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Tips for Talking to Students About Healthy Habits

It’s been a challenging time for many students across the world, and the change in their normal routine may have altered some of their habits. Perhaps not in the most positive way.

Here are five ideas for educators to inspire you to teach students about the benefits of building lifelong healthy habits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. These important lessons will empower your students to build brighter futures for themselves!

1. Talk about habits

Kick-off your wellness discussions by talking to your students about what habits actually are. Many will already have an understanding of the concept, but it’s good to take time to bring awareness to everyday positive habits we don’t always think about, like brushing our teeth after meals, washing our hands after using the bathroom, or recycling. You can also talk about moral habits that help us be better people, like telling the truth and treating others with respect.

Most research suggests it takes 21 days to form a simple habit, like drinking a glass of water before bedtime. However, establishing more significant habits, like going for a walk every morning or eating fruit at lunch, takes up to twice as long. Have a discussion with your students on what some of the good habits they want to develop are and ways they can accomplish those goals, such as keeping a habit log or journal. 

2. Model a healthy diet

Teaching students to look at food as fuel can have a huge impact on their eating habits. It’s important for children to develop a healthy relationship with food early on so that they can recognize when they are hungry or full, snack responsibly, and maintain a balanced diet.

Modeling a healthy diet is one of the best ways to teach your students about eating well without labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” When your students see you pulling out a yummy snack like mixed nuts and dried berries or munching on baby carrots at lunch, they’re really seeing their role model teach them how to listen to hunger cues and enjoy some energizing treats.

Plenty of children’s books also make learning about healthy eating a fun and memorable lesson that students will love.   

3. Encourage students to be more active

When most of us think of staying active, we usually think of going for a run, to the gym, or getting in a daily workout. Young children don’t need to work out in the same way that adults do, but it’s still important for them to get plenty of exercise and activity. According to the CDC and other health organizations, children, and adolescents should do one hour or more of a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening physical activity each day.

While that might sound like a tall order, it’s easy for your students to make getting active part of their daily routine. Encourage your students to play group games like tag where they are running, jumping, and getting their hearts pumping. After-school athletics are another great way for students to get active on a regular basis.

You can also incorporate more movement into your class routine with brain breaks, simple yoga flows, or other lessons and class activities that require your students to get up and move around periodically.

4. Teach strategies for stress management

Stress comes in many forms—it can be good or bad, internal or external, sudden or gradual, or temporary or chronic. While none of your students may appear to be experiencing any kind of long-term negative stress, it’s crucial to educate students on ways to identify stressors and practice stress-management skills so that they can learn how to cope with their stress in healthy, constructive ways.

You can start by having a discussion as a class about what stress is, how it makes us feel both inside and out, and how different things can cause stress. Once your students have identified their own stressors, ask them to think of different activities that help them relax and become happy or activities that they would like to try. Round off the lesson by having your students draw a picture or make a collage of themselves doing their favorite activity to “de-stress,” build a coping strategies game that’s full of ideas, or meditate as a class.

Always remind your students that stress is a part of everyday life; it can’t be avoided, but learning how to identify and cope with it can help them live happier healthier lives.

5. Encourage a reduction in screen time

Screen time usage is a complicated topic, which we’ve explored before. Technology can be a wonderful thing, and when used appropriately, it can certainly improve student learning and have positive outcomes. However, technology overuse can have negative impacts on children. Talk to your students about how much time they spend on their tablets and computers or watching TV when they have free time. Ask them to come up with some ideas for screen-free activities they can do instead. Discuss some healthy tech habits, like not using devices right before bedtime or limiting screen time to two hours per day. For today’s students, building a healthy relationship with technology is key.

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