4 Healthy Habits for Kids in the New Year
New Year’s resolutions can be hard to keep, but what about forming new habits? Doable—and recent research shows you can create them in as little as three weeks. To be fair, the study also revealed it takes an average of 66 days to solidify a new habit. That’s just over two months of discipline for what could be a lifetime of change. Now, what about helping your kids form new habits? Here are four good ones to try.
Fuel with Food
Adults typically rank dieting high on the resolutions list, but setting new standards for nutrition can be much more effective and healthful, especially for kids. If your child is a young athlete, help them understand that food is actually fuel, and meals can be part of training.
You likely know the general rules, meaning, include lean sources of protein, healthy fats, fruit and vegetables as much as possible. The Harvard School of Public Health provides an easy-to-follow food pyramid. You’ve also likely heard breakfast is important, but now researchers are understanding just how important—especially for growing kids.
“The brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body: more than half of an infant’s daily kilocalories, and at least 20 percent of what older children and teens need,” explains Robert Murray, MD., in an article he wrote for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Brain scans during prolonged periods without food show activity mainly in the mid-brain, the area associated with anxiety, agitation, irritability, and mood swings.” In other words, without proper fuel, your child won’t be able to focus at school, let alone play well during practice.
Exercise is always a common goal at the start of every new year, and helping children build a habit of it is key, especially if they desire to be athletes. Encourage kids to be active as much as possible (the Mayo Clinic recommends at least three times per week). That can mean limiting TV or video-game time, and creating regular family outings such as hikes or frisbee sessions. Install a basketball hoop or even a pull-up bar, or schedule weekend runs or trips to the pool. No matter which sport your children might play, cross-training and exercise in general can naturally turn into a life-long habit they’ll want to keep.
Watch Screen Time
Getting enough sleep is likely something you’ve already been working on—for both yourself and your children, and an important step is limiting screen time. Too many minutes in front of a computer or TV can disrupt snooze time (not to mention that exercise routine you’ve been trying to create). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour each day for young kids, and monitoring closely from there. You’ll also want to make sure screens are off at least an hour before bedtime.
Take a Breather
Countless studies have shown the benefits of meditation: increased focus, stress and anxiety relief, and even lowered blood pressure. And you can reap results with as little as five minutes of focused breathing each day. (An easy method to try: Inhale and exhale for four counts each, and focus on the physical sensation of the breath.)
Research on meditation as a complimentary health practice has recently shown a regular practice can benefit kids, too. Many schools now offer mindfulness programs, yet whether yours does or doesn’t, it still might be nice to practice with your children for five minutes in the morning. (You can do it before that wholesome breakfast!) Or even better, try simply walking outside. A 15-minute, mindful stroll has been shown to boost happiness. Now that’s a habit you’ll want to keep.
Lara Rosenbaum is an award-winning journalist and wellness expert whose work has appeared in Women’s Health, Shape, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Yoga Journal and other publications. Lara is also a former elite athlete, having traveled the world as a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.