Being a Parent is the Most Important Job
Experts say the most important job you have as a parent is to show your children how to live a fulfilling, happy life. Nothing is more powerful than the behavior blueprint you give your kids to live their best life.
Children closely mimic what they see from parents. If you smoke or abuse alcohol, studies show children grow up to do these same habits. Conversely, adults who maintain healthy self-esteem and cultivate healthy relationships raise children who are more likely to do so.
As a parent, you know that maintaining a stellar mood and vibrant health isn’t always easy. In our fast-faster society, coping with life’s inevitable hurdles means putting how you feel and how you take care of yourself on the backburner. But those things can impact your children and adolescents more than you might realize.
Let’s say you’ve had a rough day at work. You come home and snap at your child for not cleaning up his room or doing her chores. Children experience their own stressors, and when you take out yours on them, that mood worsens their stress levels.
Children Are Copy Cats
Children learn how to manage stress by observing your behavior. If you come home from work snappy, frazzled, and then veg out in front of the television, children are more likely to model that behavior.
Stress and Anger
Just like children feel certain things that are completely normal growing up, adults experience a wide range of uncomfortable emotions as parents, such as anger, embarrassment, and guilt.
The emotions themselves are neutral. How we respond — being conscious and stay in the moment rather than automatically reacting — can create a big impact on your children.
During that emotion — when you catch yourself getting angry at your 14-year-old, for instance — you can catch yourself and reframe that feeling in a different way. Take a deep breath, give yourself a time-out, or do something unexpected like act silly or hug your teenager.
These things take time to develop, and you’re not going to always get them right. But consider the impact they create on your child when they see you handle frustration or stress with mindfulness and grace. Though it might seem subtle during the moment, those reactions impact your children into adulthood.
How you respond matters to impressionable children and adolescents, but so do other healthy habits such as how you eat and move. Researchers find that children of parents who are stressed out eat fast food more often, exercise less, and have higher obesity rates.
During the first five years of life, children learn many critical behaviors including how to eat. Research shows that how parents eat — the beliefs, attitudes, and practices surrounding food and eating — can significantly impact children for life.
That healthy attitude carries into adolescence. About one-third of American early adolescents (10–14 years) are obese. Poor diet and physical inactivity play significant roles in obesity and chronic disease.
Many adolescents in this age group eat about two-thirds of their food at home, making the home an important environment for healthy eating. Until children reach work age and can purchase their own food, you have primary say about what foods are allowed in your home (and which ones aren’t).
Just as with your mood, children and adolescents observe your eating behavior. If they see you scarfing down potato chips or cookies after work, they are more likely to model those habits. Conversely, eating a bowl of raw almonds or apple slices with almond butter can have a significant impact on their eating behavior.
Healthy living extends into movement. Studies show when parents prioritize fitness, their children and especially adolescents are also more likely to do so.
10 Ways to Support Your Child’s Happy, Healthy Life
If giving your children the gift of a healthy, happy life becomes the most important role you have as a parent, managing your health and mood can provide a solid playbook to help your children grow into the best version of themselves. These 10 strategies can help you do that better.
• Be honest. You can’t eliminate stress, but you can show your children how to better manage it. Acknowledging that stress exists and showing the right way to handle that stress — whether that means exercise, deep breathing, or putting the problem into perspective — becomes a better strategy than playing Pollyanna or bottling up that stress.
• Create the right environment. You can be tough and kind with your children. Give them unconditional love within a safe environment, but foster self-discipline and respect toward themselves and others. That balance will carry throughout life and help children be able to handle the criticism they will most likely from peers, instructors, and bosses.
• Show optimism. Research shows that 10-year-olds who learn to see the world optimistically are half as likely to struggle with depression during puberty. Seeing life with optimism doesn’t require bottling up feelings or taking a naive approach. Problems will happen; things will fall apart. But approaching these things with a can-do attitude can help you better support your kids when life throws them curve balls.
• Don’t overschedule. Jam-packed schedules can negatively impact your mood, your eating choices, and stop you from exercising. Showing up to your full potential means finding challenging, engaging activities and commitments without trying to do everything. Likewise, encourage your children to find things that really matter. That might mean nixing an extracurricular activity that doesn’t add value or teaching better strategies to manage their time.
• Prioritize sleep. Everything works better with quality, solid sleep. You think more clearly, make better eating decisions, and manage your mood more efficiently. Children get those same benefits. When you practice good sleep and good sleep hygiene — turning off electronics, taking a hot bath — you become a powerful role model for young ones who might prefer screen time over getting sufficient sleep.
• Get moving. One of the best ways to manage stress and create an overall positive impact is with regular exercise. Big movement counts like going to the gym or playing tennis, but the little things add up too. Park further from the grocery store entrance, walk or bike as much as you can, perform lunges on your way to the bathroom at work, and create time for family fitness.
• Schedule a family dinner at least once a week. Being together provides an excellent way to be a model of who you want your children to become, and a family meal becomes a great way to do that. Get everyone involved with the process. Keep the mood lively with fun music and pleasant conversation. At the meal, really focus your attention on what your children are thinking and feeling. A healthy meal and a positive mood make the perfect recipe for a happy, healthy child.
• Praise effort. Parents who overemphasize achievement can create high levels of depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse in children. Instead of demanding perfectionism, inspire your children to be their best. When they’ve stepped up to the plate and attempted something challenging or new, give them praise.
• Balance work with mindful relaxation. Anxiety, stress, and worry can hijack health and happiness. Even when you don’t over-schedule, you might book too many appointments, work, and other commitments that you can’t entirely avoid. Balance those demands with active relaxation: A few minutes of meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or deep breathing can do wonders for your body and mind. Those same techniques can influence your children’s behavior. Being relaxed and focused helps everyone perform better.
• Acknowledge missteps. Everyone slips up. You can cultivate the right mood and still get irritated when your daughter leaves her clothes on the floor. You might have a stressful day and over-indulge in something sweet. Life happens, and showing kids how to roll with the punches can help them better cope. Whenever necessary, acknowledge your misstep, apologize or make amends if necessary, and discuss how you’ll work to not do it in the future.
Being a healthy, happy parent doesn’t just happen. Maintaining the right mood with a health-minded perspective requires effort and occasional forgiveness when you slip up. But the way you show up will profoundly impact your children both now and in the future.