Encouraging Children to Exercise
In a society filled with non-active entertainment choices, today’s parents have to be intentional about providing exercise opportunities for children. The world has changed dramatically since I was 12. Parents no longer feel safe allowing a child to run around the neighborhood alone or even with a group of children. Still, children need exercise. In fact, The American Heart Association recommends children participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. How can parents encourage children to get moving?
Start early. My youngest daughter had a lot of breathing problems from birth. So when she crawled, I had both girls climb stairs a few times a day just to build her strength. Tumbling and crawling for children is crucial to brain development in the early stages. Help even your littlest ones find ways to be active. Starting early helps ensure that it will become a lifetime habit.
Remove sedentary distractions. The main factor that prevents children from exercising is screen time. Televisions, computers, game systems and even phones are a major and most often non-active distraction. Try setting time limits for the use of electronic devices; encourage children to try something active instead.
Reward activity. If the absence of other opportunities does not inspire your child to choose physical activity, then a reward system might be needed. Link activity time with time allowed on an electronic device or with another reward that might appeal to your child.
Provide the equipment. Make exercise “toys” available to your children. Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, pogo sticks, swing sets, toy golf sets, and lots of different types of sporting equipment are all fun ideas. You may also want to provide bubbles and hula hoops, jump ropes, streamers and batons. The possibilities are endless. Don’t just send your child “out to play.” Give him or her options for what to do.
Make it a field trip. Visit places where the children can safely be active. During warm months, visit a local pool. Make a habit of visiting the various parks and playgrounds in your area. Set play dates with friends, and take a lunch. Visit a skating rink or skateboard park. Go for a hike or visit a zoo.
Don’t let the weather be a deterrent. If it’s cold, bundle your children in warmer clothes. If it snows, encourage them to build forts and snowmen, go sledding or shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk. When it’s hot, hook up a sprinkler or give them water balloons. If going outside is out of the question, look for ways to “exercise” indoors. Turn on some music and just dance and be silly. Jump rope, run in place, or play with balloons.
Capitalize on electronic activity. If children have to play electronic devices, try to invest in some that encourage movement. Some even have specific child-friendly exercise programs. Dance Dance Revolution is a Play Station 2 game that can get you up and moving. I found mine on Craig’s list a few years ago. Recently, we were given a Wii game that came with a sports disk. I find the Wii sports especially encouraging. It is designed to cheer you on. It encourages exercise in the safety of your home with no gym membership required. Another game, Dance 4, has both dance moves for songs and aerobic workouts that tell you how many calories you are burning. These types of games are designed to get people off their seats and moving. They are a great way to get the whole family involved.
Lead by example. Your children will do what you do. If you are not physically active, they will not want to be either. Let the children see you walking or doing aerobics and sit-ups. When my kids were really little, they did sit-ups with me. It was so much easier for them to sit up, because they were so light, but it was fun and even funny to be joined by my two and three year-old daughters in exercising.
Encourage active friendships. Set up play dates and fun occasions with other children who are active. Children will run and play more with friends who run and play. If no friends are available, then exercise with them yourself. I have run circles around the front lawn to get exercise. The kids loved to run with me or after me. It becomes a big game. When they were small, I would pick them up and run with them.
Consider organized sports. These can be team sports, such as soccer, baseball, or basketball. But they can also be individual sports such as ice skating, karate, or ballet. Determine your child’s interests and desires and see what options are available.
Ask about school exercise programs. Our school has exercise opportunities for children. In elementary school, children can jump rope after school for an hour one day a week. Starting in 4th grade, there is Girls on the Run, which teaches girls about their growing bodies and gets them excited about the possibility of running miles. Ask your school about what programs may be available.
As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to make sure that our children stay physically active. Exercise helps children develop healthier long-term lifestyles, feel less stressed, sleep better at night, feel better about themselves, and build healthy bones, muscles and joints. Keep them safe. Keep them moving, and watch them have fun!