Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on May 02, 2021
Show Them How

Show Them How


Want your child to eat their vegetables? Eat your vegetables. Get up and go for a walk together to show them that moving is fun. You’re the best role model your child can have. So start early. Kids begin to mimic their parents at a very young age. Resist the urge to bribe your child with food, toys, or other treats to cooperate. That teaches unhealthy habits.

Reward Them With Mom or Dad Time

Reward Them With Mom or Dad Time


Instead of bribing your child with video game or TV time (or anything where they’re just sitting), make active time together a reward. Go mini-golfing. Take a bike ride together. Or let your child plan a day full of active things they enjoy.

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

Don't Use Food as a Reward


Making sweets or junk food a prize teaches your kids to use food to fix their feelings. That 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

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 they made, don't just say it's great. Praise them for how hard they worked on it. Note specific details.


If your child is trying to learn a new sport, talk about how proud you are that they're practicing kicks or running. Don’t focus on winning or losing a game.

Stay Calm, Don't Yell

Stay Calm, Don't Yell


When you're telling your child to do something or disciplining them, stay calm. Kids can learn how to manage their emotions by watching you. Be concise and clear.

  1. Tell them what they've to do.
  2. Tell them by when they need to do it.
  3. Explain the consequences of not following through.
  4. Stick to your agreement and don't allow negotiation.
Show Them Exercise Feels Good

Show Them Exercise Feels Good


If you’re trying to get your kids to move more, help them realize that exercise feels good!


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 themselves and that's a natural motivation to move. Ideally, your child should be active at least 60 minutes a day.

Break Out the Pedometers

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

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 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

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. Then go home and try a recipe that includes it.


Or give your older child or teen a selection of healthy ingredients, like on a cooking show. Let them decide how to turn them into dinner. If they've invested in how a new food or dish turns out, they’ll be more likely to try it.    

Offer Choices, Some Control

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.

Show Sources


1)         Jupiterimages/Brand X

2)         Kidstock/Blend Images

3)         Fuse

4)         Steven Puetzer/Digital Vision

5)         Robert Daly/Stone+

6)         db2stock

7)         Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley

8)         Keith Brofsky/Photodisc

9)         Frank van Delft/Cultura

10)        Jamie Grill/Blend Images



Edward Abramson, PhD, clinical psychologist, Lafayette, CA; author, It's NOT Just Baby Fat: 10 Steps to Help Your Child to a Healthy Weight.

Eric M. Anderman, PhD, professor, Educational Psychology, Ohio State University; author, Classroom Motivation.

Sloane, S. Psychological Science, February 2012.

Raise Healthy Eaters: “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child About Food.”

Puhl, R. Eating Behaviors. 2003.

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Everybody Gets Mad: Helping Your Child Cope with Conflict.”

American Psycological Association: “Raising Children to Resist Violence: What You Can Do.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Disciplining Your Child.”

Oregon State University Extension Service: “Developing Social Skills.”