As a parent, you probably have a long list of concerns when it comes to keeping your child happy and healthy. By encouraging your child to have a balanced diet and engage in physical activity, you are setting them on the right path for total wellness. Proper nutrition and physical activity can help with managing a lot of other health issues and can prevent issues like childhood obesity.
But what do you do when your child just wants to stay inside watching videos or playing games? Because September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we’ve come up with some things that will encourage your child to be physically active.
1. Model an Active Lifestyle
One of the most important parts of influencing your children’s behavior is by setting an example with your own behavior. So, to get your kids up and active, you’ll have to do the same. In other words, you can’t just talk the talk. In this case, you literally have to walk the walk. If your kids notice that you preach the importance of being active without following your own advice, you could be in for an argument each time you prompt them to get moving.
Be a role model by engaging regularly in physical activity. If you want it to, this can take the form of a formal exercise regimen like spin class, yoga, boot camp, or running. But it doesn’t have to be those things. Go on walks around your neighborhood and take them with you. Take up a sport you like and join an adult recreation league or just get together with friends to play on a regular basis. It can be beneficial to frame physical activity and exercise as something fun to look forward to rather than a chore. So, it might be hard, but try not to grumble too much when it’s time for you to work up a sweat.
2. Limit Screen Time
A major problem parents often deal with since television became ubiquitous is kids just wanting to stay in to watch TV. And the more recent additions of laptops and computers, tablets, smartphones, and gaming consoles haven’t helped. Limiting screen time is recommended in general to improve behavior, cognitive performance, and form healthy habits like getting good sleep. When you set up firm limits on how much screen time your child gets, you have an opportunity to encourage them to do something physical instead. If they know they can’t return to the TV or computer if they refuse your suggestion, they’ll probably be more likely to cooperate. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides an excellent resource to help families create a family media plan.
3. Give Them Access to Active Toys
Taking away screens is not the only thing you need to do to make physical activity more enticing. It may be true that you got through childhood without a lot of toys and were forced to amuse yourself with whatever you found outside, but if your child has access to things to play with outside, they’ll be more likely to be excited about being active.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to break the bank to check this off the list. Simple things like balls and jump ropes are a great starting place. Bicycles are a classic childhood staple and a great way for kids to be physically active. If you’re on a budget, then check thrift and consignment shops, yard sales, or friends with older kids to see if you can get a deal. Just don’t skimp when it comes to a quality helmet.
Another way to give kids access to active toys is by taking them to a local recreation center. Many organizations like the YMCA have play equipment and membership is inexpensive. Or go to a local playground and let them loose on the jungle gym.
4. Provide a Safe Environment
One of the most important things to consider when encouraging your child to be physically active is giving them a safe and secure place to play. Outside of organized activities that take place at a designated location, your child needs a place they can safely play and be active. Whether that’s your own fenced in yard, a park, or a rec center, be sure your child will both feel safe, and actually be safe. Also, make sure they have appropriate and comfortable clothing and footwear to prevent discomfort or even injury.
5. Organize Family Outings or Activities
Remember how we said you need to be active yourself to encourage your child to follow suit? Well, that comes back into play here. Organizing activities for the family will provide great opportunities to get moving. Whether it’s a hike, a walk, or exploring a new place on bike or foot, being active together will show your child that they’re not the only ones required to follow this rule. Plus, it’s fun and can provide valuable family time and bonding moments.
If your schedule prevents big outings, you can simply walk or bike around your neighborhood in the evenings. Even just going out and playing a game like tag or practicing their favorite sport is a step in the right direction.
6. Carve out Time in their Schedule
Kids often have a lot of demands on their time. Between school, homework, and other commitments, it can be hard to find time for them to dedicate to being active. Carve out a bit of time each day so they can get a bit of physical activity in. That might mean cutting down a bit on other things (like screen time as mentioned before), but just shaving off five to ten minutes here and there can make a difference.
7. Find an Organized Activity They Love
This is a critical tip if you want your child to actually get into the habit of being physically active. You can shuttle them to all the lessons and practices you want, but if they aren’t interested or having fun, then they’ll quit given the first opportunity. Find something your child genuinely enjoys. Also, ensure that the activity is age-appropriate so that your child won’t become bored if they’re too advanced or frustrated if they aren’t old enough to grasp it.
Finding the right fit for your child might take some time and trying out a lot of things. Some children are naturally competitive, while others are happy just to participate and have fun. Some children thrive on a team, and others will prefer solo endeavors. This doesn’t mean letting your child quit every sport they try right away because they say they don’t like it. They might get into it as the season goes on, and it’s a good opportunity to teach them about seeing things through. Just don’t force them to do something they hate year after year and create resentment towards organized sports.
8. Educate Them
If you’re successful at getting your child to be physically active, that’s awesome! But it’s also important to educate them on why it’s important. There are age-appropriate ways to let them know the benefits of physical activity. It’s always good to have a reason other than “because I said so” when telling your child something is important.
However, keep in mind that the conversations you have about physical activity and fitness centered on the health benefits, and not on looking a certain way or losing weight. If your child does need help with weight loss, it’s best to talk to your pediatrician about how to address it without making your child feel ashamed. We want to prevent childhood obesity, but we can’t forget the emotional component of weight issues. So, stick to emphasizing overall health, wellness, and how their bodies can do amazing things when they take good care of them.
At HealthPark Pediatrics, we are dedicated to comprehensive healthcare for your child. This includes helping them make healthy choices and encouraging them to stay active. If you have questions about any of the suggestions we’ve made or are concerned about childhood obesity, call us at 919-896-7066. You can also request an appointment online.