Help Your Parents Get Healthy
We asked that question in a recent survey, and lots of you told us, “No!”
Three quarters of all teens who took our survey want their parents to make a health change. Almost half have already asked their parents to get healthier.
It can be hard getting parents to change. But you may have more influence than you think: Almost all the parents who took our survey said they’d make changes to get healthier if their kids asked them to. Your parents might not realize how important their health is to you. Now’s your chance to let them know!
Here are 4 tips on talking to your parents about their health habits:
1. Think about it ahead of time.
- What do you want? Before you approach your parents, it helps to get clear on what you want them to do. Do you want a parent to eat better? Get more exercise? Find ways to be less stressed out? Get more sleep?
- What are you willing to do? We’re all influenced by what goes on around us. Parents will be less likely to go exercise if family members are snuggled up with devices. If you’re having cheese fries, they might not want to eat salad. Think about how you’d be willing to show your support with your own healthy habits. Know that the example you set matters.
- Think how to word your request. People are more open to change when they don’t feel criticized. Some topics, like weight, are sensitive. Instead of coming right out and asking a parent to lose weight, focus on a change that will help your mom or dad get to that same goal, like eating better or exercising more.
2. Approach parents the same way you’d like them to talk to you.
You know it’s a turnoff when parents nag or criticize. Now’s your chance to set an example with good talking skills! If you do this well, your parents may approach you positively the next time they want you to do something.
- Make your request in a caring way. Pick a moment when everyone’s relaxed and there’s time to talk. Say something like: “Dad, I care about your health and I worry you’re so busy that you don’t have time for exercise.”
- Specifically ask your parent to make changes. Dropping hints and clues might not work. Come right out and say, “I really want you to make time to get regular exercise. Will you do that for me?” Make your request irresistible by saying why: “I love you and want you around for a long time!”
- Offer to join in. Let parents know you’re willing to make the change yourself. For example, say you’d be willing to walk together after dinner, help prepare healthier meals, or say goodbye to all those unhealthy snacks in the kitchen cupboards. Added bonus: You’ll be healthier too!
3. Come up with a plan together.
Has your mom or dad agreed to your request? Well done! Now it’s time to help them come up with a plan.
- Get specific. Let’s say the change your mom or dad agreed to is eating healthier food. Work together to plan what they (and you!) will do. Examples of specific plans are:
- Pick one thing to commit to. Science shows people are more successful if they focus on a single, well-defined goal, like exercising for 30 minutes every day. Help your parent commit to one specific task to start with.
- Keep track. One way to get a plan to work is by tracking what you do every day, like writing down all the vegetables you eat. Help your parents decide on a way to record their plan every day — like keeping a food journal or exercise log. At the end of 1 week, they can add up their progress and re-commit for another week. This is how change becomes habit!
4. Show encouragement, understanding, and support.
Expect ups and downs. Don’t scold or criticize your parents if they fail at first. Nobody’s perfect.
- If parents slip up, encourage them to keep going. If you’re making a change together, you can say, “Well, we slipped up today, but let’s start fresh and refocus on our plan.”
- Offer praise! Let your parents know you admire them for what they’re doing and that it means a lot to you.
What If a Parent Says “No”?
If parents say “no” to your request, ask them (gently): “Could you at least think about it for me?” Then give your mom or dad a little time to reflect. How many times have you pushed back on something your parents asked you to do, but then later thought more about it?
If all else fails, you could remind your parents that there are things you do for them that you don’t want to. Say (kindly): “Even though I don’t want to turn my phone off at night [or whatever your point is], I do it because you’ve told me it’s good for me and it’s important to you. Please think about what I’m asking.”
Asking parents to make a change is about more than helping them to be healthier. Working together on a shared goal can bring you closer. Maybe your mom and dad never expected they’d learn from you!
Soon you’ll be grown and out of the house. Here’s your chance to set your parents on the right track while there’s still time to mentor them.
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2014