We’ve all heard the tales passed down by our parents and grandparents, lamenting the loss of the carefree, outdoors lifestyle that defined their own childhoods. Stories of games played in the street, and adventures out into the wilderness where they had to make their own entertainment.
For a variety of reasons, kids just don’t play outside anymore. Part of the reason is our concern for their safety, (valid or not) and part of it is the lure of the PC, smartphone, iPad, and countless other distractions. We need look no further than our own behavior to see just how much things have shifted. So what can a concerned parent do to help their child get active? Here are a few tips to inspire and guide you, whether you have a toddler, primary school level youngster, or willful teen!
You need to be a role model for healthy behavior:
If you come home after a long day at work only to plop down in front of the TV until bedtime, then you can’t blame your kids when they emulate this behavior. The demands on a youngster’s time have increased dramatically in the past decade, and their day isn’t over just because school’s out. Homework, studying, and involvement in extramural activities give many kids an unenviable schedule, and stress and anxiety can become a real issue for many. Exercise, of course, is probably the best stress reliever there is – squeezing it in, however, is not so simple.
Just as you yourself have probably used the excuse “I just don’t have the time” when explaining why you aren’t using that gym contract you took out in January, penciling in a set time each day for exercise and sticking to it is the first, and biggest, hurdle.
Set a time, and do it together:
Whether it’s walking the dog, shooting a few hoops in the backyard, or even playing a rousing game of tennis on the Wii when the weather’s not cooperative, you need to set an example. A great time for school kids is just after they get home. They’ve likely been sitting all day long (just like you) and besides providing exercise, getting active creates a nice mental divide between ‘school time’ and ‘home time’. If both partners work, or if you’re a single parent, then just before or after dinner is a good time too. It may be tricky as first, but once a routine has been established, it will do every member of the family a world of good.
Let’s be honest here, it’s extremely difficult to get teens motivated to do anything they don’t feel like! But there are tactics you can use not just to get them active, but give them a sense of accomplishment as well.
Be open to their ideas and ask for suggestions. Maybe instead of track and field or school sports, they’d like to try their skills at something a bit ‘cooler’ like paintball. Venues like Delta Force Paintball offer games suitable for a variety of different age and fitness levels, so you can join in the fun too! More grown up activities like yoga or Pilates can be a good way of helping them get a bit more centered and self-disciplined. Reward them for every effort they do make, and let them know you’re proud of them. They might act like they don’t care what you think – but deep down they do.
Primary school kids:
At this age, the lure of video games, TV, smartphones and tablets can start to make motivating your child to get physically active difficult. Luckily, it’s also the age when kids are trying to explore their own strengths and talents. Encourage your child to sample as many sports and physical activities as they like.
If your school isn’t providing lots of opportunity for sports involvement, then get together with some other parents and propose some useful ideas. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s now the school’s sole responsibility to keep your child active and healthy. Stepping back now means you are also getting out of the habit of exercising together, when you should be doing the opposite.
Toddlers are usually brimming over with energy, and starting to include some structured play time in their routine when they’re still young can pay dividends in the long run. It’s a great time to start working on motor skills – kicking a ball around the yard, taking part in mommy-and-me classes, and even imitating hopping animals like frogs and bunnies provide both entertainment and exercise. You’ll almost certainly find it a great distraction too!
Kids who start out active are far more likely to remain so as they get older, so don’t waste this opportunity to get them into a habit they’ll be reaping the rewards of for years to come!