“Show me your habits and I’ll show you your future” is something that resonated with me lately. I find some truth in it. If you have the habit of eating a lot of sugar, chances are you will have diabetes type 2. If you have a dog that makes you move a lot, chances are you will have a longer health span.
Taking this thought to the context of my children, I am aware that me raising my children, developing their habits, directly or indirectly, will have a great impact on their lifes. Thus, I thought about what are in my opinion top 5 habits I want to develop in my children. Creating healthy habits early on, is probably easier than changing them later.
1. Healthy Eating Habits
“Eat your broccoli”, how many of you remember these dreadful words of your own parents when you were young? Evidently our parents tried already to instil healthy eating habits in us. Looking among my friends, this was done with more or less success.
I personally do not listen to people that are dogmatic if it comes to eating (or anything else really) – health is key for me, not morals. If from a health perspective it is good to eat meat, I will give some meat to my children. I like sources that change their opinion based on recent scientific findings with robust numbers, not newspaper headlines or sources that preach eating habits like it is a religion.
Exceptions to the rules are ok, as long as they remain exceptions (one should not celebrate every day a birthday with a cake). I try to simplify my guiding principles for my children, and they go as follows:
- Reduce saturated fat to a reasonable level
- Avoid processed food
- Limit the glycaemic load
- Have enough fibre
- Eat enough, but not too much
- Eat 2 to 3 times a day
- The younger the children, the less are these principles followed (let’s be honest, one is already happy if the baby eats something and puts on healthy weight – this is more important than anything at the beginning)
If my children can follow these principles having omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan habits, I do not care – as long as their health is sustainably good. I just want to avoid the situation where my kids are iron deficient or do not have enough B12. What I repeatedly see from different sources that seem credible to me is that the Mediterranean diet is considered very healthy. So, this is where I try to get inspiration for dishes from. This does not mean pizza or pasta, but rather fish, veggies, salat or meat. I try to start as early as possible with these guiding principles with the kids and explain to them age appropriately why. I just hope that they manifest themselves overtime until they are old enough to make their own decisions. A source that I personally like is Max Lugavere, check out his stuff.
2. Regular Exercise or Activities
I try to get my kids to include exercise as early as possible and combine it with fun activities. I personally grew up on a football pitch. As soon as I was able to walk, I tried to kick it like Beckham. If your kids are into sport than foster this. But there are many other ways to get them moving, may it be animals like a dog or just getting out with friends with their bikes.
This starts early on when they explore the playground or a jungle gym. I try to motivate them to climb, go down the slide or just play hide and seek. Taking reasonable risks are important. Getting used to being outside no matter the weather is something we try (not always successful) and get them used to enjoy the activities. As always, you have to lead by example. You cannot expect your children to exercise if working daddy is the biggest coach potato.
In the future I will try to better explain and show them that a mix of resistance and cardio training is important. Here I really appreciate the work of Peter Attia MD. He goes into the depth of what and how to train for a long health span, preparing his patients for a centenarian decathlon (kind of an Olympics for 100 year old people).
3. Good Sleep Habits
Sleep is crucial for the child’s development of cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall health. In later life it remains important and too little sleep is a well-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Creating healthy habits here with creating sufficient awareness is our third habit we want to develop in our children’s life.
Depending on age and personal needs there are different sleep hours that are necessary. Equally, the timing can vary depending on personal sleep type or age. I think I still have to see a teenager that loves to get up early in the morning, while people in age tend to enjoy the early bird. Taking all this into account, we try to develop healthy sleep habits for our children.
This starts at an early age with evening routines. Some experts discuss school night routines that we certainly have as well. I also try to apply the same routines on the weekend, as diverting from routines decreases the quality of sleep (of course not always possible – here the exception principle applies again).
4. Communication Habits
As communication is key in life, we try to address this topic as soon as possible in our children’s education. An effective communication skill will be an asset for every person. Being aware of how one’s communication effects one’s environment is the basis for this.
Since years I am a fan of non-violent communication. Marshall Rosenberg work has many elements that I adopted (and still try to master). Having a clear communication that manages the dynamic of a conversation and more importantly argument effectively is a great habit to have, privately and professionally. It forces one to better understand the other party and tries to get to the bottom of an argument without shutting someone out.
This helps us in some situations to keep the peace and solve problems but is more applicable the older they get. When a little one has a tantrum, there is no communication in the world that can change that. But again, if your children grow up in an environment, where such a communication is applied on a daily basis, chances are they will too. Active coaching later will just increase the chances of the children absorbing this useful habit.
5. Habit of Learning and Reading
Continuous learning and reading are important today and will become even more important in the future. In times of increased innovation cycles and disruptive innovations, continuous learning will be a basic habit that increases the chances of success of your children later in life.
I try to read as much as possible in front of and to my children. The other day I saw my son imitating me reading a book. Sitting on the coach with the book upside down, being too young to read anything yet. We want to foster this mind set of continuous learning and we believe that this will only improve the vocabulary, imagination, and cognitive skills of our children.
Enjoying learning is something that comes naturally to children, we try to preserve it as long as possible. If you have ideas how, let me know!
In our opinion it is important to start developing habits in our children as early as possible. It is easier to develop health habits early, than changing them later in life. By leading by example to active coaching, all elements are essential. The younger the children the less strict we are with our guidelines, and we are aware that each child has its own rhythm. Just because the old one knew something at age x, does not mean it is true for the second or third.
I can only encourage everyone to think about the habits that I listed here, as they will have a positive long-term impact on the children’s life. I am also very curious if you see other ones that you think are more important. Please let me know. I believe if my children are 35, eat healthy, work out regularly, prioritize sleep, communicate in healthy relationships, and constantly learn new things – chances are they will have a long and good life. What can a parent want more for their children.