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Kids Brains vs. Adult Brains and Healthy Lifestyle Habits

One of the most effective tools for eating healthy, getting enough sleep and getting some exercise in your day is making a plan in advance for all of those things that you want to accomplish that day.  You decide well ahead of time what you are going to eat, when you will go to bed and when you can get some movement in your day.  You make the plan ahead of time, and here is the key to getting results, you follow through on your plan and do what you told yourself you would do.   

Adults can do this so much better than kids.  Why?   

When you plan anything in advance, you are using the most sophisticated part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex.  This is the part of your brain that thinks on purpose.  The prefrontal cortex is key to problem solving, planning, the meta skill of thinking about your thinking and impulse-control.  It has your long-term best interests at heart.  It is the part of your brain that allows you to set and achieve your goals.  Think of your prefrontal cortex as the kind yet focused and results-oriented CEO of your life.  This CEO part of your brain will make you a delicious and nutritious food plan for the day that will help you achieve your weight and health goals.  This is the part of your brain that with practice, you can learn to use to your advantage. 

Kid Brains vs Adult Brains

Research tells us that the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the human brain to mature.  Humans do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex until 25 or 26 years old.  Until that age, younger humans process information with a different part of their brain known as the limbic system.  This could be called the emotional or more primitive part of the brain.  The primitive brain is never going to be an effective CEO of your life.  The primitive brain wants what it wants when it wants it.  It is only a more mature prefrontal cortex that can think flexibly, make a plan and follow through.

So when it comes to one of the most effective tools used for sustained healthy eating and making a strong committment to a healthy lifestyle, our kids are at a disadvantage because of their immature prefrontal cortex.  Their brains are wired to want what they want in the moment even if it is not in their long-term best interests. 

 Adapt the Tool

Parents can help their children to eat well and have healthy lifestyle habits by acting as their child’s prefrontal cortex.  The parent can plan food and meals in advance for the child/family, set a sleep schedule and create the environment for the child to be able to follow through on the healthy plan.  

Making a plan together with your child if they are willing to participate in the planning is a wonderful way to help your child start to learn this skill at a young age.  What a powerful skill to have as a kid!  Being able to make a plan in advance and having the mental and emotional skills to actually follow through on your good plan (essentially, learn how to consistently do what you said you were going to do) would be a game-changing life skill for most young adults.

So, for your child to learn how to do this, the parent can learn this tool and model the behavior for the child.

Give this a try today and let me know how it goes.  Sit down with your child and make a plan for tomorrow’s meals that seems realistic and doable to you both.  Set a goal time to be in bed reading a story.  And here's a tip, don’t be surprised at all when the time comes to eat what you have planned or head to bed and both your and your child's lower brains will start to argue with the plan made by your prefrontal cortex.  This is normal!  Nothing has gone wrong here.  The skill is to obey yourself, obey your prefrontal cortex.  Eat what you planned.  Go to bed at the time you said you would.  This is how you achieve your health and weight goals.  Actually, this is how you achieve any life goal.

If you are having trouble following through and doing what you told yourself you wanted to do, get coaching!  Coaching helps you uncover the thoughts and feelings that are stopping you from doing what you really want to be doing in life.

If you are interested in working with me to change the trajectory of your child's life, 

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