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Modeling Healthy Behaviors

Making changes to children's diets and physical activity starts with the adults in the house. When caregivers eat healthy diets and are physically active, children tend to follow. In part this is because the adults are usually in charge of buying groceries and determining the meals. But it is also because children learn about what foods to value by watching the adults around them. When parents express a like or dislike of certain foods, children are much more likely to also prefer or reject those same foods.

Parents sometimes avoid making difficult changes to their own diets and lifestyles, and instead tell their children to behave differently. For instance, parents may not want to limit their own soda consumption, so they may continue to drink it while telling their children they can't have it because it is not healthy. The inconsistency in the message and the behavior can cause confusion for children.

Building and maintaining children's healthy behaviors requires consistent modeling of those desired behaviors from parents and the other adults in the house. This means that if parents want children to eat more fruits and vegetables, the adults need to do the same themselves. The consistent behavior of other adults in the house in support of the parents is a key element for a child’s growth and development.  

Other adults in the house can support healthy changes in children's behaviors by:

  • Reinforcing the parents’ positive behaviors
  • Maintaining the parents’ setting of limits and boundaries
  • Maintaining the parents’ schedule of snacks and meals
  • Maintaining the parents’ set of daily routines