Sometimes it can feel like the world conspires against parents trying to instill healthy habits in their kids. If it isn’t a new app or video game kids get obsessed with, staring for hours at their phones or gaming devices, it’s reading ingredient labels and finding sugar or high-fructose corn syrup among the top ingredients.
Rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. have become alarming. This, combined with research on the harmful effects of sitting for long periods, can cause parents concern. There’s certainly nothing wrong with raising a bookworm or a computer whiz, but when your child’s interests have them glued to one spot all day with little or no physical activity, there can be serious consequences. Learn ways to encourage a sedentary child to exercise.
Disguise Exercise As Fun
If your child won’t detach from a screen, try using the screen as an exercise motivator. If you play video games with your child, stand up and get physical with your game controller, acting out some of the actions you see on screen. Or switch to a dance challenge game or a game that allows you to simulate sports like tennis or bowling.
To encourage a sedentary child to exercise, all you need to do is change your routine a little. If school is within walking distance, walk your child to school (you’ll get a little workout, too!) The same is true for a trip to the local park, public library, or store—if you can get there easily by walking, do that.
Include the Whole Family
Family bike rides, pick-up games of touch football, or a little three-on-three basketball for large families can get sedentary kids interested in exercise. When the whole family is having a blast, even the least active child will want to be part of the fun.
Sometimes, children avoid physical activity because they’re worried they’re not athletic enough or get embarrassed about their bodies if they are overweight. If you suspect your child is avoiding exercise because of a personal concern, reassure them that it’s all just for fun and no one is judging them.
If PE in school is miserable for them, find an activity they enjoy and try to make it more physical—use an easel for a child to paint while standing or a portable laptop stand for a kid who won’t log off their computer.
Kids with developmental differences are especially vulnerable to obesity, but it can be difficult to involve them in physical activity. Ask your child’s therapist for suggestions about exercises for kids with autism or ways to help a wheelchair user get more exercise and have fun while they’re doing it, such as in a wheelchair sports organization.
Exercise is vital for health from childhood through our senior years. Establishing the habit early will benefit your child in the long run.