Learning by Example

Do as I say, not as I do. Anyone whose parents ever tried that line on them knows just how ineffective such directives are likely to be at inspiring good behavior. Kids learn best by example. And, in fact, so do must adults.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

Consider for a moment which you would find more inspiring:

1) Watching a close friend get into great shape by eating right, exercising and having fun; or 2) being forced to read daily chapters of a weight-loss book that tells you what you should be doing?

There’s no question that for most of us, seeing someone we know making daily, healthy choices – and witnessing the tangible rewards that come out of those choices – is a far more powerful experience than being lectured, nagged, bribed or threatened into behaviors someone tells us will be “good for us.”

That’s why, when it comes to raising healthy kids, the most important thing parents can do is start living healthier – and taking real joy in being healthy – themselves. This doesn’t have to mean you must change everything about the way you live overnight. But it does mean taking an honest look at the ways you might currently be making compromises or sending mixed messages about how much you value health and fitness.

When your kids see you opting for TV time instead of a walk or game of driveway basketball after dinner, when they see you reaching for a soda or a cocktail instead of water, when they see you popping pain pills for your bad back instead of doing the yoga postures that prevent the pain from occurring in the first place – all these simple, daily choices send a message.

When they hear you saying “eat your vegetables,” but they see you filling the fridge and cupboards with packaged snacks and microwaveable meals, that sends a message, too – a confusing one.

Kids are unbelievably observant. Watching you read a nutrition label and reject an item because it has too much sugar or too many preservatives tells them that you care about what goes into your body, and theirs, in a way they can understand. Seeing you get up on Saturday morning excited to head out to the gym or onto the bike trail – instead of hitting the mall or your home office – shows them how appealing a balanced, active life can be.

Perhaps even more important, making choices like these shows your kids what it looks like when adults walk their talk, and live in accordance with the priorities and values they espouse. It also increases the chances that your kids will grow up with all the benefits of healthy parents – the kind who have the energy and enthusiasm required for fun, the equanimity required for perceptive listening, the personal strength required for right action.

Being a good role model for your kids doesn’t require you to undergo any complicated or dramatic transformations. Creating a healthier home environment might just be a matter of gradually phasing out the chips, candies, sodas and other junk foods you bring into your home, and phasing in more fresh, colorful produce, whole grains and good drinking water. It might mean more bedtime stories and backrubs and a little less late-night TV. It might mean putting a higher priority on time spent outside and in motion together, and pushing passive distractions and “retail therapy” a little further into the background.

Whatever healthy living means for you and your family, I think you’ll find that this issue of Experience Life is full of good ideas that get you pointed in the right direction. And if you happen to be a family of one, or a couple without kids, keep in mind that you can still design your household, schedule and priorities in ways that either support a healthy way of life, or undermine it. Even if you never had a healthy role model yourself, there’s no reason you can’t become one. In fact, you might just find that leading by example is the best education of all.

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