The family that plays together stays healthy together!

February 24th, 2014 | By Marjie No Comments

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As a parent, I helped teach my children to walk, talk, brush their teeth, write their ABCs, play the piano, ride a bike, sweep the floor, cook an egg, and so on. In other words, my kids have learned a lot from me, including (I hope) the importance of eating healthfully and leading an active life. After all, our kids learn by imitating those they spend the most time with. So every Sunday when they accompanied us to our softball game … every time we played together on the playground … every evening we spent walking the dog or playing Twister or going for a swim … they were learning that doing is fun. Looking back, I realize that we never really talked about the importance of being active. We just did it.

If you want to get (and keep) your family moving and doing and playing together, follow these few steps and you’re well on the journey to a healthier family life:

Step 1. Ask your family members (especially your kids!) what they would like to do together. It’s okay to talk about why; you can even set some fitness and eating goals if you’d like. (You know your family … if they are results-driven, set goals.) And don’t be surprised when your children start listing things to do that you would never expect. (Once, our boys said they wanted to sail around the world!)

Step 2. Come up with calendar of ‘family events’ together. Map out your events for the next few weeks, or even for the year. If you actually put them on paper, you will be much more likely to make them happen. Just talking about them allows time to slip by without action. Include day trips, sports or games you want to try, and even the shopping/planning you’ll have to do to make them happen. Want to learn how to jump rope like a pro? Plan to shop for the right ropes before your Jump Rope Day.

Step 3. Talk about food. Did you know that your kids are learning about healthy food choices in school? From the new school lunch programs to health class, from discussions in PE to vocabulary lessons, the school curriculum now sends a very health-oriented message about eating habits. In other words, you can learn a lot from listening and talking with your children about menu planning and healthy food choices.

Step 4. Let them cook for you. Maybe I should say, Let them cook with you. You’ll want to supervise, particularly with young children. But let them be part of the process; they’ll have fun being in the kitchen with you, and together you can create meals that you all feel good about and enjoy eating because they result from your team effort.

Step 5. Stick to your calendar of events and check items off your to-do list. If you have “run a 5K together” on your list, reward each other when you cross it off as “completed.” Go for a smoothie or take in a movie together.

The steps above will help with planning and implementing Family Play Together events, but in all honesty, it’s the everyday activities that are even more important.

I know that it’s often difficult to find time every single day to “do” something together. So try to start thinking differently about those daily tasks. For instance:

  • Time to walk Fido? Grab the leash and go with your kids.
  • Need groceries? Park at the far end of the store parking lot and enjoy the longer walk together.
  • Headed to the playground? Take your bikes (if the route allows for it) instead of the car.
  • Got a croquet or badminton set? Leave them up in the back yard, and then enjoy a game or two each week together.
  • Playing hide-and-seek today? Pair up with other parents and neighbors and play outside using trees, fences, and other locations for hiding. You’ll have more space to play in, which means more running and maybe even some climbing, crawling, and bending!
  • Catchy tune on the radio? Drop that newspaper and dance together!

Parents teach life’s foundational lessons … in the vast majority of families, they are the #1 source of information for children, the earliest and most important role models. Good or not, parents’ behaviors will be emulated by their children. This is a huge responsibility, but also a wonderful opportunity! When you play/exercise with your kids, you are having fun AND teaching them to lead healthy, active lives. When you cook nutritious foods and have healthy snacks with/for them, you will enjoy the benefits of being healthy AND seeing them live healthfully as well.

You may have been waiting to read this phrase from the first word of this article, so I’m just going to write it: Practice what you preach. If YOU are active, your children will be. If YOU eat nutritiously, your children will as well. If YOU enjoy playing, your children will. It’s really that easy.

Start with the steps we’ve provided in this article. Take it a day at a time. Dance, jump, laugh, have fun. The rewards will be a healthier, happier family!

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