Obesity has become a real issue that many families are struggling with. The question is: what are we doing to ensure our children have the best health and lifestyle possible?

Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) said,

“A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.” [Related by At-Tirmidhi]

And He(pbuh) also said:

“There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) health and free time for doing good.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

Good health is not a luxury; our religion puts much emphasis on maintaining good health as it affects our overall well being: spiritually, personally, socially and professionally. It is because of our good health that we are able to fulfill our worship, look after our families, and succeed in our dunya aspirations.

While health issues can be tests from Allah, our behavior and habits play a major role in prevention and cure. Our health behaviors start from our tender years of childhood. Sudden changes to the types of food we eat, our activity levels, and our mindset towards our health can be extremely difficult as our habits become ingrained within us, and we don’t think about them often.

We, as parents, grandparents, siblings and loved ones of children, want nothing more than to help our children grow into strong, pious, and healthy adults. Though sometimes it can be difficult for us to pinpoint how we can do this, especially if we are leading less-than-healthy lifestyles ourselves. Here we will discuss some simple tips and techniques that we can easily incorporate for better results, insha’Allah.
1. Have active toys

Childhood is about playing with toys of all kinds. Be creative with the toys you purchase for your kids; jumping ropes and balls are just some simple examples. These can be played with alone or in groups, making them a great way to get your children running around and active.

2. Limit electronic time

In the modern day, most children have moved away from traditional board games and outdoor play and towards computer games, laptops, and smartphones. Though there are many benefits of these electronic devices, they are potentially damaging to the social development of a child as well as to the physical eyesight of the child. Limiting the time spent on these items is key; this does not mean you have to stop them from playing such games, but encouraging a balance between active and non-active play is important.

3. Include their ideas

The common mistake is to dictate what “healthy” food to eat. This makes it difficult to uphold a particular dietary change. Always ask your children what they would like to eat and work with them to adapt their diets and behaviors. They may suggest to sit while playing on their games console; perhaps getting them a game that requires them to be on their feet and active may be a midpoint.

4. Find a fun activity

There are many groups and facilities that offer a range of sports and activities. Finding one that your child likes or is interested in is a great way to promote physical activity. Many of them can be done as a family: horse-riding, archery, swimming, rock climbing, and many more. Not only does this give you an opportunity to spend some quality time together as a family, but it also shows to your children that you are all upholding these behaviors rather than just expecting the children do to it.
5. Make mealtimes fun

Trying to encourage children to eat vegetables and fruits can be tough. This does not have to be something that comes across as boring; cut your fruits into objects that your child likes. Get your children involved in making the meals. Insha’Allah, this will promote the skill of cooking their own nutritious meals.

6. Make your cupboards balanced

Banning junk food outright can be a difficult thing to do. Instead, opt not to buy such food in bulk. Keep your cupboards and fridge stocked with fruits, yogurts, nuts, and other healthy snacks along with some of their favorite junk food. Without large amounts of chocolates and sweets to grab at, they are much more likely to pick up something that is naturally sweet and nutritious!

7. Give reasons for labeling things as ‘good’ and ‘bad’

We often label things as “good” or “bad” without giving an explanation to the child as to why this is the case. When it comes to food, link the “good” food to things your child is interested in. For example, if your child wants to do really well at school, explain eating a good breakfast helps you stay alert and do better at schoolwork. Also, perhaps they want to excel in their favorite sport. Explaining to them the value of protein based foods such as beans and meat to maintain strength may spark an interest in foods they are normally picky with.

8. Go on foot

One of the simplest forms of exercise is walking. Many people grow up with constant lifts in their parents’ cars or use of public transport. Promoting walking from a young age is a great way to help maintain some minimal activity in a person’s life, at any age. Try walking home when picking them up from school or when you go to visit family. If you are traveling a long distance, park your car somewhere that requires at least a 5-minute walk.
9. Slow and steady wins the race!

The Messenger [saw] said: ‘Treat your children fairly, treat your children fairly.'” [Sunan an-Nasa’i]

When changing the household habits, it should be kept in mind that small steps lead to sustainable changes. Maybe begin with removing most of the junk food in your house and replacing it with fruits and healthy snacks. The following week, introduce walking to school rather than taking the car. All of these small steps add up and should not be belittled. This being said, there is no problem with allowing treats every so often, such as a chocolate bar or a favorite meal. The important point is to not make these a regular, daily occurrence.

10. Most importantly, lead by example!

The teachings and environment we experience as children play vital roles in helping us develop into the adults that we are. We take a large number of childhood habits through into adulthood. Many of these habits are developed as a direct result of seeing adults in our surroundings doing the exact same thing. The mind of a young child is impressionable; this can be both a positive and negative thing depending on what it is s/he is exposed to.

When encouraging them to eat fruits, vegetables and get involved in sports, show them that you are also doing the same. Do not sit in front of them, eating foods that you are reducing in their diets such as cakes and sweets. This, not only makes them feel as if it is a punishment to not have the foods, they will not accept and believe comments such as “fruits are better for you” or “cakes are not good for your health”. This can be taken as a challenge to improve your own habits and behaviors for the sake of your health and children. RasulAllah(saw) said,

“… a man is a shepherd in charge of the inhabitants of his household and he is responsible for his flock; a woman is a shepherdess in charge of her husband’s house and children and she is responsible for them;…” [Sunan Abi Dawud]

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