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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

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Slideshow: Bad Habits That Can Hurt Your Kids' Health

Parents as Role Models

Kids learn how to feel about their bodies, abilities, everything -- from what you say and do. They are likely to imitate your actions. The most powerful way to teach your kids healthy habits is not by rewarding or punishing them. Instead, act in a positive way and model healthy behaviors.

Setting a good example will help them be happy and maintain a healthy weight. Have changes to make yourself? That's OK. You can do it together.

Bad Habit # 1: Criticizing Yourself

Criticizing the way you look sends the message that self-esteem should be based on how your jeans fit or how much you weigh.

Kids -- especially girls -- can be influenced by what they hear their mothers say. It can make them not like what they see in the mirror -- leading to a lifetime of self-esteem issues and poor body image. Both can push her toward unhealthy habits like yo-yo dieting or increase her risk of dangerous eating disorders.

Bad Habit # 2: Emotional Eating

If you use food to feel better when you're sad or disappointed, you could be passing on unhealthy messages to your kids. You're showing them that food is the way to feel good about yourself.

Instead, work on other ways to get an emotional boost when you're low. Let them see you talking to friends or going for a walk to feel better. They'll pick up on healthy and unhealthy habits alike.

Bad Habit # 3: Too Much Texting, Emailing, Talking

It's not fair to tell the kids not to text at the dinner table if you're there on your phone. What you do sends a stronger message than what you say. Set family rules about electronics and everyone, including parents, needs to stick to them.

Kids who spend too much time in front of screens often have problems with sleepiness, school performance, and weight issues. But kids who eat dinner with the family have a lower risk of obesity.

Bad Habit # 4: Emphasizing the Superficial and Material

Most little girls play dress-up. But experts say be careful about making pedi parties more important than other quality time.

Use "girl time" to make healthy habits attractive -- go for walks, teach her a sport. She'll learn that she can be strong, powerful, and a girl. Plus, she'll see that being active is a great stress reliever. Also be sure to tell her she's smart or kind as often as you compliment her beauty.

Bad Habit # 5: Drinking to Perk Up or Feel Better

If you come home after a bad day at work and say, "I need a drink," you show your child that alcohol is a good way to relieve stress and feel better about yourself. The same goes for relying on tons of coffee for energy.

Instead, find healthier ways to get stress relief or get energized. Try exercise, meditation, or a relaxing hobby and get the whole family involved. Those are all are good ways to relax or recharge.

Bad Habit # 6: Making Everything a Competition

Pointing out to your child that other kids (neighbors, classmates, siblings) are more athletic is rarely a good motivator.

Instead, try positive reinforcement. Praise him for doing his best. Help him focus on the fun of being outside or competing against himself and seeing improvements. You can also offer to help find an activity he's passionate about and help him practice. Talk about how you need to move every day and how it makes you feel good. 

Bad Habit # 7: Always Bickering, Arguing

If you and your spouse constantly snipe at each other, your kids are learning that it's OK to act that way. Stress is often a trigger for arguments.

Handling your stress well? If not, try researching some stress management techniques. Arguing may make you feel better at first but worse later. Plus, stress from arguments has a negative effect on kids. Negative stress has been shown to increase the risk of obesity.

Bad Habit # 8: Gossiping

Criticizing the way someone looks or acts can be a sign of poor self-esteem. About to blab? Stop. Ask yourself if there's good reason. Chances are it's out of habit, so opt not to.

The same goes for indulging in a lot of Hollywood gossip TV shows and magazines for a pick-me-up. Instead, turn off the TV, put down the mags, and show your kids how to unwind and re-energize in healthy ways. Get everyone outside for a bike ride or game of hopscotch.

Catching Yourself

If you find yourself behaving in a negative way around your kids, don't ignore it and hope they didn't notice. Point out your mistake. Use it as a teachable moment.

Get the kids involved by asking them to help you stop. They'll probably be more than happy to point it out if you do it again and you'll all be more aware. Studies suggest, families are more likely to find success if they support each other in their healthy choices.

Slideshow: Bad Habits That Can Hurt Your Kids' Health

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 17, 2014

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