Our children learn by example. We as parents are usually the first and primary source of their learned behavior, even as they grow into their teenage years. Even as teens and older children try out different mannerisms and characteristics borrowed from other adults, such as teachers, sports figures, and celebrities, and even more so from their peers and older siblings, most would agree that parents still play the most important role in influencing a child’s behavior and belief system.
That is why it is of upmost importance that we provide positive examples for our children, as they are likely to inherit much of our lifestyle choices, both the good and the bad. This extends to how we observe and react to the world around us. With so much turmoil and unease in the world today – political, social/economical, technological, environmental, etc. – it’s now important to keep a positive outlook more than ever. Not only for our own well-being, but for our children and the generations that follow.
If you are a regular reader of this site, then you already believe a sustainable lifestyle is a key component to that equation. So how to do we pass along our ideals and actions to our children without forcing it on them? And in a way that even our youngest children can understand them? I’ve recently given this some seriously thought and came up with a few basic examples we can impart these values upon our children in ways they understand and can easily implement into their day-to-day lives.
Healthy Personal Lifestyle Choices
Physical and mental health obviously play an important role in our overall well-being and outlook on life. Maintaining a healthy diet and an active lifestyle are integral to keeping our bodies and minds fit. Here are just a few things you can do to ensure a healthy and sustainable lifestyle:
- Take your kids shopping with you and teach them the value of buying organic and locally-grown produce and other items (Take them to your local farmer’s markets and community co-op markets)
- Avoid driving to places in your neighborhood when you can walk or ride a bike instead
- Teach them to avoid unhealthy foods, including fast food and highly-refined processed food and explain to them why they are undesirable (and reward them when they make healthy choices!)
- Go hiking and camping and show them the beauty of the outdoors (and teach them to leave trails and campsites better than when you arrived)
- Plant a garden with your children to give them a tangible example of how much fun growing your own food and eating healthy can be!
Understanding Sustainable Energy & Conserving Natural Resources
In addition to our children’s own health, we want our children to maintain a healthy relationship with the world around them – within their communities, and within their relationship with their physical environment as a whole. The ideas and actions of a sustainable lifestyle is integral to these relationships. It’s important for even the youngest children to have an understanding of sustainable energy sources and the knowledge to conserve our limited natural resources. While your conversations and examples could encompass a wide spectrum of topics, there are many simple ideas that children can easily grasp and put into action.
- Recycling is a simple and obvious practice that children can easily understand. Teach them how to recycle household items like plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, etc. You can even let them manage the responsibility in your household and reward with them with the earnings from recycling cans and bottles at local recycle centers.
- Participate in local food drives and donations and involve your kids in your actions. You can make it fun for you kids by running a household scavenger hunt in which you reward you children for finding household items to donate, such as clothes, toys, books, old appliances, and canned goods.
- Make it be known that that that there is nothing wrong in purchasing second-hand items from thrift stores, yard sales, or via classified ads or even online via places like eBay or Craigslist. You will want to oversee their purchases, especially when it comes buy items online, but let them actively find ways to stretch their allowance or part-time wages by purchasing things used, such as clothes, books, furniture, and even bikes and cars.
- Teach your children the importance of water and energy conservation and reward them for turning off lights and fans when they leave the room, or by limiting their personal water usage by taking condensed showers, turning facets off in the midst of washing hands or brushing teeth, and only washing dishes or doing laundry with a full load.
- Encourage your teens and older children to walk or ride bikes to school or friends homes and other places they hang out, instead of driving or requesting a ride. You can even reward them with extra allowance with the money saved on gasoline and car upkeep. Public transportation can also be a great alternative depending on the area and your comfort level.
Personal Finances – A Thrifty Lifestyle Is A Sustainable Lifestyle
Our economic stability is also a key aspect in maintaining a healthy outlook and plays an integral part in a sustainable lifestyle. (And vice versa!) Teaching your children to be thrifty with their earnings, whether via allowance or wages from a part-time job, works in tandem with teaching them to live a sustainable lifestyle. Stress the importance of saving and staying away from debt. I recently read an article in the Huffington Post which gave some great examples to impart on your kids how to live a thrifty lifestyle and make smart personal finance choices that I would like to share here:
- Spend less than you make and invest the difference
- Don’t acquire material things to impress your friends
- Live simply and surround yourself with positive people (not stuff!)
- Be prepared for emergencies — financially and physically
- Get to know the whisper of your spirit, and pay it more attention than the trumpeting of your ego
The last example is also my favorite. In a lot of ways, this statement is linked completely to defining healthy and sustainable lifestyle choices and reiterates everything I’ve said above. Personal accountability and responsibility is the name of the game. Ego-driven choices are responsible for much of the negativity, fear, and unease in the world today. Instead, lead a life driven by love, positivity, and hope and impart those ideals on your children today. The world you leave behind for the next generations will benefit because of it.
So, have you given any thought to how to teach your children about sustainable living? What kinds of things have you tried?