When I first became a mom, I was overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of all the things I needed to teach my kids. Kids are born knowing nothing, and you need to teach them everything. But as my kids got older, I realized that most of my best parenting moments aren’t when I’m trying to teach. They’re when I’m trying to do.
Kids learn best by example, so the best way to teach isn’t by explaining or talking—it’s by demonstrating. And when it comes to lifestyle lessons like developing healthy habits, nothing you say can trump what you do. Luckily, though, a lot of healthy habits are easy to start—and easy for your kids to imitate. Here are twelve that every mom can demonstrate to her kids.
1. Washing your hands
Washing hands is a really basic health habit, one that most of us learned from our own moms. But sometimes it’s easy to forget. When all your kids are crying from hunger, you might catch yourself halfway through prepping a quick pre-dinner appetizer and realize you forgot to wash your hands. It’s not the end of the world—most of the time, the germs on your hands aren’t too big of a deal—but stopping to wash only takes a few seconds. And if you make it a priority even when you’re in a hurry, your kids will be more likely to do the same.
2. Making play dates
When your kids are babies, play dates are easy—the babies lie around not moving while the adults talk. With older kids, play dates are harder to schedule and harder to supervise, but they’re even more important. Preschool- and school-aged kids need unstructured time with friends to build social skills. And—let’s be honest—moms need unstructured social time, too!
3. Cleaning up after yourself
When you’ve been picking up after your kids all day, putting your own clothes away or making your bed can become just one more chore. But setting an example with your things is one of the best ways to teach your kids the habit of cleaning up after themselves.
Giving makes you feel good—and that’s true for kids as well as adults. Many people volunteer at specific times of year, but why not make volunteering a habit? Even something simple like picking up trash on your street can teach kids about what it means to be part of a community.
Recently, my daughter asked me why I have so many books, since I never read them. I was shocked, because I read a lot—but then I realized that I nearly always read e-books instead of physical books. I’m actually reading books (not just online!), but for all she knows, I’m checking Facebook. I still love e-books for their convenience and ease of travel, but I’ve been revisiting my physical books too—just so my kids can see what I’m reading.
6. Walking to school
Walking for exercise is fun, but walking to get somewhere you need to go is much more meaningful for kids. It gives them a sense of perspective on their world, because they can really understand the distance between places when they walk there. Spring weather is the perfect opportunity to try walking to school, so pick a day, wake up a little early, and make it an adventure.
7. Eating together
If your kids are picky eaters, it can be tempting to make quick and easy “kid meals” just to avoid their complaints. But kids learn what to eat by watching adults eat, and when you don’t sit down and eat the same meal together, they learn a lot less about healthy food and mealtime expectations. So make it a habit, at least a few times a week, to sit down and eat the same meal together.
There are few better ways to get kids interested in vegetables than by teaching them to grow some. Kids love digging to plant seeds, watering, and even pulling weeds. And there’s no better way to get them out from underfoot while you’re cooking dinner than by sending them out to the garden to pick some tomatoes and greens for tonight’s salad.
Exercising regularly is a great way to set an example for your kids—but not if you’re constantly complaining about how much you hate it. Instead of forcing yourself to exercise, find an activity you truly enjoy and let your kids know how much you enjoy it. That will teach them that exercise is fun, and they’ll be more likely to want to imitate your healthy habit.
Committing some time every day to mentally relax and focus is a great practice, and you can do this even if you’re not religious. Find a practice that works for you; it could be as simple as a breathing relaxation exercise, or it could be something more in-depth like yoga or a spiritual practice. Either way, consider doing it with your kids and teaching them to do it too. This can be a great way to reconnect when your relationship with your kids is feeling rocky.
11. Getting ready for bed
Sure, your kids have had a strict bedtime routine since they were born, but what about you? Following a routine before bed will prepare your body to relax and make it easier for you to fall asleep quickly—and get plenty of sleep before your little alarm clocks wake you. Set an example by doing your own routine alongside your kids. And, of course, if you stay up later for some adult time after your kids are in bed, they’ll never need to know.
12. Taking care of yourself
It’s easy to feel like your job as a mom is to sacrifice your own needs for the sake of your kids. But if you work so hard that you make yourself sick, you’re not doing your family any favors. Take the time to slow down and pay attention to yourself. Set an example for your kids by making yourself a priority, too, and make time to do things sometimes that are just for you.
image: Getty/Hill Street Studios/Eric Raptosh
This post was sponsored by the Florida Department of Citrus
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