Photo: The Honest Company via Unsplash

Your children look to you to set an example. And the habits you instill when they’re young will last a lifetime. If you want them to enjoy a healthy, happy existence, you need to practice early.

What should you teach your children? Begin with the good habits you follow yourself and when you do certain activities together, you bond and create a closer relationship.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Do you use food as a reward? While it’s okay to do this every once in a while, regularly promising children a sugary treat for good behavior teaches unhealthy coping skills. This practice can lead to obesity as they eat not to nourish their bodies, but as a response to emotional stimuli.

Children need to consume a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to thrive. Teach kids to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies at each meal. Let them help you prepare family dinners and teach them about the nutritional properties of what you cook. When you go to the grocery store, have your little ones select foods, and discuss the merits of each choice.

Exercise Regularly

Many children fail to get the full hour of daily exercise recommended by experts. Kids need movement to develop their muscles and coordination. Additionally, those who develop a love of fitness at an early age go on to become active adults, which helps prevent obesity.

Whenever the weather permits, take your children to the park or playground and let them run and jump. When it’s frightful outside, put on your favorite songs and dance around your living room. If your children are old enough to go to school, walk or bike instead of idling in the parent drop-off area. End the day with a game of catch after dinner.

Wash Your Hands

Proper hand-washing helps prevent colds and flu. Many children bring every little germ home with them from school or daycare. While you can’t prevent every bug, proper hygiene helps prevent many infections.

Teach children to lather well and scrub their hands for 20 seconds before rinsing. Have them sing Happy Birthday twice through to measure time—make it a game and do it together.

Label Your Feelings

Children often act out when they feel frustrated or tired. If they can’t express in words how they feel, they demonstrate it through behavior.

Teach your children to identify their emotions by using picture books. When they begin misbehaving, ask them how they’re feeling. If they can’t find the right word, help them. If they need time to calm down, allow them to. Then regroup and discuss what happened.

Treat Others Kindly

Many parents mistakenly believe empathy is an inherent trait. In reality, you can foster care and concern for others in your little one.

Teach children about how people are different and how they’re similar. Ask them how they know if another child is upset. Brainstorm things you can do to make someone feel better when they’re down.

Take Time Outs

Even adults get overwhelmed and flustered. Imagine how children must feel sometimes. Foster emotional intelligence in your children by teaching them to take time out and practice mindfulness.

Sit with your child and have them close their eyes. Have them focus on their breathing and find a quiet space within themselves where they can think clearly. Explain this space is always with them, and they can summon it by focusing on their breath and observing their thoughts.

Read Every Day

It’s essential to instill a lifelong love of reading in your child. Doing so helps them excel in school and opens a world of information to them. Take time every night to sit and read together for 15 to 20 minutes.

Take your children to the library and let them select the books they enjoy. Make sure they see you enjoying reading, too.

Brush and Floss

Taking care of your children’s teeth isn’t only a matter of aesthetics or preventing cavities. Experts link poor oral health to other illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, though there’s no definitive proof.

Teach children to brush twice daily for two minutes at a time. Remind them to reach all areas, especially along the gumline. Help them to floss once per day. If they complain that the string hurts, opt for the softer, tape-style variety.

Get Adequate Sleep

Blue lights from electronic devices interrupt melatonin production, making it harder to get adequate rest. Make it a habit to power down all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

Install a family charging station in the kitchen or living area to cell phones out of bedrooms. Try to put your children to bed and wake them up at the same time daily.