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HealthInfo Canterbury

Parenting healthy & active children

He kaupapa whakamatua o ngā tamariki hauora

As a parent, there's a lot you can do to instil healthy habits in your children.

Be a great role model

We are our children's greatest role models. Your children will generally do what you and your whānau/family do, and what you do will become their normal behaviour.

Here are some ideas of what you can do to be a great role model.

Teach children to eat well

There are many things you can do to teach children to eat well for the rest of their lives.

Make mealtimes fun

Take the attention off the food and onto creating real memories for your children. Often, we have rituals around food that we remember from our own childhoods and these are important. You're creating the same for your children.

During mealtimes, ask them about their day. Children enjoy these conversations at the dinner table. Don’t comment on what your children eat or don't eat. If mealtimes are relaxed, children are relaxed and more likely to try new foods.

Trust your child’s hunger cues

Parents are in charge of what, when and where children eat. Children are in charge of how much they eat, if they eat at all. Children are born with an amazing superpower – they will eat when hungry and stop eating when they're full. Forcing or bribing a child to eat can teach them to ignore their body’s hunger and fullness signals.

Be patient if they don't like a food

Fussy eaters can be frustrating for parents. It's tempting to focus on negative things such as a child refusing to eat the food you've prepared for them. It's important that it doesn't become a power struggle. See Fussy eating for information about how to cope with this.

Make one meal for the family

If your child doesn't eat their meal, don't offer to make something else. This teaches children that they can refuse food to get a special meal. If you're worried that your child won’t eat anything, include one food at each meal that you know they'll eat.

Pay attention to the positive

Praise your children for trying new things, making healthy choices or enjoying their food.

Allow food exploration

When our children are little, it's important that they explore their food. This can be messy, but very meaningful for them and their relationship with food. As children get older, help them to keep exploring food. You can do this by including them in preparing meals, planning meals, getting lunch boxes ready, making shopping lists, picking fruit or vegetables from the garden and supermarket shopping. Children who help to prepare their food are more likely to eat it at mealtimes.

Reward your child with things other than with food

If children are rewarded or comforted with food, it might set them up with habits that are hard to break later in life. There are many other ways to reward children.

Create a vegetable garden together

If you have the time and energy, a small vegetable garden is great to create with children. They learn about food preparation and the science of food. See the links below for ideas.

Teach children to be active

Just as we teach our children about their relationship with food, we also teach them about their relationship with physical activity.

Here are some ideas to teach them to enjoy being active.

Also see Ideas for keeping kids active.

Positive body talk

To help your child have a positive body image, don't compare their body to others. Talk about the amazing things their body can do – run, jump, skip, tickle – not what their body looks like. Role-model this in the way you talk about your own body and other people's. All bodies deserve respect. See the video in the recommended links below.

Parenting support

Your child may behave in ways you find difficult to manage. See the Parenting section for information about child behaviour and what community support, including parenting programmes, is available. Many of these programmes are free. You can also talk to your GP or practice nurse. They'll give you advice or refer you to a parenting programme.

Other things to keep in mind

Spend time with your children. As well as the ideas above, you can do things like play a game or read to them. Spending time with your children is really important to them, no matter what their age.

Take note if your child isn't eating their lunch at school. It’s a good idea for them to bring leftovers home instead of throwing them out (this reduces waste at school too). Sometimes children can be bullied over what they have in their lunch box. If your child tells you they're being bullied, or you suspect they are, you can find some resources that can help in Bullying information for parents.

  HealthInfo recommends the following videos

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Written by Family Adviser, All Right? Wellbeing Campaign. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2021.

Page reference: 302415

Review key: HIHEC-62690