Healthy Habits for a Healthy Family

Being a nurse and health coach, I am passionate about helping people facilitate healthy behaviors by encouraging them to transform their goals into actions.  As we all know, just thinking about making lifestyle changes will not bring them about. However, making a list of reasonable and attainable goals is a great place to begin. Living a healthier life may seem like a large task. There is a lot to keep up with, especially while trying to accommodate the entire family. The well check-ups, nutrition, exercise, sleep, character building, family time, school and the list goes on and on. Making healthy lifestyle choices should not be a daunting task. The next several paragraphs are filled with tips, tricks and personal stories that I hope will help inspire you on your journey to family wellness.

I spend most of my days talking to patients and trying to identify barriers that prevent them from making changes, as well as trying to find solutions to help them form good general habits. I always start by getting to know the patient and their family life. I generally ask, “What is the thing you most want to achieve for your family?” We then set small goals along the way until the desired outcome is reached. As we all know, it takes patience and time to turn new habits into a new way of living. Our ‘microwave society’ is unfortunately always looking for a quick fix and the current ‘google age’ can make finding information daunting. If you were to search the internet for health and wellness for families, you would get a plethora of overwhelming information that may or may not be applicable to the needs of your family.  Especially if you, like me, have a special needs child and are a full-time working mom. I have included some of my family’s good general habits that I believe can be instrumental to helping your family move forward even during our ever-changing times.

The Importance of Eating Well

Eating well is fundamental to good health and well-being. Healthy eating helps us maintain a healthy weight and reduces our risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and the risk for developing heart disease and certain types of cancers. Over the past several decades, childhood obesity has tripled according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The article Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences states, “Children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity.”

As parents we have an important role in helping to develop healthy eating habits in our children, this will not only jumpstart but sustain a healthy eating regimen as they move toward adulthood. A simple but great habit is to skip soda and drink water. Sugary drinks will add unnecessary calories to your diet and can cause tooth decay. Another great habit is to prepare meals together. Having your children prep and participate in cooking has lasting benefits. The smaller children can always get items from the refrigerator and hand them to you or set the table. I encourage my children to try new things and let them pick out foods at the grocery store. My 11-year-old daughter likes to get her own shopping cart at the grocery store, and we fill it full of the things she likes to eat; she also enjoys helping me finding recipes for us to try as well. Getting your kids involved in every aspect of food and nutrition will not only create excitement but opportunities for family bonding. We have had many dinner table contests to see who will try a new food first or come up with the silliest food name.

The Importance of Being Active

Physical activity helps to improve your overall health and balance mood. It has both immediate and long-term effects on your body. Having an active lifestyle means doing some form of physical activity throughout the day. Any activity that gets you moving – walking, biking, hiking, jumping or playing sports – will improve cardiovascular and respiratory health. Help your children find physical activities as well as hobbies they may enjoy and play together as a family. Limit television, video games, computer/social media and phone time. We had a no-phone-zone when our oldest daughter was a teenager and only allowed cell phones at specific times and in certain areas of the house. This allowed us to focus on being together as a family without any distractions. Whether we are taking a hike as a family, using sidewalk chalk or riding bikes, we try to find time to incorporate physical activity as often as we can.

The Importance of Sleep

Bedtimes are not just for children. As a family, it is a good practice to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is a vital and yet often neglected component of overall good health. Sleep is important because it enables the body to repair. You will feel re-charged and ready to tackle the day if you feel awake and fully rested. Good sleep improves concentration and productivity and is important for various aspects of brain function. Establishing a nightly bedtime will not only help your child get an adequate amount of rest but create a consistent routine. For our family, lack of sleep makes for some cranky kiddos, and occasionally mommas, too.

The Importance of Actions and Consequences

All behavior is not innate, it is the joint product of heredity and environment, and can be apportioned between the two. We can create an environment for good behavior by teaching the importance that actions have consequences. These should be about providing a learning objective rather than a form of punishment. This does not have to be arduous and the benefits are abundant.

  1. Teach cause and effect. Your child must understand that by making certain choices they can either get a positive or negative effect from them. Once they understand this, they can learn to make better choices.
  2. Encourage them to be honest. It is easier for a child to be dishonest if they are afraid of your reaction or punishment. Try to stay calm, talk to them about their choices, and be resilient. Use every opportunity as a tool to teach to think through their choices before making them.
  3. Make any necessary consequences age appropriate and be firm in your decision. Be careful of letting them guilt you or talk you out of your decision. Make sure it is something you can carry out, especially if it is for a period of time.  If they learn that you will not follow through, it can be disastrous.
  4. Ensure both parents are working together on decisions and have equal responsibility on parenting. If children think one parent is going to say “yes” or give in easier, this can create marital discord. My husband has had to learn to say, “what did your mother say?” One of the most important aspects of parenting is to be unified in your decisions.
  5. Reward good behavior. Even a small act can be a huge way to reward your child and encourage them to continue making good choices. Reward charts are a good idea for younger children. We had sticker cards for our kids when they were younger. When they filled their sticker card completely, they got to trade it in for a reward. It can be one-on-one time with a parent, a preferred activity, a small toy or anything that incentivizes them to keep making good choices.

Importance of Talking Openly

Encourage your children to talk about questions they may have as well as things that may be bothering them. When you work on developing good communication with your child, it helps them to develop skills that will allow for them to effectively communicate their needs and wants to others. It will also help your child feel that you value their thoughts and feelings. Here are some ideas:

  1. Set aside time for talking; dinner is always a good time to check in how your child’s day went.
  2. Practice active listening with your child. Use body language to show you are engaged in conversation with your child. Make eye contact and use phrases like: “tell me more” or “how did that make you feel?”
  3. Be willing to stop what you are doing to listen to your child, even when you are busy or in a hurry.
  4. Be a good role model; your child will take their lead from you. If you communicate respectfully and effectively, it will send a strong message to them about positive communication.

Take Time to Be Grateful

I find that it is easy for most of us to take the better parts of our days and lives for granted and too often focus more of the negative aspects. Many studies have shown that gratitude has both mental and physical benefits. If you regularly take time to express gratitude and thankfulness, you will likely see benefits of overall improved well being in yourself and your family. Some things I have used to help our family cultivate gratitude have been:

  1. Count our blessings – I ask my children to tell me one thing daily that was positive about their day or something or someone they were thankful for. Now that we have been doing this for a while, it has become easier and they usually share several things each day that made a positive impact on them.
  2. Thank someone – Either by verbally expressing words of gratitude or affirmation to someone for an act of kindness or appreciation for that person. I have had my daughter write a simple thank you note to her teacher telling her how lucky she is to be in her class and have her support. This will not only brighten someone’s day but will also remind you of the positive impact they have on your life.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal – This is something that my husband is very good at doing. When something has had an extremely positive impact on our family, he will write it in his journal and include the date. When we are experiencing a rough day, we can look at back it and be reminded of all the times we can be thankful for. This helps us to refocus on the positive instead of the negative.
  4. Meditate or pray – People who are spiritual pray to cultivate gratitude. Mindful meditation involves focusing on the present moment and not allowing yourself to get caught up in the stress of a current problem and will allow you to keep things in a better perspective.

As we settle in to the new normal, the challenge for our family has been working around new schedules, access to preferred foods/activities, and staying focused during such an uncertain time in our life. We have looked at what our previous goals were and are building upon some of the things we already had in place. As I stated earlier, there are a multitude of ideas and opinions on which healthy habits are best. Take some time this month to identify what healthy habits your family has implemented and what small changes could be beneficial moving forward. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a health coach to help you get started or stay on track, call 765-494-0111 or 260-481-6651.

Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!

Author: Altie Pelto, registered nurse and health coach, One to One Health

One to One Health operates the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette Campus

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