Building Keystone Habits for Kids

Written by: Christina Wehry, licensed Holistic Health Practitioner, & Mom. Visit her at completewellbeing.co

Welcome to the Healthy Habits series!

I’m so excited to be creating this series together with Healthy Height. I’m Christina Wehry, Holistic Health Practitioner. I own and operate a private practice in San Diego, CA and am deeply passionate about helping people create truly healthy lives.

I’m sure you know that helping your children lead healthy lives is important. You may or may not know that the habits you start for them now will have a big impact on the rest of their lives.

Before we dive in, I just want to say, I think you’re awesome. You are showing up for yourself and your family every single day. You are reading this because you want to make sure you are doing the best you can. Thank you for shaping your child into the best possible human, it’s a massive undertaking. I salute you.

So, what is a habit?

A habit is a primal function of the brain. Alzheimer’s patients and others with memory loss still function off habits and are able to establish new habits. Habits aren’t the same kind of memory as language or names or information. Habits are laid down in one of the deepest sections of the brain. They are a foundation for how we live our lives and can be very difficult to change. This is especially important to remember with children, even if they aren’t old enough to speak yet, the kinds of activities, foods, and entertainment you expose them to are impacting the habits the brain will create and the desire for these habits in your child. The sooner you get your child creating healthy habits the easier it will be for you and for them in the long run.

The cool thing about habits is the brain will try to turn almost anything that seems repetitive into a habit. The brain will recognize a cue, the routine, and the reward of a repetitive action. This is called a habit loop. Each time the brain recognizes the cue of a habit loop it, essentially, stops participating fully in the activity. It says, “Ok, we know what’s going on,” and lets the habit center take over while the rest of the brain ramps down. This means that while it takes some effort up front, if you want to create a healthy habit for your child the recipe for it is pretty simple.

Let’s take establishing the habit of going on a walk with your child as an example. The first few times you go on a walk she may be fussy or uncooperative. This is a new activity and she doesn’t know if she likes it yet. But as she sees that this is a nice way to spend time with you, that she gets attention and love, her brain will associate the routine of “walk” with the “reward" of quality time, attention and love. She will begin to look forward to going on walks, she may even request walks. The recipe is: going on a walk, keeping it pleasant and happy, being proud of her when she’s done.

Let’s talk about Keystone Habits

Some habits matter more than others. What are called “keystone habits” have the power to start a chain reaction, impacting other habits as they become established in your life. For example, studies show that families who habitually eat dinner together generally raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, better emotional control, and more confidence; making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of wellbeing, and stronger financial skills.

A keystone habit follows a pretty simple criteria. Keystone habits offer “small wins”. Meaning the effort put into it produces immediate and impactful rewards. The ‘feel-good’ benefit of that effort becomes contagious. This is, again, especially powerful for children who operate more from their “feeling brain” than their “thinking brain”. They want to see where else they can feel good. They can also begin to see clearly when something they do produces a not-feel-good result, making it easier for you to reinforce the healthy habits you are working to instill.

Eating one healthy meal a week can be a keystone habit. Healthy Height has been offering Simple Swaps for you to incorporate a healthy meal or snack into your child’s day. Now, this particular keystone habit might be problematic for you if you are trying to introduce a new food to your child. Children’s brains are designed to be overly afraid of the unknown, this helps keep them safe. In my next Healthy Habits blog I am going to talk about how to introduce new foods to your children in a way that gets them excited about eating it.

If you have any questions about anything we covered in this blog feel free to reach out! See you next time. - Christina

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