Children Model Parent’s Behavior
When we talk about childhood obesity, the focus is on the child and actions address behavior change of the child. While the intent is good, it is not enough to make a lifestyle change for the child.
A child’s environment fosters the dietary choices and level of physical activity. Parents can’t support their child’s behavior change without looking into their own behaviors. Children learn behaviors from those closest to them in their environment—often parents or caregivers. If a child is alone in the journey of behavior change, s/he may feel isolated, or even punished. Children acquire the behaviors from what they see and what’s available around them. Children may question the value of their own required behavior change if the rest of the family members do not change their own behaviors. As a result, we will not see a change that will sustain.
Children should not be alone in their journey to eating healthier and being more physically active. Addressing childhood obesity is addressing lifestyle changes for the entire family. When children see their parents change their behavior to healthy eating and physically activity, they are likely to model that behavior. The behavior becomes a new norm.
There are many ways families can get on track to a healthier lifestyle. For example, you can involve children in meal planning and grocery shopping. Children can do a lot in the kitchen in preparing meals. Depending on the age and maturity level, children can rinse or slice fruits and vegetables, help stir the stir-fry, prepare salads, etc. Trying new foods can be difficult for children. By having them engaged in food planning and preparation, they are more likely to try new foods that they help create.
It may not always be realistic to have a family membership to a local fitness club. However, regular family walks to the park or around the neighborhood can provide the right amount of physical activity. Local and state parks provide a variety of activities at little or no cost. Families can ride bikes, hike trails, or canoe or kayak in the lake.
Parents teach more to their children than what is shared through words. Their behaviors speak volumes. There is no “silver bullet” in addressing childhood obesity. However, healthy behavior changes at home provide a foundation for living a healthy lifestyle that can continue into adulthood.
By, Michelle Eichinger
Health Promotion Administrator