Get Your Kiddo to Put Down the iPad and Eat Some Veggies

boy on smartphone

When you're a kid, the things you want versus the things you need seemed to be lumped together like a bowl of spaghetti. It's tough to discern one noodle from the next. As a parent, it's easy to forget that. Parents want to show their kids how to limit and pace themselves, reward themselves and know when to forgo rewards. Honestly, not every adult has mastered this! Learning self-discipline can feel like work, but there are fun and enjoyable ways you can introduce it to your kids.

Make technology a tool. Initially, this is what developers had in mind when they introduced learning tablets, smart phones and similar devices. Technology is supposed to be helpful, making things in life easier and convenient — taking education to a new level. Parents have found most of these devices to be complete nuisances and a point of daily arguments. If you find yourself getting heated when you have to tell your kid to close the iPad or turn off the video game, you are so not alone. Here's what you can do:

  • Share. Nearly all of these kid-friendly devices are created for sharing. There's no "one-player" rule here. If your child wants to spend time on a device, go ahead and sit down with them. See why your kid is so into the game, amuse them a bit and make the activity a joint effort. Suddenly, it's a social object.
  • Schedule it. Instead of depending on an app, decide how long you want your kid indulging in games and make them accountable for it. If they're old enough to tell time, tell them, "You have until 3:30 to use this, then bring it back to me." You can also set a kitchen timer and have your child listen for it and shut down the game on their own, earning minutes toward their next use.
  • Get smarter. There are a lot "junky" apps and games available, many with in-app purchases and somewhat inappropriate advertisements. Do your part and research ones that your kiddo might be interested in: check out Best Apps for Kids. Let them choose from a pre-selected group (chosen by you, of course). This way they still feel like they have some control in their decision making.

>> Read more: Why Healthy Habits Are a Family Thing

Establish a routine. Help your child feel more independent by creating a structure or routine for them. At bedtime, for example, brush teeth, change into pajamas, read a book with them or whatever the routine may consist of, then gradually let them take the wheel. Independence is a positive side effect of good self-discipline. Click here to help them (and you) fend off procrastination.

girl brushing teeth

Encourage communication. There will come a time when your baby will no longer require "baby talk." It's incredible how much a child under 5 years old can sincerely understand (look at these milestones for a 4-year-old). Talk with your child; ask them questions and encourage them to be curious. During this developmental time of communication skills, you can teach them how to respond to you and others.

  • Be an example. Listen to your child and show them how you hear them by repeating certain things they say and asking about specifics. Avoid interrupting your child and point out times when they interrupt you so they can identify those moments.
  • Control responses. When your child hears the word "no" or feels angry about something, they can use self-discipline to control their initial reactions. Teach them to count to 10, take a deep breath, leave the room or talk to you about what they're feeling. PBS' "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" demonstrates this technique with a song: "When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."
  • Manners. Teaching your child manners, like saying "thank you" when they receive a compliment is much more than being polite. It helps them quickly identify social situations. They learn when a "thank you" is necessary or when a "please" or "I'm sorry" is required. They can acknowledge what's happening around them and feel a better sense of self control.

>> More on manners: Why Being Kind Is Good For Your Health

Food and exercise. Bringing their developmental skills into the kitchen to create self-discipline around food is a tool they can use for life. They probably don't care that veggies have vitamins and minerals or that milk gives them calcium for strong bones. (Click here for some kid-friendly lunchbox items.) So you have to placate to what they do care about: games and rewards.

  • Colors: Most junk is a shade of brown or beige. Many carbs are the same way. Use colors as a source of motivation like this chart below (click here for the printable PDF): Kitchen-PDF-Kids-Chart
  • Keep it fun. Kids don't respond well to work. They like to have fun! Physical activity should always feel enjoyable for them. Try a family walk, nature hike, make up a game or any of these 50 summer-fun activities.
  • Always make time for exercise. Encourage the kids to get up and quickly complete a chore or do some jumping jacks during a commercial break. Get creative and bring those ideas into other areas of your family life.

>> Read more: How to Fit Exercise into Your Busy Schedule