Just like most adults, kids are generally influenced by the people that surround them in life. They absorb information like sponges. So when it comes to healthy habits, this influence can either be positive or negative.
The more obvious factor is whether or not the people in a child’s life are focused on their own health and wellness. If the parents and friends are active, it’s likely that the child will be too. And the opposite is true with a sedentary lifestyle.
Then there’s another, more-tricky layer. For some youth, there’s a fine line between a healthy lifestyle and an unhealthy exercise addiction or eating disorder. Which is why it’s imperative to provide education, inspiration and boundaries.
Jeff and Mikki Martin know how to do just that. The two founded CrossFit Kids in 2004 together, and currently own The Brand X Method, the world leader in youth fitness. They’ve spent the last two decades helping youth create healthy habits through fitness and health.
Six Steps to Help Develop Healthy Habits in Youth.
We sat down with the Martins to discuss ideas for youth fitness programs. Here are six steps that they provided to help you get started in your own gym.
1. Focus on Education.
Just like any adult, if children and teens understand why and how something might benefit them, they’re more likely to commit.
In regard to fitness and nutrition, this simply means educating them about what that lifestyle looks like. Then, rather than implementing rules or forcing decisions on them, they are empowered with the knowledge themselves. Mikki explained that they then have the “tools to make great decisions about fitness, nutrition and recovery.”
At the heart of this is helping youth understand that fitness and eating healthy aren’t a form of punishment. Instead, these are things they should actually want to do.
“Most fitness for adults falls into a rehab model,” Mikki said. “They workout to fix something. We want future generations to think of fitness as a habit they look forward to daily.”
In building healthy habits regarding nutrition, the Martins use the Base-Build-Boost model. This model teaches kids about different types of foods and how they can boost performance. The ultimate goal is to help them develop a healthy relationship with food.
“We do this without labeling food good or bad,” explained Mikki. “But by creating reasonable boundaries like ‘all-the-time foods’ and ‘sometimes foods.’”
In addition, Mikki highly recommends working with Jen Broxterman, a Registered Dietitian and the founder of Prosper Nutrition Coaching. Broxterman provides resources, courses and information for families to talk about nutrition.
3. Involve the Parents.
Chances are, most kids are dependent on the quality of food choices that their parents buy and cook. However, they can still be responsible for the quantity of food they consume.
Therefore, it’s always helpful for the coach to involve the parent when it comes to action plans for their children, Mikki said.
“The first tip is to create a plan, and develop great communication with the parents and the family as a whole,” she said.
4. Give Parents an Action Plan.
The Brand X Method “Plug & Play” program offers a step-by-step guide for trainers to set up good communication systems with parents. In addition, the Martins shared five ideas for parents to develop healthy habits.
- Do Fitness Together. This can be as simple as going for a family hike or running a burpee challenge at home. Build a leaderboard and make it fun!
- Schedule It. You’re much more likely to create a habit if it’s scheduled daily at first. Create a family policy that you’ll complete your physical activity together at a specific time.
- Provide Options. Start by letting the kids come up with fitness ideas. They’re more likely to embrace it when it’s their idea. Plus, the activity itself matters less than laying an active-lifestyle foundation.
- Practice What You Preach. If you participate in physical activities with your kids, they’re more likely to adopt them as habits.
- Implement Device Rules. Screen time before bed is connected to poor sleep. So make a house rule to turn off devices an hour before bed. Mikki suggested promoting calming influences prior to bedtime for the whole household.
5. Don’t Forget About Sleep.
When we think about healthy habits, we often think primarily about nutrition and exercise. But sleep is also a major factor. And since teens are notorious for neglecting sleep, it can sometimes be a recipe for trouble.
Therefore, Mikki recommends “reinforcing the idea that literally everything they care about is affected by sleep. Mental health, performance, academics, appearance, mood, relationships, friendships.”
It’s similar to educating them about nutrition and fitness. Show them how a good sleep will help the things they care about. Then they’re more likely to put an emphasis on healthy sleep habits.
6. Prioritize Mental Health.
So far, we’ve shown that exercise, nutrition and sleep are three keys to building healthy habits in youth. But Mikki explained that it’s also imperative to prioritize mental health by talking to kids about how they’re feeling.
“Checking in with kids, and being responsive to their psycho-social needs and development, is just as important as tracking physical growth and accomplishments,” she said.
She also shared two podcast recommendations about mental health for coaches and parents:
In Summary: The Benefits of a Youth Fitness Program
Developing healthy fitness and nutrition habits in kids is largely about education. For the most part, they have similar requirements to adults in this area. However, as Mikki Martin explains, “they’re not neurologically-developed enough to reliably make well-examined, fact-based decisions.”
Therefore, there are six things you can do in your gym to encourage the development of these habits. Start by focusing on education. Explore the Brand X Method “Base-Build-Boost” program. Involve the parents and give them an action plan. Don’t forget about sleep. And finally, prioritize mental health.
Need help? Contact The Brand X Method to get started with a youth fitness program in your gym.