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Both Good and Bad, Your Kids are Watching You

Children Watch Parents

A favorite popular Pinterest post is one with an exercising mom, with kids in the background, which says “I thought about quitting, but then I saw who was watching.” Your kids do look to you for developing lifetime-long habits, both good and bad… so choose wisely.

Patterns of behavior are established early in life, especially when it comes to being physically active. And moms, you are the ones the kids look to as a model of good habits. An analysis of 500 mothers published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that young children are more active when their mums are active as well.

Dr. Esther van Sluijs and Kathryn Hesketh of the MRC Epidemiology Unit and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge used monitors to judge the activity levels of mothers and their preschool children. Overall, unfortunately, the maternal activity levels were low – only 53% of mothers engaged in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily exercise at least once during the course of a week. But overall, the study found that the more physical activity a mother did, the more active was the child.

"For every minute of moderate-to-vigorous activity a mother engaged in, her child was more likely to engage in 10% more of the same level of activity. If a mother was one hour less sedentary per day, her child may have spent 10 minutes less sedentary per day. Such small minute-by-minute differences may therefore represent a non-trivial amount of activity over the course of a week, month and year," write the authors.

We all have obstacles during the course of the day that can interfere with meeting the recommended daily activity goal, notes Hesketh. However, “small increases in maternal activity levels may lead to benefits for mothers and children. And if activity in mothers and children can be encouraged or incorporated into daily activities, so that more time is spent moving, activity levels are likely to increase in both. In return, this is likely to have long-term health benefits for both,” she concludes.

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On the other end of the spectrum, bad habits are noted by your children as well. Parents who use alcohol or drugs have higher frequencies of children who pick up those habits as well.

A study from Sam Houston State University found that the odds of a child using alcohol were five times higher if the parent used. For marijuana, the rate of children using was twice as high if the parents were also using.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2011, about 22.6 million Americans age 12 years and older said they used illicit drugs in the last month. Other studies show that drug use is associated with reduced academic achievement, lower employment rates, poorer health, dependency on public assistance, neighborhood disorganization, and an increase in the likelihood of involvement in crime, criminal victimization and incarceration. The cost of drug use in this country from lost productivity, healthcare, and criminal justice is nearly $600 billion.

In addition to modeling good behavior and avoiding bad habits, staying active and eating together as a family are other positive ways to keep children on track for good health.

Journal References:
Kathryn R. Hesketh, Laura Goodfellow, Ulf Ekelund, Alison M. Mcminn, Keith M. Godfrey, Hazel M. Inskip, Cyrus Cooper, Nicholas C. Harvey, and Esther M.f. Van Sluijs. Activity Levels in Mothers and Their Preschool Children. Pediatrics, March 2014 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-3153

KE Knight, S Menard, SB Simmons. Intergenerational continuity of substance use. Subst Use Misuse. 2014 Feb;49(3):221-33. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2013.824478. Epub 2013 Aug 21.