How to Help Kids Achieve Healthy Goals
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Setting goals as a family is a good starting point when trying to build healthy habits. Breaking it down individually and helping your children understand how to set goals leads them to a path of success. There are a lot of benefits for starting children young when setting goals. Some of those benefits are:
- Teaches them to take responsibility for their own behaviors and learning
- Promotes a “can-do” attitude
- Helps them form lifelong habits
The first thing to help your child set goals is understanding what a goal is. Dictionary.com defines a goal as, “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed.” Adults and even older kids will probably understand that definition, but a five-year-old most likely won’t. It needs to be broken down to a level they would understand. For younger children, you could say a goal is something they want to be able to do, to be, to be good at, they want, etc. Then remind them, it takes work and effort to accomplish.
I like to compare goal setting to a staircase to help children understand that goals take work and effort. To get to the top of a staircase, you have to take one step one at a time. That is how it is with goals, you won’t accomplish it all at once. You need to break down the goals into habits or steps to achieve them.
Breaking Down Goals
Let’s dive into how you can help your children set goals specifically for their health and well-being. By going through this process, you will help them create healthy habits that are sustainable and achievable for them. We are going to break this down into three categories:
We all, to some degree, know our kids could eat better. Some may have kids who are picky eaters so introducing new foods may seem a bit overwhelming. Help your child understand that putting good things into our bodies helps us feel better in the end. Starting children young on their eating habits will help stabilize their energy, improve their minds, even out their moods, help them maintain a healthy weight, and help prevent some mental health conditions. Some examples of goals children could set in this category are: drink more water everyday, eat vegetables everyday, eat a good breakfast, etc.
In today’s world kids don’t get in as much movement throughout the day. According to a report from the World Health Organization, 80% of children between the ages of 11-17 aren’t physically active enough. To help your kids move more, find an activity they will enjoy. Your kids may see physical activity as boring or hard. Help them understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. “The most important way of predicting whether kids will stick with a physical activity is whether they think it’s fun,” says Natalie Muth, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Talk to your kids about what they enjoy doing. Have them try different activities until they find one that feels right.
Other Wellness Practices
This category could be taken in several different directions. Maybe your child needs to work on better sleeping habits, a habit could be set in that area to help with that. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics only 48% of school age children in the United States get nine hours of sleep most weeknights. For more tips on better sleep, check out Coach Jen’s article 10 Proven Ways to Improve Sleep Quality. You could also help your kids set intellectual goals. School is important and setting goals related to their learning will help them achieve success. Perhaps they want to improve in a subject, learn a new skill, etc.
Here are some practical application examples of goals kids have set for themselves in these categories. They set goals in each of these categories and broke them down into two to three steps/habits that would help them reach their goal (the top of their staircase). Here is some background information about these kids and their family:
“Mary and Tom know they need to make healthy lifestyle changes not only for themselves but also for their three children. They have a 5-year-old, Emily, who is a picky eater, a 10-year-old, Peter, who loves video games, and a 14-year-old, Gabby, who is starting to become body-image conscious and is not motivated to exercise.”
Eat Healthy Goal: Eat a vegetable everyday
- Go to store with Mom and help choose vegetables I want to try
- Eat a vegetable as a snack instead of always eating goldfish or fruit snacks
- Make a smoothie that has spinach or kale with my sister to try
*This goal helps Emily develop the habit of eating more vegetables. This will be a push for her because she is a picky eater. Having Mom give her control of what vegetables she wants to eat will help her be more motivated to try them and follow through.
Move More Goal: Learn to ride a bike
- Practice riding with training wheels
- Pedal a bike while Dad holds on (without training wheels)
- Practice riding on my own
*Emily has been so excited to ride a bike since she just got one for her birthday. This goal is perfect for her to get more movement in because she is doing something that she wants to do. She is moving more and also getting outside more to soak up that Vitamin D.
Other Wellness Goal: Sleep better
- Go to bed at the same time each evening
- I will choose a story for mom or dad to read to me before bed
- Turn on white noise or another sound at night
*Emily has struggled getting good quality sleep at night. She hasn’t followed a good bedtime routine in a while. She tends to be grumpy and have behaviors that rise when she doesn’t get a good sleep. This goal will help her to be more well rested and better during the day.
Eat Healthy Goal: Drink more water
- Get a water bottle I like to drink out of
- Eat more fruits and vegetables high in water content
- Add flavoring to water if I struggle to drink it plain
*Peter struggles with wanting to drink water and drinking enough. He usually just wants juice, soda, or milk. This goal will help him to be more hydrated which will help him to be more focused and alert during school and his other day to day activities.
Move More Goal: Be better at baseball
- Work on my swing and catching with my Dad outside of baseball practice time
- Practice running sprints
- Watch other baseball games
*Peter has always loved baseball. This is his first time actually playing on a team. This goal is great for him because he is doing something that he enjoys. The extra time he spends at baseball limits his screen time because he loves video games. He is getting outside more and overall getting more energy throughout the day.
Other Wellness Goal: Be better at reading
- Create a reading space
- Pick out books I would enjoy reading
- Schedule times during the week for Mom or Dad to read with me
*Peter has always struggled with reading. Reading isn’t usually his first choice of activity. This goal will help him be better in school when it comes to reading comprehension because that is hard for him. Having him pick out his own books to read and creating a reading space will make it more enjoyable for him.
Eat Healthy Goal: Eat breakfast everyday
- Plan out my breakfasts for the week
- Prep breakfasts the night before if I have to be somewhere early in the morning
- Set an alarm in the morning to eat my breakfast so I don’t forget
*Gabby has struggled with eating breakfast consistently. She started high school this year and she has been more busy with homework and other activities. Eating breakfast every day will help her to be more energized to stay on top of things and focus more.
Move More Goal: Exercise 30 minutes 4-5 days a week
- Schedule my exercise time each day
- Do a form of exercise I enjoy (dancing, taking walks, biking with my siblings, etc)
- Move more while I watch a show
*Gabby recently has lost a lot of motivation to exercise. She lacks energy and just doesn’t want to do it. Mom and Dad notice that she is in a better mood and does better in school when she moves more. Choosing an exercise she enjoys will help her to get back into the habit. It will also help her deal with the stress of high school.
Other Wellness Goal: Learn a new skill (I want to learn how to sew)
- Read books/watch tutorials on sewing
- Do small projects with a needle and thread
- Start practicing on Grandma’s sewing machine
*Gabby has always been crafty and learning this skill will be a fun challenge for her. Using this time to learn something new will help her fight boredom and learn faster in general.
How To Help Them Stay on Track
Help your children set applicable, appropriate, and desirable goals. To help them keep track of their progress, use a calendar. Depending on how old they are, use fun stickers or have them color each day of progress. Make it a fun experience for them and reinforce your child when they work on their goals. Verbal praise goes a long way to keep them motivated. You could even give them a reward for accomplishing their goal. Once they have mastered a goal, they can move on to another goal to keep that momentum of developing healthy habits.
Comment below with one goal your kids have.
Cheers to setting healthy goals!