by Doug Saffel
One Sunday, I found myself sitting with my family at our church. Listening to the preacher I crossed my legs, placed both hands on my knee and tilted my head to the side. Out of the corner of my eye I observed my teenage son mimicking me move for move. We grinned at one another. It was a special moment that we have repeated over the years when the mood strikes.
Thinking back on this moment, I am reminded of an important part of parenting. Our children are watching us more closely than we think. While they may not immediately repeat what they see us do, our modeling behavior, for good or ill, is laying a foundation in their development that will last a lifetime.
This is true of our diet and exercise routines as well. My son has no interest in sports or the outdoors. He prefers sitting on the couch to any physical activity. Likewise, his diet is limited, despite years of trying all sorts of methods (including therapy) to get him to eat well-balanced, healthy foods. He still eats mostly processed cheese pizza, Doritos, and peanut butter sandwiches.
Yet, I am not concerned. He sees me go to the gym six days a week. He often jokes about “dad’s big muscles” and tells people that “dad works out.” He knows I cook most of my meals using clean healthy ingredients, and he watches me cook Mediterranean-style dishes and low-calorie options. He watches me eat fruits instead of sugary snacks. He knows that cookies or sodas are rare treats for me.
When I am at home he sees me stay active with limited TV time. He knows I enjoy outdoors activities like hiking, backpacking, kayaking or walks in the park. He sees me stick to a regular sleep schedule, getting about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, followed by a steady morning routine to start my productive day.
These healthy living habits I model for him will be with him for the rest of his life. He may not do these things today, but he has learned through my example how to do them when he is ready.
Who knows—one day, I may look up and see him mimicking me at the gym.
Doug Saffel is a husband, father, Rotarian, and Associate Professor of Government at Texarkana College. He also is a life coach and professional speaker and can be reached at dougsaffel.com and on Instagram @doug_saffel