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  • January 09, 2023 8 min read

    Creating Healthy Family Habits in 2023

    We've teamed up with Dr. Derkson, Family Physician, Functional Health Expert & Co-Creator of My Starry Chart to bring you helpful tips for starting the year off on a healthy note!

    Are you going into the new year saying “2023 let’s go!” or is it more “Uch, is winter over yet?” If it’s a bit of both, that’s perfectly normal. Wherever you’re at, now is a great time to start something new. As a family physician, helping young families navigate keeping healthy during flu season and all year round, is a big part of what I do. And alongside those tips, I often discuss parenting strategies with the young families in my practice, offering ways to successfully implement those healthy habits in a positive, connected manner.

    And let’s be honest, coming out of holiday season, your family likely experienced little to no routine, lots of snacking, and a bit more screen time than usual. As a doctor, who is passionate about preventative health and practices what he preaches, promoting healthy habits at a young age is a precursor to future healthy outcomes. Why not start now? Sure, it requires some effort and patience, but the benefits of a healthier, more connected family will be well worth it. Now, where should you begin?

    I recommend sticking to the basics: sleep, diet, movement (which includes exercise), and stress management. Now, this may sound very obvious and, in theory, simple, but in reality, it can be very hard to change a lifestyle or habit and sometimes even harder to maintain a positive one. I tend to believe that Mastermind parents are quite mindful and health conscious. Since the purpose of this blog post is to focus on parenting strategies to implement healthy habits successfully, I will make some simple recommendations on the above basics.

    Sleep: Prioritize This One

    Sleep is arguably one of the most important recommendations, as sleep is the foundation that sets up the success of the remaining healthy habit pillars. Parents, make sure YOU get at least 8 hours of shut eye.

    To ensure optimal sleep quality, do your best to cut off food and screen time at least 3 hours before your bedtime. Consistency is key; this is something that admittedly, I need to work on myself! So let’s start together.

    For your children, the guidelines are:

    ● 9-11 hours of sleep per night for children ages 5-13 years old
    ● 8-10 hours of sleep per night for children 14+

    I’m sure you have experienced this too—that over time, insufficient sleep negatively impacts how you and your child feel, behave, and interact. So let’s all prioritize our Zzzs.

    Diet: Move Away From Fads

    As a health practitioner, steadfast about practicing what I preach, diet is something I take to heart (and stomach). As someone who has suffered from various digestive issues in the past, the term “diet” to me is less about fads and restrictions, and more about a balanced focus on whole foods over processed ones.

    Stick to foods rich in a variety of nutrients and colours, and limit processed foods. Of course children will lean towards and have a preference for more palatable foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. It’s our job as parents to model (more on that below) and positively encourage a balance of whole foods.

    Exercise: Get the Family Moving!

    This is hopefully the easiest one of the healthy habits. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s how important it is to get the family out of hibernation and get us moving to benefit our physical and mental wellbeing.

    Maybe it’s as simple as a family walk, skate, or even a fun YouTube workout. My personal favourite to do with the family is P.E. Joe, also known as The Body Coach. His engaging workouts get your heart rate up and are short, fun and effective for the entire family.

    Stress Management: A Must for Everyone

    Now this one is easier said than done. As a busy dad of 2 young boys, I can appreciate how challenging this one can be. The good news is that if the above 3 healthy habits are well maintained, then the management of stressors will be easier.

    Below are some suggestions on how to level up your stress management:

    ● Get outdoors—natural light exposure can be most beneficial
    ● Mindfulness practices—meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, practicing gratitude, yoga
    ● Socialize with friends, family, and/or colleagues
    ● Play! This is a blog for Mastermind after all—my go-tos include puzzling as a family, building Lego or Hot Wheels tracks, reading, or physical play with the kids
    ● Music—some collective favourites in our house include The Beatles, Queen, and Sam Cooke classics

    Six Strategies for Successful Implementation of Health Habits with Kids

    And now for the heart of the post, backed by years of research in positive parenting strategies, behavioural science, and my own personal parenting experiences.

    1. Modelling: This is hands down the #1 strategy, based on research and first-hand experience. Our children mostly learn through observing and imitating. And since you are a constant, therefore a significant influence in your child’s life, it is very important to set an example. Apply what you say and display the actions you’d like your child to mimic. Not only does this help establish positive outcomes for the entire family, modeling imprints lifelong behaviours that carry into adulthood.

    Enjoying meals together is a great way to model healthy eating. Physical activity as a family helps keep everyone moving, and showing your child the ways to manage stress, such as taking deep breaths, will inspire them to manage their big feelings.

    2. Say less, do more: This can be a challenging one. Sometimes it helps to literally think about taking hold of your tongue and counting to 10… then reassess the situation. One of the most effective ways children learn is through the natural outcomes that arise from their choices. And you don’t want these healthy habits to feel like they were forced upon them. They need to feel like they are a part of the process.

    Let them do jumping jacks completely wrong. After all, they are still jumping! Instead of nagging them to come to bed, try lying down in their bed yourself and start reading, they may just follow you. And try cooking a nutrient-dense meal with your little ones. Give them a job like peeling or mixing. Research consistently shows that children (and adults) learn about eight times better from primary experiences (something that happens to them) than they do from secondary experiences (something they hear about). So less direction can be more effective. Involve yourself when it comes to your child’s safety or destruction is of concern, but keep in mind how powerful this strategy can be for implementing positive change.

    3. Set them up for success: To get the family on board with healthy habit changes, parents need to ensure they are making the activities both child-friendly and realistic. For example, if bedtime over the holidays was at 9:00pm, try starting bedtime at 8:45pm, then gradually move bedtime a little earlier.

    It’s also important to break up big tasks into little steps, ensuring those steps are achievable and age appropriate. The idea is that you want them to have a positive experience and limit their frustration. As an example, my younger son, Jacob (4), is really into creating salads these days, so we break up the task of making a salad into small steps. He will start by peeling, then grating the carrots. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children are more likely to eat a meal that they helped to prepare.

    Setting them up for success in these ways will enable them to embrace a sense of accomplishment, which naturally helps with their confidence and motivation.

    4. Build intrinsic motivation: The nuance with intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic is that extrinsic uses rewards or incentives as motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the ability to be a self-starter and the life skill to persevere even when faced with a challenge. It’s important not to overthink your strategy around this one—it hopefully will come naturally!

    In order to build intrinsic motivation, your child needs to feel both connected to you during the process and heard in terms of their ideas and contributions. They also need to feel like they are making the choice to do the task at hand, meaning it’s important not to force them. Resist the urge to control, so that they build independent competence. Offer simple course correction if necessary for safety. Use praise sparingly and focus on the behaviour and process. Instead of “You are so good at jumping jacks” you can say “It is good to workout and make our bodies stronger!”

    5. Routine for the win: There’s nothing like a fresh new year to motivate ourselves to start something new and positive. But the difference between those who kickstart a healthy habit in January and those who maintain a healthy habit into February is routine. Routine and consistency go hand-in-hand.

    I recommend creating family goals (make sure to get your kids involved so they are on board from the start). Then, establishing a plan with the same time for activities each day, such as bedtime, mealtimes, movement time, etc. This will also help make transitions a lot smoother.

    Research shows that kids thrive from structure and predictability. That’s why my wife and I created My Starry Chart, a fun, visual calendar with reusable stickers and tasks that help kids (and parents) keep track of their daily schedule while also celebrating birthdays, holidays, and important cultural events. Establishing goals and building a healthy routine as a family will help you and your children stay motivated through the journey, in a positive and connected way.

    6. Let go and enjoy the journey: Parenthood is filled with ups and downs, just like establishing a new healthy habit. It may not be what you expect. But a key component to establishing a healthy habit successfully is consistency. In order to create consistency, you need to focus on the process—the journey rather than the destination.

    Letting go of expectations is a key component. By minimizing preconceived notions on how this change will go for your family, reducing expectations actually helps mitigate self-judgment and disappointment.

    Focus on the small wins. You and the family got out for a 10-minute walk instead of the pre-planned 60-minute walk? Way to go! Uh oh, the family got sick this week and had to take a break from physical activity, but picked it back up again the following week. Now that’s worthy of celebration! Keep in mind, there’s a calming freedom in letting go.

    I hope you found inspiration in the strategies above. I strongly believe that as parents, we need to set the right example for our children. It is our job to teach them, as they are learning and developing. As it relates to healthy habits, remember to prioritize family wellness by focusing on sleep, diet, exercise, and stress management. These habit changes may seem like small interventions, but they add up to positive outcomes. Coupled with the parenting strategies above, you will be setting your family up for good health, connectedness and resilience.

    Stay strong, healthy, and positive!

    Dr. Phil Derkson

    Dr. Phil Derkson is a family physician, with a Toronto practice consisting of young families. His extensive experience in Western medicine and interest in preventive and holistic practices have ignited a passion for helping families adopt healthy habits.

    Dr. Derkson has done extensive research in areas of gut health, cognitive behavioural therapy and sleep hygiene. As a health practitioner and a parent of two young boys, Dr. Derkson is happy you’re here to learn and empower your family to achieve healthy habits through education and positive connection.

    Disclaimer: The preceding is my [Dr. Derkson's] personal opinion and does not constitute medical advice; please make sure to follow up with your own healthcare practitioner before making any significant changes to ensure that these changes are right for you.

    Written by Dr. Phil Derkson / Edited by: Jayme Derkson / Proofread by: Carole Derkson
    Introduction & edits by Melania Fedyna, Senior Copywriter & Voice of Play

    Melania Fedyna
    Melania Fedyna

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