We all know that being physically active is important for children’s health. But as children are being more and more exposed to technology, they can easily develop a sedentary lifestyle. School and homework can also cram their schedule so it can be quite hard to find time to exercise.
However, physical activity promotes children’s development and growth, builds their strength, endurance and helps them maintain healthy weight. Research also shows physical activity boosts children’s test scores and critical thinking.
So, how to encourage a child who doesn’t enjoy physical activity? It’s never too late – or too early – to help them build healthy habits. There are many methods you can use to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for them, and here are 15 of our favorites.
1. Be A Role Model
Children who commonly see their parents exercising are more likely to be physically active themselves.
Make sure you add exercise to your schedule. If you are going to the gym, go to a place where your kids can join or one that has day care. Try working out at home sometimes, so your kids can see you, and they will likely try to replicate what you’re doing.
Additionally, limit your own screen time, try eating healthier and be physically active throughout the day – it can be just a regular walk in the park. When your kids see you love being active, they will model your behavior and it will be easier to encourage them to join a sport or other activity.
2. Schedule It
We are more likely to do something if it’s scheduled and consistent.
Today, children have many things in their everyday life – school, homework and other extracurricular activities like music lessons. Add to it free play and spending time with friends, and it becomes really hard to find time to exercise.
By planing the exercise you are able to find a solution that fits into their schedule but doesn’t overwhelm them. Try to always add exercise on the same day and time, so it becomes a routine that your child will begin to expect.
If you struggle to get your kid to be physically active, you can also try making it a family daily routine. Instead of forcing an hour-long session, you could start with 15 minutes per day. Tie the exercise with a trigger, like lunch or dinner to make it a habit. That way, exercise will become something your kids are used to doing every day – just like brushing their teeth in the morning.
3. Organize Active Play
Kids love playing with other kids, so why not use that as an incentive and organize active play? There are many things you could organize and you can even ask them for their ideas for activities.
On winter days you could play indoor games like Simon Says or take a trip to a local swimming pool or bowling alley. On summer days, there are many more opportunities and sports you can do. You can always simply visit a local playground or go on a group bike ride.
When organizing active play, it’s a great idea to frequently change activities so it remains exciting for children. Additionally, you don’t always need to organize large groups – just inviting your child’s favorite friend to join you in a walk or going to the pool can motivate your child and make fitness more exciting.
4. Choose A Fun Activity
Your kid is much more likely to be physically active if you choose an activity they actually enjoy.
You don’t need to stick to standard activities adults would go for, rather explore different options and find what works for them. For younger kids below ten go for non-competitive games to make sure they don’t feel pressure or stress.
Older children will likely navigate to something that’s currently “cool”, like skateboarding, martial arts, hip hop dancing or even parkour and laser tag. Allow the children to choose any physical activity they want to do, as long as it’s safe and age appropriate.
5. Educate Your Child
If you want your child to build a healthy lifestyle, they need both practical experience and theoretical knowledge. You can try doing a fun presentation yourself, by talking about how exercise makes you happy, how it helps with health and how fun it can be. Educate them about nutrition and how food we eat allows our bodies to move and be healthy. Make a game out of it, by having a quiz or preparing nutritious meals together.
You can also ask your family doctor to talk with your child, and help with explaining the importance of healthy eating and physical activity.
6. Encourage Them To Play Sports
Sports are an awesome activity for children. They keep them active, but also teach them teamwork and allow them to meet new friends.
Research what kind of sports are organized in your area, like basketball, soccer and swimming. Encourage your children to try out a couple of them until they find something they love and want to keep pursuing.
By being in a sports team, they will soon build a group of friends so the activity will be something they look forward to. Additionally, sports are usually organized at the same day and time so it will be easier to build a habit.
7. Plan Electronic-free Periods
Kids were much more active in the past than they are now, and the number one cause is technology.
The general pediatric recommended time for screen time is up to 2 hours per day. But with all the TVs, computers, phones and video games at their disposal, children spend much more time on the screen.
However, spending time on the screen decreases natural movement throughout the day. That’s why it’s important to set electronic-free periods, when no one in your family is using their phone, TV or laptop. During these periods, play games, exercise together, or go for a walk outdoors.
If you and your children are already used to spending a lot of time on the screen, it may be best to set up the same time limit every day so you build the new habit more easily.
8. Allow The Child To Find Their Passion
Once you begin searching for activities for your children, they may need some time before they find something they really love doing. Whether it’s dancing, football or swimming – anything is good, so don’t force them to stick to only one thing.
In fact, kids who specialize for only one sport in early childhood can start hating the activity from burnout or even get injured from muscle overuse. By allowing them to explore different options and search for their passion, they will develop different skills and keep enjoying being active.
It’s natural for children to jump from one activity to another, and you need to be patient and accepting – the only focus is that they are active, and they are enjoying it.
9. Offer Positive Feedback
Children are motivated with praise, and it’s especially important for those who aren’t athletic. If they make a mistake, fall or don’t do well in their sport they may become self-conscious and insecure, and develop a fear from being teased by friends.
Avoid negative comments when your kid doesn’t achieve something – rather praise them when they succeed. Give encouragements for every small goal, like walking further than the last time, managing to do a handstand, or catching a ball several times in a row. By commonly hearing praise, your children will build confidence and have more motivation to continue doing their chosen activity.
10. Have Active Toys At Home
If you have young children, the easiest way to keep them active is by having active toys at home. Have balls, jump ropes, bikes, rollerblades and anything else that encourages physical activity.
As great classes are, you also want to allow your child to have non-structured play moments, which they enjoy the most. By having a lot of different options at home, they will always be able to pick something new and won’t quickly get bored with a certain toy.
11. Make Chores Fun
A clever way to incorporate more activity in your kid’s life is by including them in daily chores. Choose outdoor chores like pulling weeds or watering the plants, or indoor work that requires movement like sweeping the floor.
Add some music to make chores more fun and make it something the whole family does together. Chores are a great way to sneak in a bit of activity while they also teach your kids responsibility – so it’s a double win.
12. Try Active Transportation
An easy way to encourage your kid to be physically active is simply by choosing to walk or bike instead of driving. For example, they could ride a bike to school or you can walk together to a shop or parks instead of going with a car.
If the kid is too young to go on their own, simply join them – it will be a great thing for you too! Walking and biking is an effortless way to add activity throughout the day.
13. Create A Reward System
Some children love competition – so make use of it. You could make a contest between you and the child, such as who can run faster or do more jumping jacks. Give a prize to a winner, but don’t always let them win. Try to create a balance that keeps them motivated but also teaches them there’s nothing wrong in occasionally losing.
Additionally, you could use a calendar and get your child to add a check mark every day when they did an activity. When they complete five days in a row, give them a reward like allowing them to pick an activity whole family will do over the weekend or by preparing their favorite meal.
14. Join Them
Organized activities are sometimes not an option. They become too expensive or don’t fit your schedule, or you might be living in a distant location. But that shouldn’t stop you or your child to get enough activity throughout the day.
It only means you need to be creative – and become a playmate to your child. That allows both of you to be physically active and is an awesome way to bond too.
You could simply take walks around the neighborhood or go to a local park. Ride bikes together or play in the backyard. Playing outside is fun but it also helps to improve your children’s stamina, coordination and strength.
On the days when the weather doesn’t allow outdoor activities, you could replace them with in-house alternatives, like yoga and dancing. There’s no need to have equipment or special classes to encourage your child to be active.
15. Give Them Rest Time Too
When you begin incorporating physical activity into your child’s life, it can happen that you or they get excited and overdo it.
Start slow with gentle activities and lower frequency. For example, add a sport only once a week, then gradually incorporate more days as they adapt. If you’re active at home, you can also break up the activity into shorter 10 to 20-minute sessions throughout the day.
Don’t allow the exercise to interfere with school or to become something you and your child are stressed about. Additionally, teach your child they need to listen to their body when exercising and that it’s completely ok to take a rest and an off day.
Choose An Age Appropriate Activity
Kids can become easily frustrated if the activity is too challenging for them. Make sure to chose age appropriate activity, that does have some challenge but isn’t too hard. Talk to a trainer who focuses on children or to a doctor to get recommendation for the best activities for your child’s age.
No physical activity s completely risk free, but make sure they are in a safe environment. Protect them as much as you can. By keeping it safe, you’re lowering a risk of injury, which is not only dangerous but could make the child less motivated to do an activity in the future.
Physical activity is essential for healthy growth and development of your child. However, it can sometimes be hard to get them to exercise. Encourage them to try different things, be supportive and creative. When they find something that’s fun and exciting, it will be easier to make physical activity a part of their everyday routine.