smiling school kids

You put effort into keeping your family healthy: you pack your kids wholesome lunches, encourage them to participate in athletic activities, and set a good example by eating well and staying fit yourself. But when your children are in school, they may face pressure to trade or throw out healthy snacks for junk food, and forego sports in favor of video games.

How can you help your child to circumvent these obstacles? You can try your best to encourage your kids to live a healthy lifestyle, but you can't control what goes on while they're at school.

What you can control is how you talk to your children about avoiding the peer pressure to be unhealthy. You can also educate your children about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight through nutrition and exercise. With a little guidance, your children can avoid unhealthy influences, and become positive role models for their friends.

Talking the Walk
When your kids are at home with you or out with the family, they may have no trouble making healthy diet and exercise choices. When kids have parents and other family members who eat right and stay active, it's easy for them to follow similar patterns.

The situation may change when your kids are at school if they make friends who don't lead a healthy lifestyle. Your kids may feel pressured to follow the crowd--whether that means eating junk food or spending too much time watching TV.

It's possible to help your kids resist peer pressure. Working together, you and your kids can develop strategies to handle situations in which they might be tempted to make unhealthy choices. Before your kids start school this fall, walk them through possible responses to use when they're confronted with a choice between healthy and unhealthy behaviors:

  • "I'm training to be on the track team, so I need to eat healthy. You should try out with me."
  • "I'll meet you after you're done playing video games. I promised another friend I'd practice soccer with her after school. You should join us some time!"
  • "That looks good, but I want to finish my own lunch. You want to try some?"

Gentle Reminders
Older children may benefit from knowing the reasons behind your desire for their healthy habits. If you have adolescents and teens, share statistics with them to help make your points about the importance of sticking to a nutritious diet and getting enough exercise.

For example, you can let them know that one consequence of physical inactivity and poor nutrition is the risk of becoming overweight or obese. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that the number of children who are overweight or obese continues to increase. Worse yet, poor habits started in childhood can lead to trouble as an adult: 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese.

You can also share that the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for good health. That means getting off the couch and getting outside.

HealthAhead Hint: Make the Trade-off
A school-time trade of fresh berries for a sack of potato chips might tempt many kids. Spending an afternoon playing videogames might also sound like less effort than going outside to play basketball. But with parental help and guidance, your kids will be much more likely to make the right choices. Encourage your kids to stand up to peer pressure and set a good example of healthy living. Your kids will build their self-esteem and learn to communicate well with their friends, rather than being dragged down by them.