4 Tips On How to Talk to Your Child About Building Healthy Habits

Astro­nauts, their favorite Chica­go sports team, the newest K‑pop star. These are all top­ics your child might love to talk about. But how do you talk about health with them in a way that gets them just as excit­ed as talk­ing about dinosaurs or the lat­est Tik­Tok trend? 

Talk­ing about health can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be — and the con­ver­sa­tions you have about build­ing healthy habits now can ben­e­fit your child through­out their entire life. 

Here are 4 tips that can help you and your child have impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions about what it means to be healthy. 

1. Talk about what healthy” actu­al­ly means. 

Talk­ing to your child about form­ing healthy habits means talk­ing about what healthy” actu­al­ly means. Health includes many parts of our life, and every­one may have their own def­i­n­i­tion of what it means to be healthy. You might say that some­thing is healthy if it helps their body or brain grow, become stronger, or have more energy. 

One of the most com­mon places you might talk about healthy choic­es is when it comes to food. Try to avoid say­ing that some food is good for you” and oth­er food is bad for you.” Instead, focus on how dif­fer­ent foods can help you. 

With a broad def­i­n­i­tion of what it means to be healthy, you can talk about how foods have vit­a­mins, min­er­als, pro­teins, and carbs. You can talk about how your body needs a bal­ance of all of these. Some foods (like eggs and bananas) give you lots of ener­gy which can help you play out­side or do sports. Oth­er foods, (like yogurt or milk) help your bones grow strong. And some foods might seem healthy (like some gra­nola bars or diet soda) but actu­al­ly aren’t. 

Your child’s pri­ma­ry care physi­cian or pedi­a­tri­cian can play an impor­tant role in build­ing healthy habits. Sched­ule an appoint­ment today. 

2. Remem­ber, healthy habits aren’t just about food. 

Being healthy isn’t only about the foods you eat. Talk to your child about the healthy habits they can build in all areas of their life: 

  • Sleep: Chil­dren between 6 and 12 years old should aim for 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night, and teens should aim for 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. 
  • Move­ment: Chil­dren and teens between 6 and 17 years old should do at least 1 hour of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty dai­ly that includes aer­o­bic, mus­cle-strength­en­ing, and bone-strength­en­ing activities. 
  • Safe­ty: Stay­ing healthy also means stay­ing safe. From sports safe­ty to respond­ing to peer pres­sure, there are many choic­es your child might have to make that you can talk about together.

3. Be hon­est about men­tal health. 

In addi­tion to talk­ing about dif­fer­ent aspects of phys­i­cal health, it’s impor­tant to have con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal health, too. Your child will face dif­fer­ent chal­lenges as they grow up — and they may be dif­fer­ent from the chal­lenges you expe­ri­enced yourself. 

Help your child under­stand that men­tal health is a nor­mal part of life and that every­one gets stressed or sad from time to time. But when these feel­ings are fre­quent, they may need more men­tal health sup­port. Just like their phys­i­cal health needs atten­tion, men­tal well-being is equal­ly impor­tant. This might mean tak­ing the time your­self to learn more about com­mon men­tal health issues and their symptoms. 

Let your child know you’re always here to lis­ten — with­out judg­ing. Ask them open-end­ed ques­tions that can’t be answered with a yes” or a no” to encour­age your child to share their thoughts and emotions. 

When talk­ing about what it means to be healthy, it’s also good to be a role mod­el for pos­i­tive behav­iors — and not only talk about behav­iors to avoid. For old­er chil­dren and teens, this might look like mod­el­ing self-care or start­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal. For younger chil­dren, this might look like tak­ing 10 deep breaths when they’re scream­ing in a gro­cery store. 

Tip: Don’t leave social media out of your con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health. Teenagers often know how social media is mak­ing them feel, but might not know what to do about it. Talk togeth­er about its pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive impacts so you can both make informed choic­es about their social media usage. 

4. Set health goals togeth­er. 

From walk­ing on the bike path with their friends to mak­ing their bed in the morn­ing, all sorts of choic­es can make an impact on your child’s men­tal and phys­i­cal health. When they can see the way that health is all around them, you can help them set goals about what habits they may want to focus on. 

Maybe they want to eat more fruit in the lunch they pack for school. Or maybe they want to try out a new sport or oth­er types of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty. They may even want to set bound­aries for them­selves around their social media usage. 

You and your child can build healthy habits togeth­er, and it all starts with a con­ver­sa­tion. What­ev­er goals they think are impor­tant, you can be there to sup­port and encour­age them along the way. 

Health Topics:

  • As both a pediatrician and a mom, I know how important the parent-pediatrician relationship can be. I want us to be a safe space to share questions, voice concerns, and learn whether it's your first or fourth child. I am passionate about evidence-based medicine that is accessible and understandable to the parent. I look forward to working with you!