It’s something that every parent strives to do: make their home a healthy, positive, nurturing environment for their children to grow into the best versions of themselves. But creating healthy habits in the home can be more difficult pre-parenthood may have you believe. And, yet, you wouldn’t believe how difficult it can be. To help provide five key ways to encourage healthy habits in your home, I’ve turned to medical sources for physical, psychological, and nutritional advice. Here are my top five healthy takeaways.
1. Make Your Home A Place Of Positivity
Sure, this is way easier said than done, but it’s very important for building healthy habits and improving the quality of life in your whole home—kids, parents, and (probably) pets included.
Positivity can be difficult during trying times (I’m looking at you, 2020). You don’t have to avoid negative situations, be it explaining to your children that times are tough or trying to get them to do their chores. Instead, position situations in a positive manner. For instance, instead of telling your children they can’t have dessert unless they finish their chores, reframe chore time with an incentive: “If you finish your chores, you can choose your dessert.” Or, better yet, something more healthy, like “… We’ll take you to the water park this weekend.”
“Helping your children develop a positive attitude can greatly contribute to their well-being throughout their lives,” explains Dr. Kimberly Leek, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic.
2. Incentivize Positive Behavior With Healthy Rewards
This sounds at first obvious, then idealistic, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you love to be able to reward your child with vegetables and see them respond with love and glee? Fat chance though, right? Well, not if you think outside the box a little.
Daniel Flint, psychology Ph.D. at Bowling Green and author of Behavior Problems, Behavior Solutions, defends “problem children” with simple, yet ingenious, twists on common parenting practices. When it comes to influencing healthy behavior with rewards, Flint encourages parents to err away from common rewards and focus on those that really matter to your child, that actually encourage positive behavior.
Say your son is acting up. You might punish him by banning electronics, grounding, or no dessert. If he’s acting like the sweet little cherub you know he can be 👼 you might reward him with candy, a new toy, or staying up past bedtime. These are common “high-frequency” rewards, and may not be as effective as you think.
Instead, Flint suggests parents talk with their children in detail about what they really love. You might find that your son loves to help you cook or hold the dog’s leash on walks. When I was young, I loved lawn caring with my dad; I got to trim the edging while he mowed. It felt like I was helping him, making him proud. So when I back-talked my mother one morning, his simple yet effective punishment was to exclude me from garden work. I watched him through my bedroom window—It. Was. Torture. A week later, my change of tune got me back in the yard with Dad, trimming edge grass, picking weeds, and poking at bugs. 🐛
This reward style, says Flint, is “much more effective at incentivizing behavior than money, candy, and even the video game time” parents often try. 
3. Create An Environment For Their Identity To Blossom
One of the most beautiful parental experiences is watching your child’s personality develop before your eyes. But, as any parent knows, building and maintaining a relationship with your ever-changing, ever-developing child is no easy task. When trying to empathize with children, parents often inadvertently undermine their sense of identity, Flint says.  He offers three common statements that can have unintended outcomes. (You probably heard them from your parents.)
“When I was your age…”
Ugh. I got this from my mother all the time. Usually, it was innocuous. “When I was your age, we didn’t have video games.” 🙄 (My usual response: “Tell me more about the olden days, ma…”) But as often as not, parents use this phrase intending to pass down advice, when, in reality, it communicates judgement.
“Parents who use this phrase often shift the attention away from the child; making distance where there could have been closeness,” Flint unveils. 🤯 He recommends keeping the attention on your child in an assuring way.
“Sticks and stones…”
Nope, words hurt. A lot. Especially for children and teens. Phrases like this, as well as, “suck it up,” “it’s no big deal,” “be a man,” etc. end up devaluing children’s emotions, reinforce “tough guy” stereotypes, and thus undermine their identity. Instead, try offering empathy and create an opportunity to choose a coping mechanism for whatever hurt them.
And the landscape is every bit as difficult to navigate with daughters. Well-intended phrases relating to appearance can have serious, lasting consequences, warns family therapist, Dr. Laura Froyen, PhD. The all-too-common, “You’re so pretty” can seem innocuous enough. “But research shows that it really backfires in a big way,” explains Froyen. “It starts young girls down the pathway of thinking that appearance is an important thing” in regards to self-worth and validation. Ultimately, parents should shift the focus away from appearance and toward positive personal qualities, such as interests and personality traits—“what really should matter.”
“Do you have any idea how it makes me feel when you do/say…”
How can a parental phrase so well-intended and vulnerable go so wrong? Well, according to Flint, it can A) convey children’s ability to manipulate their parents’ emotions; and B) convey their parents’ emotions are their responsibility. So if you have a bad day, your child may presume it’s their fault.
4. Limit Screen Time & Develop Screen-Use Rules
Digital media can be a strong learning tool for older children, but too much screen time at any age is detrimental to forming healthy habits in the home. A lot of the time, parents use tablets and smartphones to distract, quiet, or placate their child who’s acting up. Too much or improper screen-time can have severe effects on health and behavioral habits, such as :
- Depressive symptoms
- Higher food intake mixed with low-quality diet and poorer quality of life
- Anxiety, hyperactivity, poor attention
- Lower self-esteem
- Poorer psychological health
- Metabolic syndrome
- Reduced cardio health & fitness levels
- Reduced cognitive development
- Poorer sleep patterns
😳 That’s enough to scare the devices straight out of your home! But, it should be underscored that the quality of screen time is an important factor. Here are some general guidelines, suggested by children’s health experts at Mayo Clinic :
- Prioritize unstructured, unplugged playtime
- Keep screen time educational, not entertainment
- Set and stick to screen time limits
- Consider apps that monitor/manage time on screen
- Limit your own screen time as well
- Allow screen time for children under two years old
- Use digital media as a “quiet down” reward
- Allow screens in children’s bedrooms
- Allow digital entertainment during homework/study hours
- Have the TV on in the background
Remember to be the example you want to set. Forming healthy habits in the home starts with parents, because a healthy home is more than just healthy children.
5. Foster Healthy Eating Habits
Last but certainly not least—healthy diets are crucial to creating healthy habits at home. Making nutrition second nature has obvious positive outcomes for children and adults, namely improved overall health.
But diet can also affect immediate and lasting behavior and cognitive abilities, particularly in children and adolescents. Good diets have positive effects; bad diets have negative effects. Studies suggest that “good regular dietary habits are the best way to ensure optimal mental and behavioral performance at all times.” 
Here are a few ways to instill good eating habits in your home:
- Teach children how to read a nutrition label. This will cultivate an understanding of healthy vs unhealthy ingredients, portion size, and to be curious about ingredients and health.
- Limit sugar intake so that kids don’t “get used” to high-sugar foods and drinks, like candy and soda/cola. It’s also helpful to find low-sugar alternatives like flavored soda waters, which contain zero calories, zero sugar, and zero sugar-substitutes.
- Practice “eating a rainbow.” No, not Skittles. 🟡🟠🔵🔴🟢 By and large, foods that are very colorful are very healthy. So aim to eat lots of fruits and veggies across the color spectrum.
- Demonstrate that eating health can be both rewarding and delicious. One way I like to do this is by drinking SkinnyFit Skinny Greens, and emphasizing how much I enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits—which is far from a white lie. SkinnyGreens is packed with 34 superfoods, including pre- and probiotics, mood-elevating adaptogens, and immune-boosting antioxidants. And yes, it tastes incredibly delicious! Skinny Greens also gives me a much-needed energy boost to keep me upbeat, positive, and focused throughout a long day.
The Bottom Line
There are endless ways to help build healthy habits in the home. What’s more, healthy psychological, physical, and dietary habits are often interconnected, so looking at healthy habits is best done holistically. From a parent’s standpoint, it takes a lot of understanding, practice, and stamina. But building these habits at home will put your children on a path toward a healthy and high-life-quality future. Plus, they’ll help you live more healthy too!