Article at a Glance
• Exercise is an important part of your child’s physical and emotional health.
• Parents need to be proactive about finding ways to work exercise into their busy family schedules.
• Finding things that your child is interested in can help them overcome any negative attitudes about exercise.
Being active is an important part of your child’s overall health. Children who get regular exercise are happier, healthier, and often do better in school. Exercise builds strong bones and muscles, improves sleep, helps with weight control, decreases the risk of weight-related health problems, builds self-esteem, and makes us more optimistic.
Unfortunately, as our lifestyles are changing it is getting harder and harder to keep children active. School, busy family schedules, and after school demands can make it hard to find time. Some parents are also more comfortable keeping their children inside where they can keep an eye on them.
Sometimes our children’s attitudes about sports can be a deterrent. For younger children, not being athletic isn’t a big deterrent because competition isn’t the focus of their physical activity. But as children get older, they may start to feel more self-conscious about their athletic abilities. Some children are also just not as interested as others. They are more interested in things like the TV, video games, and the Internet rather than going outside to play.
If your family is struggling with being active, it may be a good idea to sit down and discuss what some of your hurdles are and ways to remove them. Here are some good questions to ask.
Are we getting enough physical activity?
Children should be getting physical activity for about an hour or more each day, whether it is through organized sports, recess, PE, or free play. Children not yet in school should be involved in active playtime several times throughout the day.
What are you interested in?
A child is only going to become frustrated and bored if they are not interested in or developmentally ready for a certain activity. What your children are interested in is going to change dramatically over the years.
Preschoolers do best with noncompetitive activities that develop motor skills. Things like riding a tricycle or bike, dancing, running, hopping, jumping, and just normal wiggling are great ways to get exercise. You can help motivate your child by making up games and imaginary play that involves lots of movement.
Once children are school-aged their physical activity is going to become more structured. They may be interested in things like baseball, soccer, biking, or karate. Children are more likely to stick to an activity that they are good at, so it important to take the time to find an activity that is right for your child.
What changes can we make?
Children need their parents to make being active easy and obtainable. Not only do parents need to eliminate any obstacles, they also need to find ways to motivate their children to be active.
When talking to your family, find out what things are getting in your way and how to overcome them. If your schedule is too busy to fit in physical activity, look for ways to simplify your life. Scheduling in some time for exercise can be a good way to make sure it isn’t overlooked. If your children’s opportunities to exercise are limited because of things like having no backyard or not having a safe place to play outside, look for ways to create opportunities. You may want to enroll them in a community sport team or schedule frequent outings to a local park. You can also see if there are any hiking trails in your area. Young children love to get outside and explore.
What is your and your children’s attitude about fitness?
Those who are naturally athletic find it a lot easier to stay active. But those of us who aren’t may struggle a little more. Children who aren’t very interested in athletics and are not particularly athletic often do better in less competitive environments. They may be a lot happier playing a causal game of tennis rather than joining the school’s tennis team.
Children who aren’t interested in physical activity at all will need a lot of help and motivation. It may be a good idea to tie physical activity into some of their other interests. For example, there are some parents who allow their children to watch TV as long as they are pedaling a stationary bike at the same time. Some of the newer video games that involve a lot of physical movement may be a good option for videogame junkies.
Your own attitude about physical activity can also play a big role in how physically active your children are. If you have an active lifestyle, your children are more likely to follow your example. You are also more likely to find easy and fun ways to incorporate physical activity into your family’s routine.
Motivating Kids to Be Active (kidshealth.org)