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Promoting Physical Activity with Kids

It’s a familiar scene: your child slowly atrophies on the couch, slouched, potatoesque, glazed eyes semi-focused on the gadget that darn Santa Claus just had to bring. (Like Santa knows anything about fitness!) You imagine all the other kids are sweating, training for the Olympics, while their health-conscious parents prepare carrot sticks and protein shakes for their delighted consumption. You want physical activity to be fun for your child, and you know it’s crucial to healthy growth, but you’ve gone from good fairy to drill sergeant and back again while your child catches Pokemon, unmoving.

Parents, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for encouraging healthy movement:

  1. Sign ‘em up (again)

You might be lucky enough to have a kid who chose a sport or activity and stuck with it. I was that kid with ballet class, so it came as a surprise to me that most kids don’t keep at a single extracurricular from ages 4-18. As it turns out, most kids are discovering their interests, and it’s normal for them to go hot and cold as they try different things. Resist the urge to call them a quitter and give up. Instead, make your expectations clear and stick with them (e.g. if we sign up for this, you are going every week for one semester). If your child is not enjoying the activity, ask them to explain why and discuss solutions. Is somebody mean? Are they having trouble keeping up with the class level or the league they joined? Did they expect to play goalie or spend more time on offense? You can work with explaining better than complaining (and please feel free to annoy your kids with that sing-song rhyme).

  1. Embrace role models

Did Maisie perform an amazing number at the school talent show? Did Sean have the funnest party ever at the gymnastics studio? With children and adults, few people enjoy exercise just for the sake of exercise. There’s usually some social aspect, or a very specific personal goal. Whether your child’s role model is a star athlete or another kid who can do something cool, encourage them to reach for the stars.

  1. Throw ‘em out

One of my favorite panels in Calvin & Hobbes shows Calvin’s mom literally throwing him out the front door when he refuses to turn off the TV. While you should never physically pick up and throw your child, it seems to be the case that once outdoors, children find a way to entertain themselves. Even the most defiantly tech-addicted kids usually warm up to Mother Nature given the chance to notice her.

  1. Make a playdate

Maybe one of your child’s friends likes to shoot hoops. Maybe you have a pool, and you’re more than willing to chaperone a small group of swimmers. Maybe there’s a playground close by. Plans take more time and effort than the simple command of “go outside,” but they can become self-sustaining habits if successful.

  1. Make a date

Do you have fitness goals you can share with your child? Not only can you kill two fitness birds with one stone, you can use the activity as bonding time and set a good example.

  1. Go on an adventure

Hiking trails, botanical gardens, beaches and zoos are just some affordable options, depending on where you live. You can even make a list of local parks to check out and engage your child in choosing a favorite. Scavenger hunts are an adventure you can do at home.

  1. Encourage positive body image

Physical activity is not, contrary to popular magazines, about burning fat and having a “swimsuit body.” You might think kids are too young to be worrying about killer abs, but if you criticize yourself for the way you look and for not exercising enough, your kid comes to dread exercise as much as you do. Physical activity can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be torture. Encourage your kids to overcome challenges, and try to refrain from hating on your body. Definitely refrain from criticizing theirs!





Posted in Blog on October 7th, 2016