Show Them How
Want your child to eat her vegetables? Eat your vegetables. Get up and go for a walk together to show her that moving is fun. You’re the best role model your child can have. Start early -- kids start to mimic their parents while they’re still babies. Resist the urge to bribe your child to cooperate -- that teaches unhealthy habits.
Reward Them With Mom or Dad Time
Instead of bribing your child with video game time or a movie (or anything where they are sedentary), make active time together a reward. Go mini-golfing. Take a bike ride together. Or let your child plan the whole day.
Why this works: Kids crave your attention -- especially if they have to share time with siblings. Never underestimate how much one-on-one attention means to your kids -- even your teen.
Don't Use Food as a Reward
Making sweets or junk food a prize teaches your kids to use food to fix their feelings. Learning to use food for comfort can set them up for an unhealthy relationship with food. According to one study, adults who were rewarded and punished with food as kids were more likely to binge eat and diet.
Withholding treats because of misbehavior -- “No, ice cream for you!” -- isn't good either. The forbidden food becomes more attractive.
Praise Effort, Not Just Results
Children need praise. If you want to motivate them, focus on their effort more than the end result. When your child shows you a picture he made, don't just say it's great. Praise your child for how hard he worked on it. Note specific details.
If you’re trying to get your child to learn a new sport, talk about how proud you are that he’s practicing kicks or running. Don’t focus on winning or losing a game.
Stay Calm, Don't Yell
When you're telling your child to do something, or disciplining him, stay calm. This is a chance to role model healthy emotional management. Kids can learn how to manage their emotions by watching you. Be concise and clear.
- Tell him what he has to do.
- Tell him by when he needs to do it.
- Explain the consequences for not following through.
- Stick to your agreement and don't allow negotiation.
Show Them Exercise Feels Good
If you’re trying to get your kids to move more, help them realize that exercise feels good! It triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Get moving together. After you two go on a bike ride or play tennis, talk about how you feel. It encourages your child to notice the same feeling herself, and that's a natural motivator to move. Ideally, your child should be active at least 60 minutes a day.
Break Out the Pedometers
Still looking for a way to convince your kids it’s good to move? Buy inexpensive pedometers, or step counters, for the whole family. Start a family challenge: Mark everyone's daily steps on a chart you keep on the fridge.
You don't even need a reward for the weekly winner. Using the gadget itself, along with some friendly competition, can motivate your kids to move throughout the day.
Get Inspired: Watch Others
No matter what habit you’re trying to instill, kids look up to other people. Use that to your advantage when you’re trying to get them to move more.
Go to the circus so they can see the acrobats or the ballet. Take them to see a professional or semi-pro team play baseball. Or check out a high school soccer game. It might motivate them a lot more than anything you can say. Then go kick the ball or play catch with your child.
Create a Cooking Challenge
Want to encourage a picky eater to try new veggies? Choose one from the supermarket that neither of you have ever had before. Go home and figure out a recipe.
Or, give your older child or teen a selection of healthy ingredients, like on a cooking show. Let him decide how to turn them into dinner. Being invested in how it turns out may spur him to try new foods.
Offer Choices, Some Control
Instead of ordering your kids to do a chore, give them options. Ask if they want to do a task now or in a few minutes. Ask if they would prefer to take out the trash or empty the dishwasher.
Kids fight back when they feel like they have no control. Resisting you becomes a way of asserting themselves. Giving them some say will help motivate them.
Plus, giving them choices now teaches them how to make healthy choices later.