AN EXPERT GUIDE TO TODDLER BEHAVIOUR FOR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS
Healthcare professionals are vital in helping parents with toddlers (1-3 years) understand the importance of modelling healthy habits within the family.
- Toddlers learn by mimicking the behaviour of those around them. A mother and father are generally the two most influential people on their toddler’s early development1.
- Beware of assigning labels. Parents should understand that all food types have a place in a balanced diet, and avoid labelling foods as good or bad.
- Make healthy living part of everyday life. Parents should try to embody the fundamental principles of balanced healthy living6 on a daily basis.
WHY MODELLING POSITIVE HEALTH BEHAVIOURS MATTERS
- Better nutrition1,2. Parents who enjoy a healthy diet themselves will provide such a diet for their toddler. This leads to toddlers experimenting with and tasting a greater variety of nutritious foods.
- Healthier relationship with food1. Toddlers who have a regular routine of consuming nutritious meals in a relaxed and encouraging family environment are more likely to develop a healthy attitude towards food.
- Healthier body image3,4. When parents recognise the positive contribution a healthy and active body makes to mood, sleep, and overall well-being, they are more likely to raise toddlers with this same positive attitude.
- Greater academic achievement5. Undernutrition in childhood has been strongly linked with poorer educational attainment and economic output in later life. Toddlers who eat healthily are more likely to have positive physical and cognitive development, both of which contribute to improved academic achievement.
QUICK TIP FOR PARENTS
Toddlers share thousands of eating occasions with you, which gives them thousands of opportunities to mimic your behaviour!
TEN HABITS PARENTS SHOULD MODEL
- Have breakfast5. Parents should aim to have breakfast at the kitchen table each morning. If a parent normally eats their breakfast in work, suggest that they have a small snack at the breakfast table with their toddler and bring a packed breakfast with them to eat at work.
- Eat regular healthy meals5. Just as they would plan their toddler’s meals, parents should plan three main meals for themselves. Packing a healthy lunch and creating healthy family meals should be daily priorities.
- Maternal influence. The maternal diet has been shown to be more influential on a toddler’s diet than the paternal diet2. Mothers should be especially supported in developing and maintaining positive food behaviours.
- Drink healthy fluids5. Adults should aim to consume about two litres of water each day. Juices, teas, coffees and soft drinks should be kept to a minimum.
- Eat at a table1,5. All meals and snacks should be consumed whilst sitting at a table, and preferably in the company of others. Avoid eating in front of the television or laptop, or while using a phone.
- Encourage positive family meals1,7. Include family members in meal preparations, and make time to eat and chat with family at mealtimes. Family meals should be prioritised and balanced with work and leisure activities.
- Be positive about food7. Avoid labelling foods as good or bad. Some foods are certainly healthier than others, but all food types have a place in a balanced diet, and as such, a measured approach to all foods should be modelled. Expressing guilt about less healthy food that has already been eaten is unhelpful and should be avoided, especially within earshot of toddlers.
- Be positive about your body7. The views of parents, especially mothers, on body image can profoundly affect how toddlers view their own bodies. Appearance is important, and toddlers should be encouraged to keep clean, to care for their teeth and to be physically active. No-one has a perfect body, and expressing dissatisfaction about all the perceived shortcomings of a body is destructive.
- Be proud of your health goals. Parents should be self-compassionate when health goals are not achieved as quickly as planned, and should continue to do what they can for their health alongside their other everyday commitments. This teaches toddlers that despite occasional setbacks, healthy living on a daily basis is always a priority.
- Support each other8. Parents should demonstrate support for each other, not only with food-related duties, but also in general at home. By doing so, parents show the contribution that thoughtfulness, kindness and strength-in-numbers make to a healthy home life.
QUICK TIP FOR PARENTS
Give less time to worrying about appearances and more time to celebrating everything your healthy body is capable of!
Suitable articles for parents on this topic are available at www.toddlebox.ie/behaviour