family with surfboards
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Parents as Role Models

Kids learn how to feel about their bodies, abilities -- everything -- from what you say and do. The most powerful way to teach them healthy habits is not with rewards or punishment. Instead, act in a positive way and model healthy behaviors.

When you set a good example, you’ll help them learn good ways to feel happy and make healthy choices. Have changes to make yourself? That's OK. You can do it together.

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daughter watching mother put on makeup
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Bad Habit # 1: Criticizing Yourself

Negative comments about the way you look send the message that self-esteem should be based on how your jeans fit or how much you weigh. It can train kids to find flaws in what they see in the mirror, which can set them up for self-esteem issues and poor body image.

Cut out the critical remarks. Instead, talk about how good you feel when you exercise, eat healthy foods, or get enough sleep. Those are the lessons you want kids to remember.

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dropped ice cream cone
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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 boost your mood when you're feeling down. Let them see you talking to friends or going for a walk to feel better.

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texting at the dinner table
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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 screens, and everyone, including parents, needs to stick to them. Use the time away from devices to have a great dinner conversation or go for a family bike ride.

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girls with cucumber slices on eyes
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Bad Habit # 4: Emphasizing the Superficial and Material

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

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

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young girl holding tiny cup
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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 relax and feel better about yourself. The same goes for relying on tons of coffee or soda for energy.

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

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boy holding trophy
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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, praise him for doing his best. Help him focus on the fun of being outside or on how he’s getting better. You can also help him 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. 

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two children arguing
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Bad Habit # 7: Always 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.

If you need help handling everyday strain, look into some stress management techniques. Arguing may make you feel better at first but worse later. Plus, stress from fights has a negative effect on kids.

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child whispering into mothers ear
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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 you do it 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.

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child sliding into mothers arms
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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. Family members are more likely to find success if they support each other in their healthy choices.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/01/2016 Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on November 01, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

David Kaplan, PhD, family counselor; chief professional officer, American Counseling Association; past president, International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors; author of "Family Counseling for All Counselor," Alexandria, VA.

Karen Zager, PhD, psychologist, New York.

American Psychological Association: "Fatherhood and healthy behaviors for families."

Jackson Rainer, PhD, psychologist, professor, and director of clinical training at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA.

Anderson, S. Pediatrics, March 2010.

Vanderbilt University Department of Psychology: "What Is The Relationship Between Low Self-Esteem and Eating Disorders?"

Silverstone, P.H. Medical Hypotheses, Vol. 39, 1992.

Steinhausen, H.C. International Journal of Eating Disorder, Vol. 13, 1993.

Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Eating Disorders," "Stress and your health fact sheet."

HelpGuide: "Bulimia Nervosa."

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health: "Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Stress: How to Cope Better With Life's Challenges."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "A Preteen’s Personalized Guide to Managing Stress."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Stress -- Risk Factors."

Brigham Young University Magazine: "Lies, Gossip, and Cold Shoulders."

Melhorn, S. American Journal of Physiology, published online July 7, 2010.

Hinkle, K. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, Vol. 33, Issue 4, 2011.

Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on November 01, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.