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9 Lessons from California Parents

The following was produced with Sunkist, a cooperative of family-owned farms bringing you the best fresh citrus California has to offer.

There’s no formula to becoming the perfect parent, and there are no foolproof parenting styles. But, if there’s anyone in the United States that seems to have a good handle on the sweet spot between laissez-faire and authoritative parenting, it’s Californians. They’ve got the healthy eating, active lifestyle, engaged citizen thing down for their families. That’s why we reached out to expert parents across the Golden State to get their go-to parenting tips. Here are the most important lessons you can take from the left coast and bring into your home.

Let Mother Nature Be Their Teacher

Spending time out in nature not only teaches kids about the environment around them, but also about how they fit into it.

“My daughter was helping with our training hikes for Outdoor Afro and while we were hiking she started breaking it down for us — she’s only 16 and here she was talking about how eucalyptus is an invasive species and telling us how it got to California. In that moment I realized that she has this breadth of knowledge because of all of the time she has spent outside. She’s been hiking along with me in the bays and through the Redwoods. Because of her experience, she knows her environment. Outdoor activity is not just about exercise — it’s about a connection to community and the land.” -Rue Mapp, Founder of Outdoor Afro, Oakland, CA

Introduce Them to Physical Challenges

Research shows that the strongest affirmation is self-accomplishment, and that building the ability to prove self-worth through self-motivation is key to battling negativity and rejection later in life. So go out for a longer bike ride than usual, try rock climbing, take a pottery class together — anything challenging.

“There’s a strong sense of accomplishment when you can look out and see a point far away that you’ve just ridden [your bike] from. I know it helps with my daughter’s self-confidence.” -Seth Rand, Specialized Bicycles, Morgan Hill, CA

Teach Them Empathy

Whether you have a younger one who needs to learn what empathy is, or you have older kids who need to build empathy in their everyday life, all you have to do is ask them to pay attention.

“I ask my kids to pay attention to other children’s cries when we are in public. Whether it’s at the beach, walking by The Cove, or grabbing some tacos, there is often a child crying. Instead of ignoring it, I say, ‘poor baby,’ and ask my children to wonder why the child is upset. This requires them to tune into another human being and take the other’s perspective, which is the core of empathy. Over the years, I’ve watched my children become quite adept at noticing and empathizing with other children. I believe this simple exercise has helped them cultivate the skill of empathy and grow into more caring people.” –Laine Lipsky, Parenting Coach, La Jolla, CA

Leave the City Limits

Sure, parks are great, but there’s nothing better than discovering new places as a family and getting away from cars, crowds, and chaos every once in awhile — for both parents and kids.

“We enjoyed riding bikes, hiking, and camping before kids and now it’s something they’re a part of too. Start with neighborhoods and parks, then go further out into the wilderness. There’s nothing better than going on a long ride with my daughter, seeing her get tired and know she’s going to sleep so good! Any family time together is good, but I think it is amplified when you’re getting into the wilderness, enjoying nature and doing physical activities.” -Seth Rand

Offer Up a Variety of Foods

Parents shouldn’t get discouraged if their child says they don’t like something. “Research shows it takes 15 to 20 times for a child to begin to like a food they initially didn’t like. So keep trying that food, over and over, in different ways, with different sauces and from different places.” -Wendy Sterling, MS, RD, CSSD, co-author of How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder and No Weigh!!! A Teen’s Guide to Body Image, Food, and Emotional Wisdom, Menlo Park, CA

Play in a Different Way

When we think of play, we automatically bring kickball or “Go Fish” to the front of our minds. Play is so much more expansive than that.

“Playing is different today than it once was. Make a YouTube video with them, write a script, or build a rocket. They learn empathy and socialization toward other people by first learning it from you.” -Hank Campbell, President, American Council on Science and Health, California

Get Outside More

There are so many ways to play outside, and there are just as many ways it helps your children learn and develop — from building stronger bones and muscles to activating key areas of their brains.

“I really promote playing outside, and pitch it as, showing them how excited I am about it and how good it is for them. I also give them the option of what they want to do. Whether it be riding bikes, playing catch, kicking the ball, digging in the dirt, playing Frisbee, or even throwing water balloons at each other. I explain to them how great it is to be outside, enjoy the weather, and how being active exercises their brains and makes them super smart.” Derek Mercure, USA Event  Manager, Specialized Bicycles, Morgan Hill, CA

Bring Kids Into the Kitchen

Don’t make the kitchen — or the grocery store — a kid-free zone. “Kids should get involved in shopping for and preparing food, which helps increase exposure and interest to all kinds of food.  At home, kids can help throw ingredients together to make salads, Crockpot meals, and smoothies.” -Wendy Sterling

Be Intentionally Active

Any activity can turn into an experience.

“Getting outside is a gift we can give ourselves. If you take the time to notice you’ll find that even though you may not go outside with your kids with the intention of improving wellness and health that’s going to be the result. That connection with your body and the Earth will bring you better health. So as a family, take it slow and find things that you like to do so you can find that consistency of getting active. It can be anything from fruit picking and going to orchards to renting a kayak on a lake or just taking a walk. Being active does not mean there is a lot of skill required. Find the diversity of activity.” -Rue Mapp