4 Healthy Behavior Teaching Tools
All of us have important people in our life.
I myself am a parent of seven. And I believe teaching my children how to live a long, healthy life is one of my most important jobs.
But I also know it’s a difficult job. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a teenager, you know exactly what I mean.
That’s why, today, I want to talk about the four most effective strategies I know to influence those around us—not just our own children, but friends, neighbors, students—towards a more healthy life. Especially the impressionable young folk we care most about.
1. Nevermind What I Say—Do As I Do
This is the most obvious, but it’s also the most important. So it bears repeating.
What we say matters—but not nearly as much as what we do.
That’s why, if you want to instill healthy habits in those close to you, you have to live those healthy habits yourself.
That could mean keeping sweets out of the house, or skipping that extra glass of wine at meals.
It definitely means a focus on a healthy plate at every meal—half veggies, and a quarter each of whole grains and proteins.
It also means an active lifestyle—making time for the gym, or family hikes, or playing sports.
Exactly how you choose to be active doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are active—and, hopefully, sharing the activity with those you want to influence.
Same goes for eating off healthy dishes—not chemical-laden paper or plastics. For avoiding the easy, over-processed microwave meals, and having fresh foods. For bringing your own snack to the ballgame, and having fresh air-popped popcorn instead of the microwavable bags of oil and butter.
We all know actions speak louder than words. So, no matter what words you use, be mindful of what you’re really saying to those you want to teach about health.
2. Cook With Me
There is no better way to take charge of your nutrition than to make your own meals.
Prepared meals, after all, aren’t constructed with your health in mind. They are made to excite your taste buds, and bring you back for more.
Prepared meals are full of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and plenty of other things that are only good in moderation, if at all.
The best way to combat obesity is to avoid it altogether. Make your own meals.
And teach those you care about how to do it as well.
Not only will this be an important skill down the road. But it also provides numerous chances to teach little lessons about nutrition as they arise in an organic way.
You won’t need to insist they finish their broccoli. Instead, you can explain why you’re making broccoli instead of serving potato chips, as you make the choice.
Not to mention, cooking together is one of the stronger communal bonding opportunities we have today. In a world of tablets and smartphones, just spending this time together can’t be underestimated.
3. It’s Not Just You
When my children were growing up, I used to give them a stern warning—cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Of course, everyone will get sick sometimes. But if you aren’t living a healthy lifestyle, you’ll get sick much more often.
And when you get sick, it doesn’t only affect your life. It affects the lives of everyone else you’re connected to.
So if you aren’t treating your body right, it’s not just your problem. It’s also mine.
The more you can help others realize their connection to you—and those they care about—the more taking care of their own health becomes an act of love.
4. Let Someone Else Be The Bad Guy
Sometimes—no matter how good your intentions, or how strong your example—someone you care about will go off the rails.
It might only be a little bit—a soda with dinner every night.
Or it could be something much more serious—like a smoking or drug habit.
Regardless of what the problem is, you won’t make much headway pointing it out yourself.
Instead, take advantage of the lab coat effect. Let someone else—preferably an expert—point out what that bad habit means for health.
Let your family physician be the bad guy. Or a trainer at your local gym. Or a counselor at school.
The message won’t be any different than what you’d deliver yourself. But the messenger matters a great deal. Sometimes, just hearing something from a “fun” aunt or uncle, instead of a parent, will make all the difference.
Generally speaking, the closer you are to the problem, the more suspect your advice will be perceived. So make use of the resources around you. Borrow the expertise of one who has studied this—or has lived the issue.
It may be frustrating, but often, an outsider is the only one who can get an important message across. Use that to your advantage.
And use these four guidelines to your advantage as well. Think of them as the spoonful of sugar, to help the medicine of healthy habits take root.
For once those habits are firmly entrenched—via whatever influence works best—they’ll stay in place for a lifetime. And create a lifetime of health.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: October 5, 2015