Raising Kids Who Love Exercise
Lifelong, healthy habits that will help your child succeed
Childhood obesity is a big talking point on the news nowadays—everyone from bloggers to CNN commentators to the First Lady are waking up the country to the need for healthy, happy kids. While your children’s nutrition is something over which you have a fair amount of control (at least early on), encouraging exercise is a little trickier. Here are a few tips to instill a love of fresh air and exercise in your children.
Take your cues from your kids
Until I was in college, I always thought I hated sports, hated exercise, hated competition; but the truth is, I just hated the options my parents tried to sell me on. It turns out, I love swimming, hiking, and running—and I’d love them more if I had learned good technique early on. You don’t even need to be a parent to know that kids instinctively love to move—they just don’t like being told that it’s a chore or an obligation.
Watch how your kids like to move—do they run laps around the couch? Do they naturally move when there’s music on? Do they roughhouse and wrestle? These are incredibly common behaviors that can easily be channeled into a love of intense exercise.
And no, this doesn’t mean screaming at the ref at Little League games. Rather than just driving your kids to a class or a practice, jump in with them. If they like football, have a family pickup game in the yard. If you catch them dancing, crank up the bass and join in. Again, this is a good habit to inculcate before your teenagers are too cool to hang out with you, but if you approach it with a good sense of humor, it can work with all ages.
Model a healthy attitude
Many teenagers are turned off to exercise because of unhealthy messages they get from people around them—some view fitness as “superficial” and unimportant, while others’ fitness goals are motivated by unrealistic media portrayals and feelings of inadequacy. Especially for girls, pushing fitness for unhealthy reasons can be as dangerous as it is ineffective. Talk with your kids about your healthy lifestyle goals in an affirmative way, but never vent negative feelings about your body around your kids. You’re their model for “normal”, and if they learn from you that “normal” isn’t good enough, you’re setting them up for a rough time.
Ration electronics seriously
A big part of encouraging a natural, enjoyable relationship with exercise is just making space for it in your kids’ lives, and that means rationing out the gadgets. One great way to make this happen is to post a sign by the computer: “Want today’s wireless password?” with a list of chores or activities they need to do before they can sign in. It’s also a good idea to install extensions that add up your browsing time for the day, and block their favorite sites when their allotted time is up. In my house, there are no laptops in the bedrooms, and less than one hour on the family computer per person. Exceptions for special occasions are okay, but having rules makes a huge difference.
Low-intensity activity is okay
Exercise with your kid should never feel like a death march. Inculcating fitness in kids is about creating positive attitudes toward exercise, not prepping your 9-year-old for a marathon. Sometimes, a walk outside, a pickup game of Frisbee, or a couple unstructured hours at the pool is all you need. If your kid learns that being outside is fun, they’ll pick up the discipline and structure that they need from peers, coaches, and their own personal goals.
Julia Peterson is a writer for AndGeeks.com, a popular website that provides up-to-date news, detailed commentary, and unbiased reviews on cell phones and related topics. Julia resides in Galveston, Texas in a cozy little house in the country with her husband, young son, and their Labrador retriever, Darby.