If I had to give one single piece of advice to new parents, I’d say this: “Your kids will do as you say much less than they will do as you do.”
In my experience, this is especially true for health habits around fitness and nutrition. Our children mirror us. If you want your kids to exercise, then you can’t just tell them (or force them) to do it. You’ve gotta do it yourself.
Ditto for eating healthy. And getting enough sleep. And not smoking. And on and on.
These days, I do my own workout with my trainer between 4:30AM and 5:30AM. That’s a bit too early for my kids, and also what’s right for my own workout with my trainer is not right for my kids–ages 11, 12 and 18.
But they’re up by 5:30 and hitting the workout right after me, while I’m still at home and can cheer them on and give them pointers. They do running, cardio workouts, and weightlifting.
Despite initial resistance, my kids have come to love getting their exercise for the day knocked out first thing–and the charge of energy that gives them. Plus, it’s some of our best bonding time.
Here are 3 pointers about improving your kids’ relation to fitness, that I’ve come to through much trial-and-error:
Don’t Just Model the Right Workout, Model the Right Attitude
Not only do kids mirror your observable actions (such as how often you exercise). They also mirror your attitudes–particularly about why you exercise.
If you’re making it clear that you exercise in order to fit into some preconceived and over-restrictive cultural notion of what is supposed to be “beautiful,” it’s likely your kids will pick up that subtle judgment about their own bodies.
Everyone’s version of what’s healthy for them is going to look and feel different. Your healthy is different than my healthy.
Model that view for your kids. It’s not about size. It’s not about vanity. It’s about what is most healthy for their particular needs and situation. Believe it for yourelf, and they will come to believe it for themselves as well.
Don’t Force Your Kids to Eat a Particular Diet–Instead, Teach Them to Ask the Right Questions About Food
In order to encourage them to be responsible for their own lives, I encourage my kids to make their own choices about what they eat.
However, going into those choices, I encourage them to ask the right questions about what they eat:
- Is this going to give me more energy, or is this going to make me feel depleted?
- Am I really hungry, or am I just eating this because I’m bored?
- Is this the best decision I could make for my body?
- How is eating this going to make me feel afterwards?
I find that, if I arm them with these questions, they go into their food choices with a more long-term eye. They begin to see the correlations between their food-choices, their mood, and their long-term goals in life.
Make it About Quality Time, Not About Rules and Results
The bottom line is: if you develop a habit and routine where you spend quality time with your kids, that happens to involve exercise, you’re going to have a better experience, and ultimately get much better results, than if you “force” your kids with a bunch of rules, and expectations about their results.
There are so many ways you can bond with your kids through exercise: walking, hiking, playing sports, dancing. Why not make exercise about bonding, rather than about forcing or judging? That’s ultimately what will get your kids excited about fitness.