What three habits will help your child grow into a happy, healthy adult?

Easy, practical tips with life-changing effects

Jessica Serrano Ignite Academy

Written by: Jessica Serrano

10 Minute Read

I bite my nails. I know, I know, it’s a terrible habit and something I have been trying to break for decades. My mom did it, I did it, and I dread the day my daughter puts her fingers in her mouth to chomp down. I am not blaming genetics here, but I have considered how my own habits can influence the next generation, for better or for worse.

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

- Charles Duhigg

(from his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business)

Take a minute to think about how this relates to health. It’s no wonder that despite all the diet fads, nutrition labels, 24-hour gyms, self-help books, and health apps, we continue to struggle to make daily, healthy decisions. It’s not for a lack of knowledge that we continue to make these choices. Most of us are fighting against years of habitual thoughts and actions that date back to our elementary school days.

What kind of “health” are kids experiencing at most schools?

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Habits are incredible because they can stick with us for a lifetime. I have been a classroom teacher for over ten years, and although most schools do not teach health explicitly, they are reinforcing a “culture” that is having devastating effects on our youth:

  • Kids are learning to go without food and water while sitting at desks for hours upon hours. 
  • Children are addicted to sugar-filled snacks (vending machine packaged food, cafeteria milk with high fructose corn syrup, quick-eat breakfast items like pastries and cereal) that give them just enough energy to get by.
  • Kids have developed incorrect posture and “text neck” as a result of their highly sedentary learning environments and hours spent in front of screens while things like PE, recess, and exercise are being cut from their schedules. No wonder obesity rates, ADD diagnoses, and school burnout rates are through the roof. 

What if we took the 12,000+ hours kids are in school and helped them develop some healthy habits?

The earlier children begin developing healthy habits, the easier it is for those to stick. You shouldn’t be the only one encouraging (well, making) your kids eat broccoli. Imagine this: your child starts eating (and enjoying) whole, preservative-free foods at five years old, has a daily exercise regiment by seven, and is talking about a healthy mindset by nine years old? Impossible you say? Well, that’s the just the type of thing parents are experiencing at Ignite Academy.

I get giddy just thinking about the impact those kinds of habits will have on a child. They wouldn’t need the fad diets in their 30’s or experience the negative self-image that comes with an addiction to social media. They would be the kind of adults who are healthy enough to fulfill the ministry God has called them to, and have the energy and drive to do it well.

How is Ignite Academy bringing healthy habits into the school and classroom?

We saw a need in our schools.  Learning was being impeded because the mind, heart, and soul were not being nourished correctly, and as a result, not functioning the way God intended. Yes, Ignite Academy cares about academics, but we also know you can’t drench a plant with gallons of water from a fire hose and expect it to grow if it’s not rooted in the right soil. We have a lot of drowning plants in our current school system. So, we need to create an environment that ignites boundless growth by immersing kids in REAL health. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. How do we bring healthy habits into our school and classroom?

First, let’s identity three habits that help children grow into healthy and happy adults:

  1. Feeding your mind, body, and soul the right stuff- What goes into our hearts, minds, and mouths has vast implications.
  2. Winning the morning- Live each day intentionally by preparing yourself for what’s ahead.
  3. Saying “yes” to the harder choice- Make a habit of doing difficult things and knowing mistakes will only help us grow.
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These habits need to be practiced EVERY DAY. And for us, this training begins in that magical place called kindergarten. In the following paragraphs, I will unpack each habit in more detail and explain how we implement it at Ignite Academy.

#1 - Feed your mind, body and soul the right stuff

So often, when we talk about health, we jump straight for the “physical health” aspect and ignore the other components in the “real health equation”. Mental and spiritual health are essential and without addressing those as well, you will never have the true health you desire.

There are a lot of things going into the bodies, minds and hearts of our children these days. Someday I want to track everything that they take in during a 24-hour period. Think about the video games, TV shows, reading content, social media posts and pictures, advertisements, snacks, fast-food, drinking water, medications, air quality, personal hygiene products….and the list goes on and on. What you taste, touch, see, and hear affect you in profound ways.

Nourishment is the substance necessary for growth. Here are just a few ways we nourish the mind, body and soul at Ignite Academy:

  • Use non-toxic cleaning products. We have teamed up with organizations like Young Living to provide healthy soaps, multi-purpose cleaners, and hand purifiers.
  • Care about nutrition. We teach free workshops to parents about what is missing from most kids’ diets and helpful tips for packing snacks and lunch boxes. When providing snacks, we look for foods that are free from added sugars, dyes, preservatives, and gluten. Kids experience and taste a different whole food each week during our “Cook’s Corner” time (everything from cauliflower to avocados).
  • Hydrate with clean water. Every child has a stainless steel water bottle that he/she fills throughout the day. We have a filtration system that cleans the water of all harmful chemicals and offers children a pure water source. 
  • Teach and discover 5 Love Languages of children. Every child at Ignite is aware of his/her own love language as well as those of their classmates. They learn to show love in a variety of ways and develop other social-emotional skills.
  • Speak truth and life. Our community “THINKs” about the words we use by asking are they True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind? Scripture is spoken in class on a daily basis to reveal the love and promises of Jesus, as we allow its truth to penetrate our lives in an authentic way.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

 – Aristotle

#2. Win the Morning

I am not a morning person. And despite the fact that my husband says I can become one, I am pretty sure it’s never going to change. 

However, I know successful people are notorious for having a well-executed morning that borders on compulsive, so I commit to winning my mornings too. Take for example Benjamin Franklin, who began his mornings by asking himself, "What good shall I do this day?" or Tim Ferris, who begins with filling up pages of a journal or Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, who begins with a quick exercise workout routine. 

When you begin each morning with a regiment that fills you up, you are able to pour into those around you and you have “won” before you’ve even begun. At Ignite Academy, we help kids learn to win the morning by:

  • Greeting God and one another. We start the day by greeting our teacher and our classmates. This means using eye contact, a hug, or a handshake and saying “Good morning” with a smile. 
  • Showing gratitude. We take time to praise. This usually occurs in the form of singing and dancing.  We also start our class meetings with the exchange of compliments and words of thanks.  Teaching learners to look for the good in one another is an amazing lesson.
  • Making a plan. In our morning gathering, we set our goals for the day and use affirming statements like, “I am an awesome friend” or “I am ready to work hard.'' We know that it never goes as planned, but our intentions are clear and we are ready for the adventure!
  • Moving our bodies. Before our minds can work, our bodies have to move. Our kids enjoy morning exercises and stretches that get our energy levels up.

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#3. Say “yes” to the harder choice

When someone says the word “discipline” nowadays people get uncomfortable. Discipline means, “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”

We may not like it, but we need it. In his book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy offers a formula for success: “Small, smart choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE”.

Choosing what is right, even when it is difficult, takes a lot of practice. Here’s how we are allowing space for that practice at school:

  • Verbalize the choices. Kids need clarity (don’t we all) so we make it clear what choices they have and consequences that are attached to those choices. For example, “You can choose to distract your friend and as a result, be moved to another seat, or you can choose to focus on your task and have a great time learning with your classmates.” Saying yes to harder choices now, means things will be easier later on.
  • Make challenges a part of every day. Our kids encounter hard things during PE like endurance running and jump roping (yes, jump roping at 5 years old is a challenge). They are given difficult problems to solve during our “quest” time like, “how do we create treasure from trash?” We stretch them to try new foods even when they smell funny. Positive peer pressure can be an amazing thing and when kids practice working through challenges and are given strategies to how to respond when things get tough on a regular basis, they avoid “hitting a wall” and becoming stagnant.
  • Emphasize growth over perfection. When kids are graded on a pass/fail basis, they begin to create fear around performance. If we are expecting them to make hard choices, they need to know that when they inevitably make a mistake, it is not the end of the world, but the beginning of an opportunity.
  • Study mentors. We like to look at people who came before us and study their stories of perseverance. Whether it’s David in the Bible or Thomas Edison, understanding that everyone’s journey has obstacles helps us prepare for our own paths.

How can parents start healthy habits at home?

Parents, we are firm believers that you are the ones who have been entrusted with the training and education of your children. As a school, we want to come alongside you and support this amazing endeavor. So what can you do to help your child develop these healthy habits?

Whether you are focusing on the three habits we mentioned above, or have some of your own in mind, here are some strategies to help you get the ball rolling:

  1. Start small and start now. Pick one. Don’t try teaching your kids ten habits and create more chaos than what you started with. Pick a healthy habit that feels easy and start today. Stick with it until it becomes routine before moving onto a new habit (this usually takes 4-6 weeks). Think about it: if your child starts at age 10 and only implements one habit per year, he/she would have developed about 30 good habits by the time he/she hits 40! That has a considerable compound effect!
  2. Get your whole family involved. Make sure everyone is on board and willing to try developing the habit together. If you want to start incorporating more veggies into your meals, that means kids and parents are eating those greens. If you want to win the morning, make sure everyone has their list of three things to do when they wake up. Then, take one night a week to talk as a family about the habit you are starting and how it’s going. What’s working? What’s not? How can you help one another? Be sure to celebrate the success together and continue to remind one another of the long-term effects.

“The decisions we make today determine the stories we tell tomorrow.”

 -Craig Groeschel

Give your child a healthy head start.  They are destined to pick up a few of your bad habits (like nail-biting, thanks mom) but with a proactive approach, you can also encourage positive behaviors that will last a lifetime.

Parents, we know that making healthy choices when it comes to our nutrition can be one of the biggest challenges. To help make the transition into healthier eating a smooth one for parents and children, click below for a FREE resource called, “Ending the Food Fight”.  This pdf is yours to keep, print, and share with other families on the road to developing healthier habits.

Parents, end the food fight for good!

To help make the transition into healthier eating a smooth one for parents and children, click below for a FREE resource called, “Ending the Food Fight”. This pdf is yours to keep, print, and share with other families on the road to developing healthier habits.