun group activity that everyone can enjoy outside in beautiful natural surroundings, but be sure everyone has the right gear. Whether you’re hiking on soft or hard, icy ground, it’s important to have hiking boots with good crampons that provide adequate support.

Be a Mindful Role Model

Kids watch adults and learn from their positive and negative behaviors from an early age. If you drink or smoke at home after work, your children will notice and pick up on those activities. One of the best things you can do for children is to exhibit healthy eating habits. If they see you enjoying vegetables, fruit, and whole grain foods at dinner, chances are they’ll repeat that behavior and learn to enjoy it as well. If you hate vegetables (and aren’t shy about saying so), don’t be surprised when your kids refuse to eat their Brussels sprouts and broccoli at dinnertime. Taking a multivitamin can help get the missing nutrients you need and, as an added bonus, set another good example for your kids.

Limit Screen Time

Screen time is another area where kids need a good role model. Turning off the smartphone can be difficult for lots of people. If you or your spouse likes to text or instant message during dinner, chances are your children will follow suit. As such, limit them to no more than two hours of screen time after school, including smartphones, computers, and TVs, and make it a rule to keep phones turned off and put away during dinner.

Family Time

Make sure dinnertime is always family time, with no one wandering off into the TV room. Dinner should be a time for discussing the day’s events and talking about subjects of common interest, like an upcoming family vacation or who needs the car over the weekend. It’s also a time for enjoying nutritious meals together so kids learn that healthy foods can be tasty.

Healthy Snacking

Obesity is a major health problem among America’s young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of teens age 12 to 19 struggle with obesity, a health issue with significant, long-term ramifications for Americans. Instead of removing sugary treats from the house, try limiting them and providing an abundance of healthy foods like fruit, nuts, yogurt, and trail mix. If healthy snack foods dominate your cupboards, your children will grow accustomed to them and, hopefully, come to prefer them.

As a parent, you have an opportunity to encourage your child to make healthy choices. Be mindful about the behaviors you model in front of your kids, and emphasize a family mealtime every day. Be present in the moment and willing to share with your children whenever the opportunity presents itself.