By Dr. Caroline Cederquist and Joy Lynn Post, Dietitian –
Old habits die hard, especially when your whole family is doing it. Bad health habits like skipping breakfast, not getting enough sleep, watching TV during leisure time, and eating separately can not only affect your family’s physical health, but also their mental and emotional health as well. Making positive changes, one at a time, can dramatically improve the quality of your relationships while helping to make your family physically healthy and energetic at the same time. Here are a few ways to help your family develop positive health habits and build stronger bonds.
This common habit can lead to poor grades in children, as researchers have found that children who eat breakfast score better on tests. With teenagers, the desire to sleep longer often cuts in to breakfast time, and so encouraging them to go to bed earlier can help ensure enough morning moments to grab an apple and low-fat string cheese for a healthy breakfast. If your family members are just not hungry in the morning, it’s important to still give them the option of something light, like a yogurt smoothie. You can purchase these already-made in most grocery stores. Make sure they contain protein, to help regulate appetite throughout the morning and prevent overeating at lunchtime.
Whether it’s sitting in front of the TV, surfing the net, or playing video games, for leisure entertainment, it’s important to balance those activities by making room for ones that will take them out of their chairs and off the sofa. It’s really easy for most families to go for a bike ride, throw a Frisbee outside at the park, toss a ball while talking about the day. The more important you make it to enjoy the outdoors, the more your family will consider joining in. During the summer months, swimming, sprinkler hopping, and water sports can really create a fun, active environment for kids and adults alike.
Poor Sleeping Habits
If any member of your family has trouble falling asleep, introducing wind-down times for everyone to begin quieting down can really help. Dimming the lights, and turning off all electronics is a great way to start this process. Not getting enough sleep is linked with health problems like diabetes, because a lack of sleep can influence levels of sleep hormones that help regulate blood sugar. Not sleeping enough is a stressor, and this can weaken your family’s immune system, so that when one person gets sick, everyone is more susceptible to catching that cold.
Talk it Out
When families stop talking with each other, it weakens family bonds and reduces the amount of emotional support that family members need to grow, live, and be mentally healthy. Creating family rituals and habits that allow family members to talk openly, without criticism or judgment is very important so that everyone feels ‘heard’. Honoring these habits by having a meal together at least once a week can be something that everyone looks forward to. A positive mealtime environment can help adolescents and children who are overweight improve their mental approach toward food as well as reducing any type of unhealthy dieting that wouldn’t provide enough nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, for them to remain healthy and grow.
Healthy Habits in the Making
It can be tough to starting changing family habits, because it affects so many people at the same time. Usually parents can influence their children greatly. Changing your idea of what is normal can change their ideas as well, young or old. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. When you do it, other members of your family can’t help but notice. It is best to work on making one small change at a time, and doing it for a while before moving to the next change. It’s helpful to communicate with your family about these small changes, and while some members may put up a fight, remember that it will be best for everyone in the end to strive for healthier habits develop more social connectedness. The more positively you view the changes, the more your family members will consider participating.