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How Do Parents' Lifestyles Affect Their Children?

By Beverly Bird

Scientists and researchers have known for quite some time that children learn by example, but according to the American Heart Association and Dr. Steven Dowshen with the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, parental influence can begin before children are born. Parents can pass on physical, cognitive and mental predilections -- often unintentionally.

Before Birth

Prenatal habits can affect your child’s cardiac health, according to Dr. Kathy Jenkins of the American Heart Association. Mothers who work throughout pregnancy and lead active lifestyles -- routinely interacting with the public -- risk contracting common illnesses. Running a fever during the first trimester and taking over-the-counter medication in response can affect an unborn baby’s heart health. Children of mothers with high stress levels during pregnancy appear prone to mood disorders, according to Rachel Yehuda of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Smoking during pregnancy might lead to children’s diabetes later, and a mother's eating habits can predispose her unborn child to obesity.

After Birth

Parents’ dietary preferences can affect their children after birth. Though kids may be told to clean their plates, at the same time, they watch Mom eat sparingly or omit certain foods because of her latest diet. The Dairy Council of California suggests that such conflicting signals can affect your child’s future habits considerably more than what you put on her plate will. If you’re a frequent dieter, you could inadvertently teach your child that food is an enemy -- which could lead to eating disorders. If you’re always on the go and tend to eat fast food and order pizza, you could teach your child that healthy eating is second to business.

Learning by Example

According to the United States Department of Education, verbally teaching a child right from wrong has far less of an impact than what she observes her parents and elders doing daily. A parent who frequently parties at night -- and occasionally misses work the next day -- undoes everything he verbally teaches his child about responsibility. If the child neglects to study for a test in favor of playing a computer game, and if she fails the test because of that decision -- and her partying parent punishes her for the lapse -- this can cause confusion in younger children and outright rebellion in teens. On the flip side, parents who rarely socialize and have a very narrow circle of friends can instill in their children a distrust of others, whether they intend to or not.


What you say to your child can be a powerful learning tool if you back it up with consistent actions, according to the U.S. Department of Education. If you want your child to be considerate of others, habitually hold doors open for others. Mention what you did and why, especially with younger children. Don’t let kids see you allowing a door to swing shut in a stranger’s face the next time you’re in a rush. Combine conversation with deeds, and don’t allow your child to witness you doing anything you wouldn’t want him to do.

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