When my twins were very little I was completely overwhelmed. It felt like there was information coming at me from all sides.
Their pediatrician had one idea about how much milk and meat they should be eating. Magazines told me something else and my mother and sister talked incessantly about vegetables, and how much my children were NOT eating them!
It was completely confusing – AND I believed somehow that if they didn’t eat the right things right now, TODAY, I was condemning them to a lifetime of ill health and bad choices.
The twins have now reached an age where they listen to their mother once again, while the youngest is still fighting the good fight, believing her mother doesn’t know anything.
It’s an interesting place to be – with two who trust you for advice and two who are tentatively feeling their way along on their own journey.
Over these years I have learned a thing or two about health and teaching my children what’s important and what isn’t. While I started practicing in traditional Western Medicine, it didn’t take too many years to observe that popping pills wouldn’t improve anyone’s health.
Of course there are times when pills, medicines and treatments are necessary to combat diseases and illnesses that are too often triggered by poor health choices or unfortunate genetic pre-disposition – or both.
But, more often, making wise health choices can eliminate the need for those interventions.
What is health?
As defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, health is “the condition of being sound in body, mind or spirit” or “the general condition of the body.”
Interestingly, health is separated for mind, body and spirit as you can see in the definition represented by the word “or” which I italicized for effect. In other words, you can experience health in your mind without being healthy in body or spirit – or any combination of these three factors of your being.
Teaching your children about health should encompass all three and not just health of the body since a healthy body will soon rot if the mind or spirit is lacking.
Nowhere in that definition is the idea that health encompasses the figure of a model, Mr. Universe’s body building techniques nor a specific way of dressing.
But today the word health has come to mean people who are thin, look like models and have a glow about their skin they can get from a bottle; when, in fact, health is none of those things.
Who do you listen to?
The premise here is that you are the result of the decisions you make in your life. If you decide to smoke, then don’t be surprised when you develop some type of lung disease. If you decide to forgo exercise in order to work 60 hours each week, don’t be surprised by heart disease, obesity, lung disorders, stroke, heart attack or any number of immune mediated disorders.
The decisions you make result in the health you enjoy.
And the question remains, who knows what’s best for your body and your health? Is it your doctor? Is it the magazine in the waiting room? Is it your vitamin salesperson?
The answer is all of them, and none of them.
Research into lifestyle choices is constantly being studied and published. Ideas that once were popular, have now fallen out of favor based on more research. The history of eating low-fat diets is just one of the many ways in which the media and the medical establishment might have unwittingly worked together to damage your overall health.
The fact is that you are the only person responsible for your own health.
While your doctor, pharmacist, sister, brother, chiropractor and best friend may have words of wisdom for you, in this age of immediate access to medical research and information, it is easier than ever to make your own decisions about what is and isn’t healthy.
And, as a mother, you are also responsible for imparting as much of that knowledge to your children as is possible. What they eat today does have a phenomenal impact on their health tomorrow. On the flipside, the body also has an incredible way of repairing itself given the right tools.
So, while it is important to do your own research and listen to people you trust, it is also important to give yourself grace. You can only make the best decisions possible using the information you have currently at hand.
Talking to your children about health shouldn’t be just one conversation – just like the “sex talk” shouldn’t happen just one time. These are ongoing conversations that should happen many times per week, in small ways that don’t overwhelm the child.
Just as you are overwhelmed with too much information at once, so are they. What may have taken you 3 weeks to process and understand shouldn’t be regurgitated to your children in one 30 minute “talk.”
Here are a few tips that will help you keep “Health” top of mind and part of what you think and talk about each day.
- Your children learn more by what you DO than what you SAY. Remember this as you’re reaching for the chocolate in the cabinet and telling them they can’t have dessert each night. This is something I personally struggle with every day!
- Health is built on habits. It takes at least 21 days to start to form a habit. It is more difficult to change an ingrained habit once it’s established – good or bad. It is your mission to establish your own strong health habits and model them for your children.
- Eat your meals together as a family. This is a wonderful time to engage in conversations with your children. Don’t ask, “What did you do today?” or “How was your day?” because you’re guaranteed to get “Nothing” or “Fine.” Instead, make it a habit for everyone to list the best and worst thing that happened that day, what you’re most grateful for, what was the biggest challenge or brainstorm a solution to someone’s problem.
- Exercise! The family that moves together, stays together. Your body has 360 joints. This means your body was designed to MOVE. Go biking, go for a walk after dinner each evening, take up rowing together, go horseback riding, rock climbing or jogging. It doesn’t matter what you do – just that you MOVE. Your children may also enjoy getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school. Even if they don’t make the competitive team, encourage them to enjoy the sport with friends.
- Find moments in the day when you can interject just a little something about their health into the conversation. You might talk about the importance of sleep to the ability of your brain to think or to perform athletically, or how your brain doesn’t function correctly when you’re even 1 percent dehydrated.
- Use technology to your advantage. While you might not want your kids buried in their text messages, Snapchats or Instagram, there is a way to use this digital media to drive home your points about health. Ask them to find the answer to a health question for you online. Discuss the legitimacy of the website where they find the information and whether you can believe what’s written just because a website publishes it. Teach them to look for research articles to back up their claims.