Q: My husband and I decided to emphasize a healthier lifestyle this year, especially since we have young children and want to establish good habits. But just a few weeks in we're finding that it's a lot harder than we expected. Do you have any helpful tips?
Jim: It's a good sign that you're even thinking in these terms; intentionality is an important and often overlooked ingredient of good health. There are several questions to consider on a regular basis that will help you stay on track:
How's your fuel? When planning your family's menu, consider the number of calories you're each consuming every day; the actual nutrients in what you eat; the daily proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrates; sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables; and the importance of eating breakfast.
Are you carrying too much -- or too little -- fat storage? The most common and serious nutritional problem in our country is our tendency to consume too much food. But some people struggle with eating disorders that compel them to eat very little. Work with your family physician to avoid extremes.
Do you all exercise regularly? If possible, everyone in the house should be doing some kind of physical activity at least five days a week.
How's your emotional health? Do mom and dad maintain work-life balance? Are your relationships healthy or toxic? Do you feel anxious, depressed or stressed out much of the time? Seek professional help if necessary.
How's your spiritual health? A strong personal faith that guides your outlook on life, directs your daily choices and brings you comfort, peace and joy can have a measurable impact on your physical health.
How's your marriage? A close, intimate relationship between Mom and Dad is crucial, because a strong marriage is the nucleus of a healthy home.
Are you all getting enough sleep? We spend roughly a third of our life sleeping, and the quality of the sleep we get is a vital component of good health.
Q: I have two daughters, ages 10 and 12. They soak up new "friendships" like sponges, seemingly without any discernment or intentionality. Is this normal for young girls? Should I be concerned?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: What you're describing is perfectly normal. Tweens and teens (both boys and girls) increasingly lean into peer friendships for a sense of belongingness, competence and feelings of independence as they grow.
I'd advise you to look for opportunities to help your daughters cultivate these relational tendencies in positive ways:
Teach them empathy and practical ways to be kind, inclusive and welcoming to those who aren't part of their immediate circle of friends.
Emphasize the Golden Rule -- "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This helps kids develop the perspective of seeing from another person's point of view and experience.
Impress upon them the importance of keeping a compassionate eye out for girls who have been excluded or marginalized by the "popular crowd."
Remind them that thoughtful, caring people are nicer to be around -- so they should be thoughtful and caring while seeking friends who are.
Meanwhile, your daughters should recognize the hurtfulness of cliques and the problematic character traits they tend to foster. There's nothing wrong with having a group of special friends, but it shouldn't be allowed to become an elite and impenetrable "inner circle." As long as it remains open to outsiders and newcomers, a group of this kind can provide girls with lots of opportunities for healthy and enriching social interaction.
Finally, remember that the parent-child relationship is still the most foundational connection in a young person's development. So stay available to help your kids work through questions they have as they learn to cultivate friendships.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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