We have to admit it, times have changed since we were kids. I’m thirty-*cough* years old, and instead of a smartphone, I had a bike, and my PlayStation looked more like a soccer ball.
We have to face it, our kids have more pulls on their attention than we did, and their modern distractions come with apps. This can mean bad news for their physical activity levels. As an owner of a gym for kids, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help you get your kids as active as we were. And they aren’t going to be the “get them to try new sports” type suggestions that you might be expecting to read. You’ve read this advice a million times before. It’s time for a change of tone. Ready?
To change your kids, you must be ready to change yourself too.
Be a Role Model
How is your child going to accept that exercise is vital, if you don’t give it a high level of importance in your life? Kids model our behaviour. You are their point of reference when it comes to them forming their own beliefs and attitudes. If you aren’t the type of person who loves to move, you’ll be fighting a losing battle getting your kids active if they’re not naturally keen either. So get out there, find an activity you love to do, and show your children how much fun exercise can be.
Make sure you’re also watching your language. You may not notice, but every time you complain about needing to go the gym, your child is listening. Whenever you tell them to jump in the car as you can’t be bothered to walk to the corner shop, you are setting the tone in their growing brains that moving is an effort and should be avoided.
Any time you portray being active as something negative, you are helping them form the belief that it is bad, and hard, and a struggle. Exercise should never be any of those things. It should be joyous, respectful and above all, fun, and it’s your job to ensure your kid knows that.
Make it a Natural Part of Their Day
This is something I often say to my grown-up, adult clients as well as the little ones… stop making exercise an event. Instead make it a natural part of your day. Teach your child that we move because we choose not, not because we have to.
Instead of getting into your active wear and “getting your steps in”, choose to go for a walk because you respect your body and want to enjoy good company and lush views. Show your child that you are the type of people that take the stairs because they want to, and that you go and play tennis because it’s fun, not because either of these things are exercise.
Help your child to step into the identity of being an active person. Ask them, “if we were fit and strong, what would we choose to do?” It is human nature to display behaviours that fit into the role we have assigned for ourselves, so help guide your child into the role of being fit and healthy.
Become a Big Kid
As adults, we have this odd assumption that all we need to do is provide facilities for kids, and they’ll magically become more active. “I bought little Jonny a bike and he doesn’t even use it”, or “my kids get bored at the park and want to come home after ten minutes”.
Some children will naturally thrive in these situations, but not all kids will. It may be down to you to tap into your immaturity and show them how much fun active play is.
Become the type of parent who races their child to the front door. Be the adult who joins them on the trampoline in the back garden. You cannot expect your child to choose to move if you outwardly resent it. I see far too many adults sitting on the side-lines whilst their kids are bored on a swing. And if you find moving difficult, then inspire kids to find the fun by challenging them:
- How many different ways can you move with this…?
- How fast can you do this…?
- What kind of obstacle course can we make out of this…?
- How many ways can you throw or kick this into there…?
- I can reach this brick; how high can you reach…?
Don’t Expect Them to Exercise Like an Adult
Some children are content to exercise like adults are taught to… playing sports, participating in PE lessons, or doing structured activity such as walking, or cycling, even using a gym. But often even adults find this kind of movement boring, so we can’t expect it to entertain our kids either. Not only this, but many of their body systems haven’t developed yet, so sometimes they can’t move as adults can.
Half of my gym was full of adult style weight and cardio equipment (ergonomically fitted for kids), but the other half was open with boxes of random equipment, from balls to balloons, and racquets to ropes. Once the novelty of being allowed to use a gym had worn off, 90% kids chose spend most of their time in the open area creating games and moving to the beats of their own drums. It was magical.
Adults often have a way of turning fun games into something restrictive and boring. Yes, it is frustrating when kids change the rules of sports. But instead of saying “No Jonny, we don’t kick the ball in tennis”, go crazy and say “why don’t we use our heads too?”
They will have plenty of time to be bored later in life! But for now, let them play as they wish. Don’t forget the point of the game… to get them active. And why not go one step further and figure out ways to add movement into stationary activities?
- For every puzzle piece you fit, run to the end of the living room.
- If I finish the washing up before you’ve finished your homework, do ten star jumps. If you finish first, I’ll do ten press ups.
- Every time you score a basket, do a forward roll.
Be creative. Your kids will love it.
Never Force Kids to Do Exercise That They Hate
This is especially true for our older children. Kids should grow up believing that movement is fun, and that exercise helps us show our body respect. As you know, when it comes to something they don’t want to do, the more you push, the harder they push back. So stop pushing.
There are a million ways to move, and not all are fun. But that’s fine. We’re raising individuals, aren’t we? Allow them the choice. If they hate footy, they may love swimming. If they get bored easily at a park, they may get super excited about a skatepark. And if tennis isn’t their thing, running might be. Get them to try as many types of exercise as your time, money, and opportunity will allow.
Remember, you get to help form a lot of your kids’ attitude to movement. So, take this responsibility seriously. It’s just as important to their health as making sure they eat their greens. And who knows, if you don’t already, you may decide that you want to adopt the identity of a fit and strong person too.