What’s healthy for kids is healthy for adults

We all have those phrases we heard our parents say when we were kids, the ones we swore we’d never use when we become parents. How often have you stopped in astonishment when you hear a phrase exit your mouth you never thought you’d say? The very ones your parents said?

The funny thing about many of those phrases is that — well, they’re true. They’re said with good reason.

Even still, children learn best by modeling. We can preach at them all day long, but at the end of the day, if we’re not doing those things in our own life, it just doesn’t resonate. They’ll still do what we do.

Here are a few things we often tell our children that are just as essential for us.

1. Do your chores.

We have a checklist my daughter uses every morning that guides her through the steps of getting dressed for the day, putting away her jammies, making her bed, and helping me empty the dishwasher.

It’s easy to hound our kids about chores because we want them to learn the value of work. We don’t want them to have a sense of entitlement, or that the house somehow “miraculously” gets clean.

Do you do your chores? Do your children see you care for the home and take care of your belongings? It doesn’t matter if your house is spotless — children rarely care about that — but it is important that they see you in the process of home maintenance. Before you ask your kids to make their beds, make sure yours is already made.

2. Eat your vegetables.

Both my husband and I have a sweet tooth, and so do our kids. Our daughter’s currency is candy — when we need to discipline her, prohibiting her from any candy for a few days is extremely effective.

But we also eat quite healthily. Our general aim is 80 percent of all our food to be rich in nutrients, vitamins, and essential building blocks, and for most of it to be grown locally and without chemicals or pesticides.

Do you snack between meals? Does your home tempt you with sugary or salty treats, loaded with MSG and other chemicals? Kids will understand the value of nutritious food when they see you preparing and eating it also.

Likewise, it’ll be hard for them to not indulge in unhealthy snacks between meals when they see you sneaking some chips.

3. Be kind.

sisters holding hands
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Thankfully, our two children love each other and enjoy spending lots of time together. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deal with the occasional hair pulling, pushing, or refusal to share. They’re kids.

I doubt many of us actually pull our neighbor’s hair when we’re frustrated at her. But do we talk about her behind her back? Do you discuss the annoyances of certain people — your coworkers, your inlaws, your neighbors — around the dinner table? Or when someone cuts you off in traffic — what do you say in your car with your kids in the backseat?

My husband and I made a decision before kids came along that we would never speak poorly about each other’s parents in front of the kids. If we wanted them to respect their elders, we needed to model the same.

I’m not saying we should feel guilty if we’re not perfect. But as the grownups, we should keep a healthy guard around what we say about others and how we treat others — especially when our kids are with us.

4. Run and play.

Kids have boundless energy, but when the TV is on all day, they’re easily sucked in to vegging on the couch and watching two-dimensional people live lives. I’m amazed at how often my daughter will invent her own imaginative games and scenarios when she’s left to her own devices.

Is TV your default? Or do your kids see you actively use your body? You don’t have to be an exercise junkie, but it is important that your children witness you caring for your body. If they see you working out a few times a week, they’ll be much more likely to do the same.

My daughter loves “working out” with me. Sure, when we do my yoga DVD she mostly giggles at the goofy poses and invents new clever ways to stand, but she’s moving her body and seeing me do the same.

Likewise, I do my best (though it’s not always possible in seasons of extreme busyness) to keep my computer work during hours when they’re sleeping, so that I’m on my feet during my kid’s waking hours.

5. Go outside.

mother child outside
Photo by Rolands Lakis

Children are drawn to the outdoors, and many of them could play and explore for hours if we allow them. Do you join them? I like our kids spending solo time among the trees and grass, but it’s also healthy for them to see their parents enjoying nature.

As we discussed earlier this year while reading Last Child in the Woods during our Book Club, kids will appreciate nature when we prioritize it in our families. An hour a day outside makes a world of difference in our understanding the natural world and with our physical health.

6. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Or some other version of this phrase that explains that our bank accounts are finite. I remember when my daughter was younger, I relished that she didn’t understand we could actually buy anything in the store. So I’d let her look at one of the board books in the cart, and when we were done shopping, I’d go return it, with her never the wiser.

Those days are long gone for her. But the same principle remains — just because everything in the store is on sale, doesn’t mean we can afford everything. We have limits, and we earn money by working hard for it.

Do you pick up little tchotchkies in the dollar section at Target, even if you don’t really need them? It’ll be a bit harder to say no to your kids when they beg for those little trinkets in the toy section they also don’t need.

Can your kids witness you and your spouse managing the money? Even if they don’t understand the math, can they see you paying bills, budgeting, keeping records, and discussing larger purchases? This sets the foundation for wise financial stewardship later in life.

7. Go to bed.

Ah, the ultimate directive — very few of us are lax on our kids’ bedtimes. We’re absolutely wiped out by the end of the day, and we can’t wait to have a few hours of grownup time. Talking without interruptions, discussing world events instead of our favorite colors, and getting a few things checked off our list… Bedtime is bliss.

But many of us use that time to get more done than we should. If you’re like me, you get a second wind when the kids go down, and feel like you can finally clean, check email, and fold laundry without the baby coming along and unfolding it.

It’s a great time to be with your spouse and to get important things done. But we need to go to bed, too. Even if our kids are unaware what time we head to bed, they are privy to the aftereffects if we’re grumpy, lazy, and lethargic the next day.

Don’t try to be Superwoman. You need lots of sleep as well. Just like our kids need sleep so their bodies can recover from the day, we need to treat our bodies kindly and give them rest. A few weeks ago, Lisa wrote some great tips for moms to get adequate sleep.

What are your favorite phrases you say to your kids? With what phrase are you convicted about being a bit of a — well, hypocrite?

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41 Comments

  1. Satakieli

    I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that our children follow our examples in both good habits and bad.
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Weekend Ramblings =-.

  2. Shannon

    If it’s one thing I learned growing up it is that children see hypocrisy faster than anyone else. I heard “do as I say, not as I do” a lot when I was a child and I don’t think anyone – adult or young – can really make sense of that phrase.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Menu Plan & a call for your breakfast ideas =-.

  3. Jodi

    Thank you so much for that gentle reminder. I think so often as parents we feel like we’ve already had our time to be harped at and follow the rules and often parents live the “do as I say not as I do” principle, which is terribly wrong. Thank you once again for the reminder!
    .-= Jodi´s last blog ..$200 for Best Buy? =-.

  4. Kendra

    I definitely don’t go to bed when I need to… or eat as well as I could… or exercise and be active… or do my chores! Wow! There’s so much I need to work on to model for my daughter. Kids definitely pick up on any double standards.
    .-= Kendra´s last blog ..Easy Eating: Lentil Tacos =-.

  5. Nikowa@KHA

    I just LOVE your site & articles!

    Another great post!
    .-= Nikowa@KHA´s last blog ..We’re "official" =-.

  6. Jackie@Lilolu

    I’m always telling my kids they need to drink more water yet I don’t drink much water throughout the day. Thanks for the reminder that I should do as I say.

  7. Tracey

    You can always get me with the kind speech one – especially when it comes to morning traffic! When my six-year-old ( from the backseat) expressed her exasperation with a driver in front of us today, I realized even more how important it is to guard my reactions around my children.
    .-= Tracey´s last blog ..Getting Cash Back with Ebates =-.

  8. gretchen from lifenut

    I need to be more organized about where I keep my things—my keys, my coat, my bag. I’m always yammering to the kids about keeping their backpacks organized and tidy so they won’t lose things.

    Guess who had a horrible time finding her other glove a few mornings ago?
    .-= gretchen from lifenut´s last blog ..It’s getting better all the time =-.

  9. tacy

    Thanks! I think the best reminder for me was to exercise. We get out for a short walk as much as we can, but first I don’t know how much cardio I’m actually getting, and second, with the cold weather coming soon, yoga is sounding like a really good idea.
    .-= tacy´s last blog ..Does Reflection Improve Recreation? =-.

  10. Samantha @ Mama Notes

    So true! We need reminders to model for our children more often and rather than tell them or try to show them by words, show them by ACTIONS and most likely, children will follow.

    Great reminder, thanks. 🙂
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..Vote for the Cutest Fall Baby =-.

  11. Sarah

    This is fantastic. I’m 26 days away (please no more than that!) from giving birth to my first child, and this is just what I needed to read today. Thanks for you insight.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Two Pink Lines. =-.

  12. Melissa

    What an awesome reminder of how much we influence how our children perceive the world AND act in it! My passion is around #5: Get Outdoors and it’s the basis for the blog I just started. While I love Twitter and my Wii, I know the little one doesn’t benefit much from those… but he sure does from a nice hike admiring the changing leaves! This post is a good reminder that I need to plan another hiking trip before it gets too cold too!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Hill Ridge Farms (& Corn Spa?) =-.

  13. Tara McCausland

    Here, here sister! Children truly learn best by example and when we’re doing our best to live what we preach, our children will follow after – making our own lives and the lives of our children that much more enjoyable (and undoubtedly saving ourselves a lot of headaches, too).
    .-= Tara McCausland´s last blog ..Commitment: The Stuff Success if Made Of =-.

  14. Erin

    Love this post! Just what I needed for my day. Thanks!
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Happy Fall! =-.

  15. Kel

    So true – children learn way more from observing than listening. That last item on your list is what gets me. I do try to get too much done after the kids are in bed. I need to be spending some of that time relaxing and recharging so that I’m ready for a positive day with my kids tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder!

  16. se7en

    Oh if I lived like my kids I would be well-excercised, well-rested, well-nutritioned … I needn’t go on… How often do they each have a biscuit from a packet and then I eat the rest to protect them from the junk… And as for sleep… let’s not go there!!! I am off to bed RIGHT NOW… I can finish my post in the morning! Great post loved it!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Sunday Snippet: The Other Woman in Your Marriage – A Review… =-.

  17. hailey

    i’m working on the last part of the list. being nocturnal does not give a good example to my girls. well, who is not a work in progress? raise hands! thanks…
    .-= hailey´s last blog ..What A Weekend! =-.

  18. Wendy

    Thanks so much for the great reminders. I *try* to model good behavior for my kids, but I definitely let things slide when I think they’re not looking. Much better to act as if they always are watching because — face it — they are.

  19. Mother of Pearl

    I’m always telling my kids “work first, then play”. But then I find myself reading the paper before I empty the dishwasher or checking my email before paying the bills. *sigh*

  20. Alicia

    Fabulous! Just Fabulous! I am fully recovered from my last childbirth now and am needing to get back in the swing of activity and creativity at my house. Thanks for the reminders.

    • Tsh

      Well, I guarantee you — half of what I write is for me to hear, in a weird way. I needed this kick in the pants just as much as everybody else! 🙂

  21. ali

    Excellently put! Such a lovely reminder & prod in the better direction!
    .-= ali´s last blog ..Sort of Like Musical Chairs =-.

  22. Shannon @ AnchorMommy

    How funny — I’ve been hearing myself use my mother’s words all the time lately! Especially the tried and true, “I’m going to count to three…”

    I was feeling a little bad about how much time I spent cleaning and doing laundry today. But this post helped remind me that it’s good for my boy to see that we have to work to take care of our home! Besides, we wrapped up the afternoon by playing some soccer together in the backyard. A little exercise and outside time rolled up in one! It’s amazing what running and laughing does for a person’s spirits–for both parents and kids!
    .-= Shannon @ AnchorMommy´s last blog ..Five things I never thought I’d do =-.

  23. Shalvika Sood

    I read this quote somewhere “Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners”. How true!! The best education we can give our children is through our own example. We think that we need to set example by ‘big actions’ yet its often the small little things that get registered. I know I learnt to kindness to animals from my mother who would put out bird feed and milk for the stray cats and dogs. Thanks for this post!
    .-= Shalvika Sood´s last blog ..Is it okay for children to be mean to each other? =-.

  24. hostels barcelona

    good reminder for all of us, busy parents… Do what you say your kids to do… so true!

  25. Christy @ Family at Work

    Thanks for the reminder…. no matter what we tell them, it is what they see day in and day out that forms them. Me? I say “eat well” and then get caught sneaking a snack (and not the healthy kind, either! My daughter can smell chocolate from across the house!
    .-= Christy @ Family at Work´s last blog ..Public Displays of Affection =-.

  26. Lisa

    Thanks for this. I need a little reminder every now & then… the children are always watching. Always listening.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..I heart Colorforms. =-.

  27. Marie

    It’s just so true! Though my daughter is only 19-months-old and she doesn’t do chores or understand money quite yet, I always told myself I’d learn these things early.

    Most times as a parent you just simply forget about yourself. But if you don’t take care of yourself, 1) who will? and 2) you are teaching your kids to do the same to themselves.

    Thanks for the reminder to live and be able to say “do as I do”.
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..Eighth Tips for Green Living Carnival =-.

  28. Susan @ Heart Pondering

    This is a great post and one I’ve thought about a lot lately (esp point #1)… I’m getting ready to start regular chores with my 2-yr old and newar 4-yr old and realized that I was not as orderly and routine in doing my own. Not only was I not setting a sufficient example of digilence for my children to emulate, but I realized it would be harder for me to oversee their chores if my own weren’t more regulated. I wrote a post on this “In Praise of Digilence” [http://heartpondering.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/in-praise-of-diligence/] days before I was introduced to your blog and am finding many of your posts very confirming. So thank you!
    .-= Susan @ Heart Pondering´s last blog ..Problem-solving by entering in =-.

  29. Jami@Sweet&SimpleMama

    It’s so easy to forget that our children are always watching and listening. Thank you for this reminder!
    .-= Jami@Sweet&SimpleMama´s last blog ..Yummy Pasta Salad =-.

  30. Beckie

    Ouch!

  31. izzat aziz

    1,2 and 6 i always get that from my mom when i’m about 5-7 years old.. but when I grew older my mom start to let me free, i can make my own decision on everything.. I will do the same thing when i become father.. 😀
    .-= izzat aziz´s last blog ..Eight 2009 Albums you should buy =-.

  32. Emma @ Baby-log.com

    Awesome post. Simple rules, but not that simple to follow sometimes. I am having trouble with “Be kind” at the moment – the visiting in-laws are really exercising my patience. Still wouldn’t say anything bad about them in front of the kid, no matter what they do. Thanks, Tsh!
    .-= Emma @ Baby-log.com´s last blog ..Grandparents… a helping hand or a real handful? =-.

  33. Tami

    God is so amazing! I have been thinking about these things you’ve written about! You’ve written it well, and I am printing it now for a springboard!

    Thanks.
    .-= Tami´s last blog ..Veteran’s Day =-.

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