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8 easy health habits to teach your children (by stealth)

Don’t tell your children you’re teaching them a healthy lifestyle, just practice these great habits and it will come naturally. 

1. Stay active

It’s important that your children see activity as the norm. Too much sitting can lead to illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. If possible, walk rather than drive to school, reduce screen time and encourage activities that keep children on their feet – such as playing hide and seek or helping to lay the table for little ones. For older children, have independent entertainment in the garden, such as a trampoline or a basketball hoop.

2. Don’t snack between meals

The best way to stop children hankering after chocolate biscuits and crisps between meals is to not eat them yourself. Research shows that children’s eating habits mimic those of their parents. So if snacks aren’t part of a family routine, your children won’t crave them and they’ll burn up their own body’s energy reserves instead.

3. See green

It’s a scientific fact – nature is good for you. Scientists in Japan found that a 15-minute walk in the woods led to a 16% decrease in stress hormones and a 2% drop in blood pressure. Make sure your children are connected to nature by making it fun: hunt for minibeasts, jump in muddy puddles and see who can catch the most falling leaves.

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4. Sleep well

Six out of ten children in the UK are getting less than the 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night they need and that’s leading to concentration issues at school, poor health and more bad moods than there should be. Take all TVs and tablets out of bedrooms and install a bedtime routine: no screens for at least an hour before bed, a bath, teeth-brushing and then reading until lights out – either with you or by themselves.

5. For green veg, think green fingers

Encourage children to try more varieties of vegetables by helping to grow them. It has been found that school children were more likely to select salad as part of their meal when it had been grown at the school by students, rather than bought in. Easy veg for British gardens are tomatoes, lettuces, peas, courgettes and runner beans.

6. Don’t let stress build up

Stress and anxiety aren’t just the preserve of adults. Children too worry about all sorts of things: their parents arguing, a new school, friendships, tests or following a traumatic event such as a car accident. Give them the chance to talk about it and work out solutions to the situation – if left unexplored, stress can develop into permanent feelings of anxiety.

7. Happy hands

Proper hand washing should take as long as singing happy birthday twice – something all children know how to do! Hand washing before eating can help avoid stomach upsets, threadworms and food poisoning as well as all manner of coughs, colds and even eye infections. It can very easily become a habit – especially if you’re singing. 

8. Cheesy grins

Tooth decay is almost completely preventable. Yet with the average five-year-old consuming their own body weight in sugar each year, tooth extractions are now the number one reason children in the UK are admitted to hospital. Cut down how much sugar your child eats with the help of the Change For Life Food Scanner app, which scans barcodes and tells you the sugar content. Make sure twice-a-day tooth brushing is never missed – a sand timer in the bathroom can help make this fun.