5 Bad Habits That Can Harm Your Kids

We all have a few habits we could do without, but we’re not always aware of how they may influence our kids. The first step (of your 12 step program) is to recognize them:

1) Criticizing the way you look. Focusing on that extra 5 pounds, or other physical attributes you’re not happy with, teaches kids (especially girls) that appearance is all-important. It can make them dislike what they see in the mirror, leading to a lifetime of self-esteem issues and a tendency towards unhealthy habits, like yo-yo dieting. The way you talk about yourself matters, and they ARE listening.

2) Emotional Eating. If you use food to feel better when you’re sad or stressed, you could be passing on unhealthy messages to your kids. You’re showing them that overeating is the way to feel better. Instead, work on other ways to get an emotional boost when you’re having an off day. Let them see you talking it out with friends or going for a run to feel better. You probably don’t feel so great after scarfing down an entire box of Thin Mints, but you sure do after pounding five miles of pavement.

3) Emphasizing material things and superficial “girly” stuff. Sure, fashion is fun, but if you focus on the latest designer jeans and the importance of a great mani/pedi your daughter may tend to equate self-esteem with what she has rather than who she is. Instead of shopping, spend time together to learn a sport or a new hobby. Mother-daughter (and mother-son) book clubs are a great option. Tell her she’s smart or kind as often as you compliment her beauty.

4) Using coffee or alcohol to perk up and feel good. If you come home after a bad day at work and blurt out, “I need a drink,” you show your child that alcohol is a good way to relieve stress. Same goes for lunging at the coffee pot first thing in the morning. Instead, look for healthier ways to relax and recharge, like exercise or meditation. You can practice these with the kids, too.

5)  Too much screen time. It doesn’t make sense to tell the kids not to text at the dinner table if you’re sitting there checking your work email. What you do sends a stronger message than what you say. Set family rules about electronics and everyone, including parents, needs to stick to them. Here’s an idea: keep a tech basket in a central location where all mobile devices get deposited during dinner time, homework time, and at a sensible bedtime. Because you know if your cell is within arm’s reach you’ll be itching to use it.

If you find yourself behaving in a negative way around your kids, don’t ignore it and hope they didn’t notice. Point out your mistake and use it as a teachable moment. When you’re able to share your human frailties with them, they’re much more likely to be open with you.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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