It is important to include all household members in the process of creating and sustaining healthy lifestyle changes. Here are few things to consider as you begin implementing family-based health goals.
1. Explain the “Why” First
Discuss why these changes are necessary before talking about how or when they will occur. Make it an ongoing conversation and encourage questions from your loved ones. Oftentimes, children and adolescents may have misconceptions about the purpose of these lifestyle changes and the parent is unaware. For instance, pediatric patients sometimes express that they feel like they’re a failure or have let down their parents in some way (e.g., “My parents think I’m fat or unattractive” or “They’re ashamed of me and the way I look”). So, it’s a good idea to initially clarify why these changes are important (e.g., “to be healthier so that we can live a long time”) and why they continue to be important. Children and adolescents are less likely to resist changes if they understand why they are important and who they are important to.
2. Review the Expectations
When discussing upcoming healthy lifestyle changes, it is important to review expectations with all household members. In our pediatric weight management and adolescent bariatric programs, we emphasize that it is important to review how all household members are held to the same standard but highlight where differences will occur given age or responsibility level of the household member. For instance, we encourage parents to institute a digital bedtime for themselves as they attempt to reduce nightly technology use for their children. Children and adolescents are less likely to view this type of healthy lifestyle change as a punishment, if they see that each household member is making similar sacrifices for their overall health status. As differences in the implementation of behavioral changes are to be expected (e.g., physical activity duration, screen time allotment) among children versus caregivers or younger children versus older teens, clearly outlining expectations for household members helps everyone understand how things will change in the future.
3. Create a Household Information Hub
When creating or maintaining healthy lifestyle goals, having a visual reminder works best for clarity and accountability for the household members. I encourage caregivers to use a posterboard or white board to document what and how they are working to improve their family’s overall health and well-being. This centralized information hub is a great place to post the weekly meal plan and/or grocery list as well. It is easy to forget about healthy lifestyle goals but less so if you pass by them each day.
4. Create Nonfood Based Incentives
Change is hard for everyone. Motivating ourselves to make healthy lifestyle changes can be really challenging and trying to help others become or stay motivated can seem exhausting at times. What caregivers have to remember is this: If a goal has been created and everyone understands the steps that are needed to be successful, then it is just as important to determine how each person will be rewarded in achieving each step of the ultimate goal. Rewards, or incentives, work well for everyone, no matter the age or developmental level. But consider this: did you previously reward effort or achievement with food? If so, you are not alone. American culture tends to weave in food with celebrations of success so brainstorm with your family members what nonfood-based incentives will keep them motivated, within reason. If the family has created a visual space to outline the household’s health goals, then it will also be a great place to list out possible rewards or incentives for engaging in healthy lifestyle changes.
5. Schedule Regular Check-In Times
Life can be overwhelming especially given all the challenges we’ve had to endure for the past year or so. Taking on healthy lifestyle changes can easily add to household stress which can limit overall progress and feelings of success. We encourage families to schedule a weekly family meeting to check-in on how things are going. It can be a dedicated time to celebrate successes and receive corresponding rewards, troubleshoot difficulties, and alter goals. It also allows time and space for family members to discuss points of tension and to plan for upcoming schedule changes.
Friendly Reminder: It’s developmentally appropriate for teenagers to resist other’s input or advice.