6 Ways to Help Kids Build Healthy Habits

The Y is a nonprofit committed to helping everyone thrive at each stage of life.

By YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties September 10, 2022

Starting healthy habits when we're young is especially important because of the cognitive development that takes place at an early age. The earlier we develop positive, healthy habits the more likely those habits will carry through the years and into adulthood. 

With school back in session, it’s a fantastic time to cultivate and refresh good habits – not only for kids but for the whole family. 

Here are six ways to build a healthier, happier future for your kids:

1. Move Every Day

Exercising every day can help kids manage their sleep schedule, improve their mood, and decrease stress. It can also do the same for parents! Hiking, swimming, biking, going for walks, or other recreational activities are all great activities to enjoy together. It’s recommended that children complete at least one hour of active play each day. Try simple, affordable options such as dancing, jump rope, or basketball and select different locations to keep it fresh — public parks, playgrounds, and the Y are all great options.

Dance: Kids of any age can participate in a dance class at the Y or have a dance party in a fun, safe environment. Many classes we offer are for beginners and explore many different styles of dance, like hip hop, ballet, and jazz.

Soccer: Our Youth Soccer League helps children become not only better soccer players, but better people. They will practice footwork skills, as well as concepts of offense, defense, cooperation, and sportsmanship development.

Yoga: Online yoga and exercise classes are a relaxing activity for all ages. In yoga classes for kids as young as 4, students learn basic yoga movements, body awareness, and emotional regulation.

2. Little choices make a big impact. 

A habit is something we do every day without thinking about. The little choices we make throughout the day are the same little things that quickly turn into daily habits. Daily habits deeply impact our lives by how we choose to lead them.  

Every choice you make changes who you are becoming. Every choice changes us and places us one step further in any given direction. Poor choices will lead us away from our goals. Positive choices will get us closer to where we want to go.

One of the best ways to help kids make positive choices is to model positive behavior. It’s important to help them understand that the value of their choices isn't based upon age, but upon the impact each choice can have, such as wearing a seatbelt, brushing our teeth, or practicing an instrument.

3. Nutrition starts at home. 

No surprises. What you eat is the foundation for how your body performs every day and it’s important for all ages to fill their tank with the best fuel possible. Establishing a healthy relationship with food is knowledge that kids can use for their whole life.

Cooking at home is a great way for kids to start learning about nutrition. Being in the kitchen can also help with independence, progress picky eaters to try new things, and spark creativity. You can also sign up for a cooking class with expert teachers engage kids through recipes while teaching kitchen safety, cleanliness, and art. You can also have fun at home making recipes or accessing free tutorials through YouTube. 

4. Try new things every day.

Change is challenging. Inviting new things into our comfortable life is something many of us would prefer not to do. Encourage your kids to resist this kind of comfort and step into a new situation or challenge their thinking at every opportunity. Maybe it’s a new food, a new activity, or possibly even striking up a conversation with a new friend. This one habit will help kids step outside of their comfort zone and do incredible things in life.

5. Connect to your heart.

After feeling isolated by the pandemic, it’s even more important to help kids make connections in their community to serve their emotional and social needs, the heart of their development, and learn more about who they are becoming.

Making connections outside of school can be found through an extracurricular sport, volunteering at a local nonprofit, or through other networks they may be interested in. This is a great opportunity for kids to step out of the identity they may have at home or in class. 

Connecting more deeply can also happen at home, whether it’s cultivating a stronger sibling relationship, helping set the table for family-time, or simply acknowledging one another in a more whole hearted way. 

6. Rest and relaxation

Along with exercise and nutrition, making time for enjoyable and relaxing hobbies has many benefits as well. Art and music are both constructive outlets for children of all abilities to express emotions and relieve anxiety. Reading, drawing, dancing, clay modeling, cooking, LEGO, or making slime are all great options for kids to choose from depending on their energy level.

Of course, winding down is key to getting a good night’s sleep. While sleep is important at any age, it’s especially for children as they grow and develop. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following: 

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers 10-13 hours
  • School-age children 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers 8-10 hours

Keep in mind, these are recommendations. Talk to older children about the importance of listening to your body for times when you may need more rest.

Tell us more of the ways you like to help your kids develop healthy habits, whether it be signing them up for classes at the Y, challenges you work on together, or how you may be modeling the best behavior for their future.