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Action speaks louder than words: How we set examples for our children
Kaitlynne, Ali, and Kim Cowart after the 2014 Utah Valley Kids K race. - photo by Kim Cowart
I ran my first marathon a week before my youngest daughter turned one. Never in her memory has there been a time when I didnt dress primarily in spandex, consume copious amounts of gels and energy chews, or spend the dark early hours of a Saturday morning out on a run. It was after one of these long runs that I returned to find Ali, who was three at the time, on her stomach rolling back and forth over a foam roller. When I asked what she was doing she simply said, Playing mommy. In her eyes, this is what all moms did since thats what her mom did!

Our children watch everything we do. Theyre analyzing our actions and drawing conclusions about life in the smallest of moments. I didnt think Ali even noticed when I stretched and rolled after a long run - I assumed she was concentrating on the Wiggles or Dora.

Knowing we are under constant observation, a particular incident in my oldest daughters class has left me feeling like a dog chasing its tail.

It was everyones favorite presentation - the maturation program. Throughout the presentation, the nurse and the accompanying video stressed the importance of proper nutrition as a way to not just be healthy, but to feel better as hormone levels fluctuate. Appropriate snack choices were discussed and alternatives to sugary treats emphasized. As soon as the presentation ended, the girls were given a bottle of water, a bag with samples and then guided to the cookie table where each girl proceeded to double fist as many cookies as they could grab, some even stuffing them in their sample bags and pockets (in the spirit of full disclosure, my daughter led the charge).

As adults, we set the example. Do as I say, not as I do, isnt good enough. If we dont want our children to smoke, we dont smoke. If we want our children to be kind, we need to treat others with kindness. If we want our children to be compassionate, we show charity and compassion to others.

Its a game of Simon Says in real life, and the stakes are high. To stress proper nutrition in one breath and then offer cookies in the next is like shaking your head No, while speaking, Yes.

I dont care if either of my daughters ever runs a step, but the fact that exercise is as regular as brushing my teeth is sending a clear message - taking care of myself is important. I dont have to say a word. They can set their clocks by my departure and arrival home from each morning run, and that speaks volumes.

Actions speak louder than words, and who wants to be lectured? I want my girls to learn perseverance, so I dont quit when I see them at mile 18 of a marathon, the car within arm's reach.

I want them to learn resilience, so after a bad race, I sign up for another and learn from my mistakes.

I want them to develop a strong work ethic, so I set a goal, usually a race to run, print out a training plan and tick off every workout I accomplish

I want them to see that hard work pays off, so we have my medals on the wall next to our treadmill.

I want them to learn that taking on a challenge brings joy, so I make sure for every grimace they see on my face during a race, they also see the smiles at the end.

I want them to learn that their bodies are gifts, so I take care of myself as best I can and stress my gratitude for the things it can do whenever possible.

Cookies hold a special place in my heart, especially chocolate chip. Im not the woman on the street passing out toothbrushes on Halloween, nor do we celebrate birthdays with kale cake. Im no extremist. You wont find Oreos in our pantry, but we do go out for ice cream every Saturday and I love a good donut after a hard race. Im in favor of moderation, but thats not what I see in practice. Every volleyball game is followed with candy and fruit juice. Every good test rewarded with Smarties.

If we really want our kids to make good choices, we have to be able to make them ourselves. It would have been easy to offer my daughters classmates bananas and apples on their way out the door. Fruit may not be as popular as cookies, but if theyre offered healthy food as often as theyre offered junk food now, it will become just as much a treat.

Like I told my husband 16 years ago when he taught me how to drive a stick shift, Youre words mean nothing to me. Get out and let me drive. Lets get behind the wheel and steer our children toward a happier, healthier future.
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