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Helping Kids Overcome Mental Barriers to Health

​​Change is hard.

Whether it's changing eating habits, starting an exercise routine or learning a hobby, it's what we do daily that makes or breaks our endeavor.

It's no different for patients at the Boys Town SPARK (Strong, Positive, Active, Responsible Kids) Clinic, our pediatric weight management program. This clinic is designed to help your child and family reach personalized, healthy lifestyle goals.

What do we advise kids and families to do when they reach a mental barrier in their new lifestyle? Below are tips to help keep you and your family focused on your goals.

Jump-start New Habits:

1) Revisit WHY you decided to pursue these changes in the first place.What was your motivation? Has that changed? Or do you just need to refresh your memory with a note on your mirror or a reminder on your phone? Keeping your motivation front and center is a great way to stay on track.

Another way to stay on track is with something called SMART Goals.

Specific – Exactly what do you want to achieve?
Measurable – How are you measuring?
Achievable/Attainable – Is this doable?
Realistic – Can you reasonably attain this goal?
Time – What is the timeframe allotted?

If you have a child that is younger than 12, you may need to try a tiered approach instead of SMART Goals. The tiered approach has you pick three simple goals that kids can easily achieve, with the goal being that they achieve a minimum of two, every day. The idea is to make the goals achievable, ensuring success and getting the healthy living process back on track.

Examples of goals could be:

  • Eat one serving of fruits or veggies.
  • Walk down the driveway and back up.
  • Dance to your favorite song once a day.
  • Take three deep breaths three times today.​

By helping kids be successful in the moment, the doors open for bigger successes down the road. Sometimes starting with mini goals is the quickest way to get back on track.

2) What is keeping you from your goal? Sometimes we give up a goal without analyzing why we are giving up. Look at what you are struggling with and try to find the why. Have you set a goal that takes too much time? Reduce the time required and try to work up to the original goal over time. Are you giving up too soon? If you're giving up and don't know why, talk to family, friends or your SPARK team.

3) Are you doing too much? It takes time to build endurance, strength and habits. Start with small goals you can do EVERY DAY and build on them as they become habits. Small daily goals give you the sense of accomplishment you need to continue with your healthy changes. This is the building block method. Other building block opportunities include:

  • Walk to the end of the driveway and back once a day, working up to walking the block and then a mile.
  • Eat one healthy snack per day, working up to three balanced meals a day.
  • Drink one glass of water in the morning, gradually drinking enough to reach your hydration goals.
  • Write one small accomplishment each day, slowly adding to the list until you're recording all you need to see progress.

4) Try Dialectical Behavioral Therapy strategy. This strategy is called “opposite action" and is derived from this type of therapy. If you are struggling to keep up with good habits, take the opposite action of what you feel like doing. For an exercise example, if you feel like sitting on the couch, use that realization to do the opposite. Get up, walk up and down the stairs twice, walk to the mailbox, do anything physical for a few minutes instead of sitting on the couch. It's proven that a short burst of doing something we didn't feel like doing can leave us feeling motivated. You end up feeling accomplished and show yourself you can do it. Start small and work up!

5) If you or your child are really struggling, see a therapist. Sometimes you need an outside resource to help you see why you can't follow through on a path you've set. Getting an outside viewpoint can help you or your family break through mental barriers.

6) Find things that bring you joy. Moving forward with new, healthier lifestyles can bring lots of change. Look for the things in these changes that bring you joy and double down on those things. Finding joy is crucial to helping you not give up!

New, healthy habits and positive lifestyle changes are worth all the work you put into them. Over the long run, they will pay you back many times over for your efforts. 

Health;Nutrition Pediatrics