My last #activekids blog was all about the benefits children gain from being active. It proved very popular and set my stats on fire! I admitted that it can be hard to tempt my own children away from their screens sometimes, especially my older boys. There are however tricks I use to help me and I wanted to share some of them with you. They’ll be blissfully unaware that you have a plan! It’s always best to be one step ahead of children, isn’t that always the way with parenthood?! So, when you want to be active as a family, how do you get them to switch off, leave the land they’re building on Minecraft and put on their trainers and join you?
Here are some of my tips to stop you feeling like a nag, for making activity the best part of the day and not just another thing you just have to tick off the list:
Give them ownership. Let your kids decide what activity they want to do. I make so many decisions for my children every day from what they eat for tea to which apps they can download and when they go to bed. It’s great if they can feel they’ve made a decision and you’re going along with them instead of vice versa for a change. Younger children can sometimes feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision so offering them a choice of two things is often best. Older kids can make their own mind up. “Let’s get out and about on Sunday, what do you fancy?” If they’ve decided then they’re much more likely to want to take part. Make it #kidschoice. Plan it and write it on the calendar.
Have a purpose. Don’t even mention the concept of activity or exercise, instead put the focus on something else; make the activity the secondary role. Asking who wants to go on a dog walk will probably be met with a, “No thanks.” Saying, “Who wants to go to the cafe for a hot chocolate? Let’s take the dog.” will get a positive response. Being active doesn’t have to mean taking part in a sport or structured activity, walking and generally messing about count too. Challenges and art are very helpful; trips to collect rocks or leaves to paint always go down well in my house. Damming a river or a stone skimming contest are popular too; getting competitive always works for my kids. Use nature’s playground, it’s free. Making a vlog or mini-film gives kids a chance to get their imaginations moving as well as their feet. They’ll be active and exercising without even realising it.
Make it routine. Make activity part of your everyday routine so it’s just ‘what you do’ by default. That might be walking to school on weekdays, cycling into town or going to junior parkrun on a Sunday. Generally kids like routines, they feel secure knowing what’s coming next. Establishing these routines early and being consistent with them will help them establish good habits for the future. There’s less debate and negotiating if something is part of the normal family schedule, they just expect to do it.
Focus on the fun. This is the most important point. Why would you want to keep doing something that you don’t enjoy? Slow down to your child’s pace. Kids have a different agenda. I wrote about this in an old blog Slow Down, Stop, Look and Listen. Let them guide you. If you’re constantly telling them to hurry up, walk faster and stop dawdling then where’s the fun in that, for either of you? Let your active times be an opportunity for chat, laughter and bonding. Lose your inhibitions and muck about; get on that swing, chase them to the gate, rediscover your backhand volley. Don’t you sometimes find your day is a list of instructions and demands? Brush your teeth. Finish your homework. Wash your hands before tea. And so the list goes on. Put all that aside, chill and just enjoy being together.
Be a role model. Don’t underestimate the power that your own actions have on your children. It mustn’t be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. If they see you leading by example and being active as part of your regular day then it will rub off on them. It’s our responsibility to help them develop a healthy lifestyle. Let them see you trying new things, it will reassure them that it’s ok to fail as well as succeed and the fun comes from experimenting. Tell them you feel nervous about going on that zip wire, share your feelings of fear. They’ll then understand their own nerves are normal. Explain that mini-risk assessment that you do in your head out loud to them. “I’m a bit scared. It’s a long way down but I’m clipped onto the safety wire so I can’t fall’. It will give them reassurance and help them establish logical thought processes and to determine whether their own actions, when you aren’t around, are sensible.
Make a memory. Take photos and videos when you’re out and about. Have a photo board on the kitchen wall and take a few minutes to watch your mini-films back. Its amazing how quickly we all forget. When children are reminded of what fun they had, they’ll want to do it again. Ask them what the best bits were and how you could make it even better next time. This takes us back round to the first point about giving them ownership and making plans.
It’s a fact that active kids are more likely to become active adults. In turn when they have their own children we have a positive spiral instead of a negative one and the future looks brighter. It can take a bit of imagination, enthusiasm and motivation but do you know what? It’s fun, you won’t regret it and you’ll get your daily dose of activity too.
Featured image: Gratisography. Others drjulietmcgrattan.com