Show or Tell? How to teach your kids to make healthy choices

For parents, the decision to make healthy choices has the potential not only to change their own life but also the lives of their children. More than words, it is actions that teach your children what you value most. I try my best to walk my talk daily but I didn’t realize how much each healthy choice mattered until my children showed me.

My children are both at an age where curiosity abounds. Questions flow from their mouths like water from a faucet. For instance, “what if we were our cats and our cats were the people?” to the most oft asked, “why?” For the most part, I enjoy answering their questions (the first few times).

Each musing provides a glimpse into how they experience the world.

The questions keep Mike and I on our toes. Though I have learned the most powerful lessons happen when I show, rather than tell, what I would like them to learn. Especially when it comes to healthy choices.

For example, I regularly remind my boys, exercise is an important part of keeping a body strong and healthy. The words are backed up by actions when they see me prioritizing exercise in my daily routine.

One morning, through a mouth full of breakfast cereal, my youngest yelped, “that’s Mom!” A large picture on the back of the box showed a 30-something woman out for a jog. She looked very little like me. Never the less, it was exciting to see him immediately associate my healthy choices with the picture. Eating is another area where I have found showing healthy choices is far more effective than telling.

At meal-times, the boys are each served a bit of everything on the table. Sometimes they are delighted with the options but most of the time there is at least one food on the plate that is deemed offensive. Rather than battle it out, Mike and I show them how much we enjoy our meal. As often as possible we talk about how the ingredients of our meal came to be on the table.

Truthfully, these “teachable moments” rarely alter any immediate repulsion. However, the boys love learning about how things work so the conversations help the food seem more interesting. I often hear the boys repeat the things they have learned back to each other when the ingredient or dish makes an encore appearance – or they make a poop joke.

Even with these brief moments of recognition, I still wondered if the lessons were making a lasting impact on my children.

One evening, after running a few errands, my oldest son began skipping down the sidewalk. After a few joyful hops, he exclaimed, “Mom! We are all about the healthies, aren’t we?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his exuberance. As he continued merrily toward our car, my initial mirth became relief and then pride. Not only is he aware of the importance I place on making healthy choices, he feels an ownership over those choices himself.

A moment later I caught up to him at the car, wrapped him in a big hug, and planted a kiss on his head. Yes indeed, WE are all about the healthies. His moment of recognition renewed my conviction – show your kids how to make healthy choices even when they don’t seem to be paying attention.

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