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How to support your child to adopt healthy habits

How to support your child to adopt healthy habits

By Dr Ellie Cannon

The habits toddlers learn often stick with them for a long time just like learning to use cutlery or safely climbing the stairs. Developing good and safe habits as a little one is an important part of development and social growth. Adults can support toddlers in learning healthy habits, starting at home but also in nursery, school and through peers. 

One of the best ways a little one can learn about adopting healthy habits is through observing the adults around them. If they watch you washing your hands before eating or brushing your teeth in the morning they are more likely to copy those behaviours. A good way to encourage this is to talk about what you’re doing and why, young children often want to be like grown-ups and will imitate you to seem mature. Do things together at the same time and copy each other. 

Giving children independence is another way to encourage them to take interest in hygiene. For example, you could buy them their own soap to use every time they wash their hands, or let them choose their own toothbrush. Other toddlers might want to use the ‘big soap’ like mum and dad; it’s about whatever works for your toddler’s personality. 

Make good hygiene a habit 

To make sure they get into the habit of brushing their teeth, you can ensure they are happy and comfortable doing it. This could mean getting a flavour of toddler toothpaste they like, letting them choose the colour of toothbrush and keeping them near the basin on an easy-to-reach stool. If something is uncomfortable they won’t be motivated to continue doing it. Also toddlers love to be in control, so make sure they are choosing as much as they can within reason!

Dr Ellie Cannon

Dr Ellie Cannon

One of the best ways a little one can learn about adopting healthy habits is through observing the adults around them. If they watch you washing your hands before eating or brushing your teeth in the morning they are more likely to copy those behaviours.

Reward charts are another great way of encouraging good behaviour. For hygiene and healthy habits a sticker chart is an easy way to encourage things like washing hands or brushing teeth. You can have one by the sink for handwashing and one near the toothbrushes. Allowing your child to choose their own stickers or pen to make a mark each time will encourage them to see hygiene as a fun activity. 

For toothbrushing you can find songs to sing together to make the timing right and you can even get a teeth brushing timer: it can be fun to count down or up together while you brush. 

Dr Ellie Cannon

Dr Ellie Cannon

Giving children independence is another way to encourage them to take interest in hygiene. If they have their own soap, toothbrush or favourite flavour of toothpaste they will enjoy washing their hands or brushing their teeth more.

Try to talk about hygiene habits throughout the day and involve these conversations in your child’s downtime. Rather than making toothbrushing, bathing and handwashing being a daily chore, seek out games, programmes and books that encourage little ones to see these tasks as something interesting. These extra activities will help to cement what they see adults around them doing and foster their own habits. Sometimes toddlers are resistant because that is normal at this age: just keep persisting so they learn these things are an important part of daily life that all the adults and their friends do as well. 

Dr Ellie Cannon

Dr Ellie Cannon

Rather than making toothbrushing, bathing and handwashing being a daily chore, seek out games, programmes and books that encourage little ones to see these tasks as something interesting.

Download a printable version

About the author

Dr Ellie Cannon (https://drellie.co.uk/) is a leading NHS GP with a particular interest in family health. She is familiar to many as the doctor for the Mail on Sunday and has appeared regularly on This Morning, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and ITV News. In 2022, she was recognised by the medical journalists’ association for her writing on mental health. Ellie’s most recent book, Is Your Job Making You Ill? focuses on health issues at work.

Dr Ellie Cannon, General Practitioner: 

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