Physical activity is important for all stages of life. It affects our mood, perception of self, and our overall health.
As a general rule kids enjoy being active, but as we age our activity level and amount of movement decreases which could lead to health problems later in life. So how do we raise kids who value being active throughout their lives? How do we bridge the gap between the fun, active child and the sedentary adult?
Firstly, as one might imagine, "monkey see, monkey do". Our children tend to model the behaviors of those they look up to. If you are active and making healthy choices, your kids are more likely to be active and make healthy choices during childhood and into adulthood, because they've seen how it's done. Involving your children in your own personal health choices and activities is the first and most important step.
Model and Support
Here are a few ways to model and support your children on the road to an active and healthy life:
1. Let them see you being active.
Find an activity that you enjoy doing. You may like running races, competing in a soccer league, doing yoga or taking a hike in the woods. As your kids see you having fun and prioritizing your health, they'll see it as important and part of their life habits too. Children will undoubtedly model their behavior from what they see their parents do, and being a good example is important. Finding activities that your children can actively see you do can also be an important aspect.
2. Be active together as a family.
Time for yourself is good, but so is being active together as a family. Children whose parents are involved in their education see an increase in academic achievement; a similar correlation can be made for parents who are active with their kids. Not only is the whole family getting the benefit of exercise, but you're together which is important in your child's overall development.
And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, limit screen time. Instead of turning the TV on after dinner, keep it off. Go for walks or bike rides after dinner. Learn to rock climb. Try ice skating. Play tag before bedtime. Create your own family Olympics. Or take part in ParentSavvy’s Family Fitness Challenge.
3. Sign them up for sports, gymnastics or dance classes.
Parental involvement in signing your child up for sports and the simple act of making sure they get to practice are a great start. Encourage them to try different sports and activities to see what they care about. You may find that they prefer unstructured play in their own backyard, but team sports are valuable for teaching life skills too. If finances are an issue, many communities have recreational leagues or dance classes offered at a lower cost. Early introduction to different sports can be extremely helpful in physical but also mental development in a child. I would also encourage your own participation in their sporting activities, whether it be coaching the little league team, or simply making sure to go to the practices and cheer on your little one.
4. Enjoy family-style dinners.
Have you tried family style dinners? Nutritionist Audra Losey wrote about them in Pass the Green Beans: Raising Healthy, Independent Eaters with Family Style Meals. She defines family style meals as "eating together as a family with adults and children at the same table. It is putting all the food in serving bowls and allowing both children and adults to serve themselves." This gives children a feeling of control over what and how much they eat and encourages their own internal hunger cues and fullness helping to avoid the trait of overeating. Sitting down together as a family to have dinner away from the TV and other screens, shows that family time and healthy food choices are important. The dynamic between healthy eating habits and family time is important, and one that cannot be stressed enough. If these are normal habits in childhood, the habits will be harder to break in adulthood.
The key to raising lifelong movers is the time we spend with our kids on these and other healthy activities when they are young. We devote time to the things that are important to us. By modeling and supporting healthy choices, parents can inspire children to live healthier lives. The work we put in now will influence our children and generations to come.