Thursday, 21 February 2013

Kids Fitness: 5 Ways to Make Kids Want to Be Active

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give the orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
Antoine de St. Exupery

"If you want to make hiking fun, make it fun."
Ken Schmaltz 

One of the reasons I'm passionate about getting my boys out to the mountains--or anywhere outdoors--is the fitness aspect. Whether they'll be active, healthy adults or sedentary, less healthy adults depends in large part on whether they're active now. So it's up to me, as their parent, to set them up for a lifetime of active, adventurous living. In this age of always-on digital stimulation, it's unlikely that they're going to log out of Minecraft and ask me to take them hiking or for a run. Although in the summer they will spontaneously go for a bike ride once or twice a week, inertia is a powerful force in their lives. Their bodies at rest are likely to remain at rest unless they're motivated to put those bodies in motion.

Be active yourself--This is the most powerful way of motivating kids to be active. Kids watch us. They copy what we do. They want to be like us, even if it doesn't seem like it at times. If they see you sitting around, they'll follow your lead (or lack of lead). If they see you enjoying an active lifestyle, they'll learn that moving their bodies is fun.

Make it fun--This is the second most powerful way of motivating kids to be active. Let's face it, a nice stroll through the park or beside a river isn't the average kid's idea of fun. Pick activities that have a "wow factor" or built-in excitement. At the park, make the stroll a game by seeing who can reach the next tree first (then let them pick the next finish line) or bring a soccer ball to kick your way through the park. On your river walk, throw in a log and see who can hit it the most times with rocks. Or better yet, take them on a hike--but whatever you do, don't call it a hike--that ends somewhere fun like rocks they can climb on or fossils they can hunt. (For more ideas, see my post Hiking with Kids: 7 Steps to Make Hiking Fun for Kids.)

Set them up for success--We've all done it. We pick an activity, a hiking trail or a ski run that's too much for our kids. Shortly thereafter, the complaining reaches a crescendo or they have a blow out or they just can't go any further, and what you expected to be a glorious day in the great outdoors comes to a screeching halt. Instead of learning that the activity is fun, your kid learns that he/she can't do it and it's the opposite of fun. Instead, pick something that your kids can succeed at. It will build their confidence and make them want to do it again. At first, hat might mean choosing a trail or ski run that's too easy for them, but at least there will be a next time when you can go further or faster or steeper.

Don't nag--Again, we've all done it. Our kids don't live up to our high expectations or they do something we've learned not to do. So we nag, cajole, criticize, correct, warn, scold...We make the activity not fun. The opposite of fun. Horrible. In the eyes of the kids, the outdoors and the activity become just another time and place for us to pick at them. If they're not going as fast as you'd like, adjust your pace to theirs. If they've given their best but can't go any further, stop, have a rest and turn back. If they walk through a stream instead of hopping across rocks, let them get their feet wet and learn their own lessons.

Set a family goal--Indoor soccer season ends in a couple weeks, and I'd like my 8-year-old to maintain his conditioning for the outdoor season in April (and the hiking season; I'm going to take the boys on a scramble this summer!). So we've all entered a 5 kilometer fun run in July, and we'll all train together once or twice a week. Sue and Mack (13) will run the whole way, and Michael and I will run for a few minutes, walk for one, and repeat. If I have to, I'll run with a pack on my back that contains a soccer ball to kick down the course. I'll run at Michael's pace (actually, I can't run any faster or I'll aggravate a couple of old running injuries; nothing builds a kid's confidence like running a 5K faster than his dad). And if he needs to stop and rest or walk more than he runs, I swear I won't nag, cajole, criticize, correct, warn or scold. I swear.

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