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  • Writer's picturePhil Murray

Teaching Your Children To Value Fitness

If you have a family, it’s no secret to you that as a parent you’re responsible for a lot. Your children look up to you more and more as they grow and become more aware. Setting a good example in everything you do has become far more important than it ever was before you had a family in the picture and they became the most important thing in your life.

But what does it look like to set an example? In particular, what does it look like in health and fitness?

Kids are like sponges, soaking up everything you do. I have a good habit of rinsing my plate and putting it in the dishwasher when I finish eating; so you know what my 2-year-old daughter did the other day? You guessed it – she insisted on rinsing her own plate and putting in the dishwasher as well. I never had to TELL her to do that, she just saw me doing it.

It also goes the other way, we’ve all let a bad word slip after smashing a finger or dropping that small screw down the drain. It’s not hard to make the connection between that time and the first time a bad word comes out of your child’s mouth too!

Do you watch tv every evening? Do you wash your hands often? Do you put your clothes away neatly or leave them on the floor? What about the foods you eat or the activity you take part in?

Take a moment and think about all that your son or daughter is seeing you do.

Now, what can we do to be more deliberate about setting the example we want our children to learn from?

Imparting Value

There is no better way to impart value than to set an example. Did you see your father regularly balancing his checkbook and managing his finances? Or watched your mother pick up trash in the street when she saw it, even though it wasn’t her trash? Seeing our own parents do these things taught us the value of them.

You don’t have to master something for children to learn it, but they must see you make that thing important or to strive towards it. Maybe that is having a good handle on your finances or keeping your community clean – whatever it is, children see it! As they get older, they may ask questions and they will learn the “why” behind a parent’s actions and make it important to themselves.

Every interaction or example you have with a child is an opportunity to build values. Giving your child a kiss goodnight every night may not be a lesson in-and-of-itself, but doing something consistently over a long period of time makes even the little things have value.

Making sure to give your little one a kiss every night will teach the value of showing affection.

You can see that deliberate actions, big and small, all have lasting impacts. Your view of the world, your priorities, your habits, your explanations, are the foundation of a child’s values.

Especially when done consistently over a long period of time they become a part of the identity you are passing on. And what’s more, when these things are consistent they usually yield results, and when a child sees these results they will be cemented forever.

Building Habits

A person’s initial habits are born from their childhood. When leading a household, you play an enormous role in the habits that will carry your child through life. Did you have to build a habit of showering every day or brushing your teeth every morning?

These habits you now have were likely built from your parents asking you to do them growing up, when you eventually moved out and started making your own decisions you didn’t have to build every single one of the habits you need because your parents instilled many of them in you already.

This applies to many things; how do you organize your drawers or when did you eat meals? Many of the habits and routines that you now have started at home with your parents.

Now as a parent yourself, you can do the same things for your children. Encourage them to do the things you know are helpful and set up an environment that makes building good habits easy for them!

Where Does Fitness Come In?

As we have clarified the role parents play in the values and habits of their children, let's zoom in a little and look at where health and fitness specifically can be affected and how we can lean into imparting healthy values and healthy habits.

Teaching children to value their health and prioritize exercise uses the same principles you use to impart other values and habits.

How to Set a Good Fitness Example

· Let them catch you in the act

Sometimes the things that mean the most is what we see without being told or coached. Let your kids see you making healthy choices or taking time to exercise. Don’t always do it after they go to bed and certainly don’t hide it, make sure you’re exercising and doing other healthy lifestyle actions when they are around.

They will notice, and they will probably ask questions too, giving you the opportunity to give a little lesson along the way.

· Be consistent

Even if your children don’t catch you in the act the first time, if you do it over and over, they eventually will. And the more you do it the more they will take note and see how important it is.

Seeing you striving for a goal is just as important to your child as seeing you hit your goal.

· Plan ahead for fitness (and let your children know)

By planning ahead you’re making it a priority. You are setting time aside for fitness, and maybe even displacing other things in your schedule to do so. Let your children know your doing this as another way for them to see the priority you are placing on a healthy lifestyle. Tell them ahead of time “When I get home from work, we are going to go for a family walk”, or “tomorrow morning we are going to stretch before breakfast”.

By knowing ahead of time, they will be prepared to take part in the fitness with you and will learn the importance of fitness by planning ahead.

Ways to create good habits

· Keep healthy foods in the house

In other words, set up a healthy environment.

It can be hard for us to make a healthy snack choice, let alone our kids! For example, my daughter will always choose a cookie over a bowl of strawberries for her snack if the choice is present. But if I remove the cookies from the house and keep a bowl of strawberries accessible and easy for her to take from, she’s sure to eat a lot more strawberries than cookies!

· Set up a rewards system

This doesn’t have to be “You get a treat after you exercise”, but it can be something like “If you are active outside for 30-minutes every day this week then we will go bowling together this weekend”.

Reward systems are a valuable piece to building a habit, particularly in the early stages. Rewards can give external motivation when internal motivation is lacking. Adults and children alike start to associate the action with a pleasing result. As time passes, the rewards won’t be as big of a deal when a value and understanding for the long-term benefits of exercise has been gained – but the rewards will have been helpful in creating the habits needed to gain that appreciation.

· Avoid punishment for not following through. Instead, lean into positive reinforcement when they do exercise.

Sometimes punishment leads to the wrong result. If they exercise because they fear the punishment, then exercise can become a chore or a challenge for them to push through to avoid the punishment. Or worse, they will get the message that they need to fake working out or lie about it to avoid the punishment.

By praising children when they are active, they see that it makes you proud and they will want to do it again and make you proud again.

Sometimes boundaries and rules are appropriate and helpful, however, those are vastly different than punishment. Just remember, nothing beats positive reinforcement in encouraging children to revisit the action with a good attitude.

Above All, Make it Fun!

Find activities for children to be active that interest them. Some days it will be fun to try jumping on the treadmill or elliptical just like mom and dad, oftentimes going for a swim or game of catch outside will be much more enticing.

No matter the action, our goal is to encourage activity in our children. Active children become active adults, studies have proven that again and again. This starts with setting a good example, instilling healthy values and habits, and making exercise fun!


You will find that by being deliberate and intentional in setting a good example and creating a healthy environment for your children you will benefit too.

It’s a win-win!

You can’t go wrong being consistent and keeping healthy foods accessible for yourself just the same as your children will!

Results will follow in your own fitness journey that will greatly reinforce every value and habit that you are working to instill in your family.


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