From an overall healthy lifestyle perspective, my family got off track. WAY off track.  I can’t pinpoint exactly how, why or when this happened. I don’t know if I can blame it on summer laxness, or a working night owl mom who wants to spend evenings with her kids and plays bedtime a bit too fast and loose for 2 and 5 year-old standards. Maybe there were one too many evenings when kids ate dinner at 7 p.m. and parents had popcorn dinner at 11:30 p.m. OR one too many mornings when I realized in an early meeting that no amount of espresso could make the wish that I’d gone to bed three hours earlier come true. Maybe it was my husband laughing one too many times at my suggestion that he work out or the fact that my kids started grabbing for my phone or tablet every time it left my hands. Maybe the tears rationalized with “I’m tired” (and I’m not just talking about my kids) became too frequent for my liking. If you’re smugly smiling, thinking to yourself, “I haven’t done or experienced any of these in the last week or month,” I don’t think we can be friends.

Of course, I know that research shows the importance of modeling healthy lifestyle habits to increase the likelihood that your kids will adopt them, as well as the importance of good sleep and nutrition for optimal learning. And, a new study found that when kids make lifestyle modifications it can improve their metabolic and cardiovascular health.

Since we’ve historically made a healthy lifestyle a priority for our family, I decided we (putting myself at the top of the list) needed some inspiration and shared accountability to reverse our bad habits. The new school year seemed to be an ideal, albeit hectic, time for a fresh start.

Putting It in Writing

I created my wish list of behaviors (some for kids, some for parents and some for all) and shared it with the rest of the family for feedback and additional ideas. After reviewing the final list, it made sense to divide it into healthy minds, healthy bodies and healthy spirits to serve as cues to remind us of the different pieces and how they fit together.

signing family contract

It’s official with all four John Hancocks. I included pictures to help my kids, who don’t read, follow the various commitments.

The Fine Print: Components in Our Contract

Healthy Minds

  • School night bedtimes for parents and kids
  • TV/tablet show viewing time limits
  • Picking out school clothes for the week each Sunday – this has been necessary for my 5 year old who has a passion for fashion and whose morning meltdowns are frequently fueled by a wardrobe power struggle

Healthy Bodies

  • Minimum number of meals eaten together as a family per week
  • Snack make up (include two food groups) – great tips on this here, from Smart Eating for Kids’ Editor in Chief, Laura Hoover MPH, RDN
  • Number of parent workouts and family fitness time each week
Family fitness

Family fitness fun, from the first flex to the final (modified) pile on-style savasana.

Healthy Spirits

  • Daily prayer – for us and for others.  To be more intentional about something that is already a part of our life, we had our kids help brainstorm all of the friends and family we’d like to pray for and write them on slips of paper.  We put them in a jar and the girls love drawing a new prayer “person of the week” each Sunday.  We add to the jar on an ongoing basis.

 

Prayer jar action shot

Prayer jar action shot

Regardless of your religious perspective, I think most parents have the desire to help their kids develop empathy and think beyond themselves.  I have always loved this Will Ferrell skit and since having kids, I sometimes picture myself whispering in their ear (like Will does with the dog)…OH, NO PROBLEM, LET ME MOP UP ONE OF YOUR “ART” MESSES WITH MY FEET WHILE I PREPARE YOU ANOTHER SKINLESS APPLE AND DOWNLOAD THE LATEST LEARNING APP WITH MY FIFTH LIMB.

How We Track and Reward Our Progress

To measure our results, we use a daily checklist (tweaked version of the contract) and a weekly chart. My older daughter designed the weekly chart which is hanging on our kitchen wall as a visual cue to remind us of our commitment to our goals and how we’re tracking against them.

Non-food incentives we’re using (for near perfect compliance):

  • Weekly – girls get a book, art supply, etc.
  • Monthly – we all enjoy a family outing or experience agreed upon ahead of time. For the first two months, we’ve chosen a visit to the aquarium and a play.

success

Consider This

Our family contract is far from a formula.  A few tips if you want to compile a contract for your family:

  • Include goals that address your family’s problem areas but also align with your priorities and are realistic for your family to tackle.
  • Involve your kids in every step of the process – let them make their mark on the goals, measurement and rewards.
  • Talk about it. Modeling healthy habits and walking alongside your kids as they develop theirs is sure to have a lifelong positive impact. But, tell them why certain aspects of a healthy lifestyle are personally important to you. If they’re old enough, share some of the research referenced earlier in this post.

Week One: Survey Says… Success

check

My older daughter proudly checking the week one box.

There were highs and there were lows and there were nasty stares from people – like each time my 5 year old threatened my 2 year old with “remember the contract” in public and onlookers clearly thought we were either a) a family for hire or b) members of a cult.

We had to modify a few things, like the parent bedtime. The leap from my usual Midnight – 1 a.m. window to 10:30 p.m. proved unrealistic. So 11 p.m. is the new goal.

But, without a doubt, I can say the initial benefits were tangible and compliance was better than I expected, particularly because we made so many changes the same week as the first week of school (which included the transition from half to full days).

I will continue to share our family contract adventures here.

Have you ever tried to help your family make healthier choices with some sort of system? Reply via comment on what worked and what didn’t. I’d love to incorporate your ideas into my approach.

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