Supporting healthy habits

Because we hang out with our own bodies and minds all the time, we tend to take them for granted and forget how amazing they are. And while humans are pretty complex and capable of all sorts of incredible things, looking after ourselves boils down to some simple principles.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet; getting enough sleep; being physically active; being social – taking care of these basics helps us be as physically and, in turn, as mentally healthy as we can be.  

You can help your children and young people establish healthy habits that they’ll – hopefully – carry throughout their lives. The best thing you can do is to set an example and make living healthily a positive, enjoyable choice – rather than something to be endured.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve put together some tips to help you.

Physical activity and hobbies
  • Encourage kids to keep active. They might join a sports team or the local gym, ride their bike, walk the dog, go for a run or help coach a local sports team. The main thing is getting out and having fun.
  • How much activity children or young people are willing to do will depend on their interest in being active. Starting small and building up might be what they need.
  • Fit physical activity into everyday activities – like walking to school or the shops instead of driving.
  • Suggest they exercise with a friend to help keep them motivated.
  • Encourage them to try as many different things as they can – art, music, IT, rock climbing, writing poetry – so they can figure out what they’re into.
  • Suggest they set some goals for the next day, week or month – something that they enjoy or find rewarding and is achievable.
Healthy eating
  • Ensure there’s a range of food available at home. Include a variety of healthy foods such as plenty of vegetables, fruit and cereals (like bread, rice and pasta), some lean protein (meat, chicken, fish or tofu) dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) and lots of water. It’s a good idea to avoid fatty foods and foods with lots of sugar in them.
  • Get children and young people involved in cooking family meals and making their own lunches. There are countless kid-friendly recipes online – give them a go!
  • By choosing and eating healthy food as a family from the time kids are very young, you help them learn about making healthy food choices. This lays the groundwork for when they’re older and eating out, or eating away from home – without you there telling them to lay off the chips and chocolate.
  • Cook when you have time and energy and freeze bulk portions. 

 “I found a change in life style and setting goals was a very productive exercise in helping me to recover as it allowed me to focus on positives in my life.” Andrew, 18

Social activity and healthy relationships
  • Help your children and young people create and maintain a sense of belonging to the family, their friends, culture and their community.
  • Encourage them to hang out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, playing in a band, listening to music or going to the movies.
  • Strong connections with their cultural heritage, family and community has big mental health benefits for children and young people, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. Suggest they attend cultural and community events – offer to go along with them or give them a lift.
  • Help with transport to community events or activities such as youth centres, LGBTI pride groups, young people’s cultural groups or other activities.
  • Encourage them to talk about any relationship difficulties they are experiencing. Offer an objective view of the situation without judgment or pushing your own advice.
  • Normalise the feelings associated with relationships changes – the good and the bad. 

“A strong support network of both friends and adults who I trusted who were positive influences was one of the most important things to my recovery.” Andrew, 18 

Good sleep habits

The length of time we sleep and the quality of rest we get have a huge effect on how we feel. If your teenager is staying up till 3am playing video games, they’re probably also struggling to drag themselves out of bed – and falling asleep by mid-afternoon.

Encourage your kids to develop a regular sleeping routine by:

  • getting up at the same time each morning, even at the weekend
  • avoiding caffeine or alcohol after lunchtime
  • winding down 30 minutes before going to bed
  • avoiding watching TV or playing video games late at night
  • writing any worries down before going to bed so they can deal with them the next day
  • getting up after 15-20 minutes if they can’t sleep rather than staying in bed feeling restless, returning to bed when they feel more relaxed and sleepy
  • avoiding naps in the day.

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