There’s no need for a battle of words to get your inert kid’s heart pumping. We asked pros how to help kids break their couch-potato habits. Here, their get-going ideas.
SMART ANSWERS TO PARENTS’ TOUGHEST QUESTIONS
My kid’s totally obsessed with video games and television. How do I get him to the first step, which is to just consider some physical activity?
It’s not as hard as you think, says Daheia Barr-Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Step one: Ask your kid what he thinks will get him moving. Listen to his ideas, says Dr. Barr-Anderson. Or, if he has no suggestions, help him hone in on things that get him excited. For example, if he loves the boxing video game ARMS, suggest a free one-week trial at a boxing studio, or create your own boxing gym at home with some inexpensive equipment. “It helps if you can hit upon something that the child enjoys, and turn that into a physical activity,” says Susan J. Woolford, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Fair enough, but what should we say to jump-start a get-moving conversation?
Instead of singling a child out and lecturing, why not start by saying, “Hey, this is something the whole family needs to do,” suggests Dr. Woolford. That’s way better than saying, “Jen, you’re much too sedentary; we need to change your behavior.” Another tip: Don’t yank all the screens at once, adds Dr. Barr-Anderson, “Slowly but consistently, integrate more active pursuits into your child’s lifestyle,” she says.
So what’s the goal here—to join a gym, try a sport, take a dance class, learn parkour, use at-home fitness machines, or something else?
“Grown-ups often tie physical activity to having to go to the gym,” says Eileen Kennedy, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. But kids just need movement and fun, she adds. Help organize a kid-size game of Capture the Flag by lining up two rows of cones, dividing kids into teams, and letting them try to move one set of cones over to the other side in a fun, low-key competition. The first team to collect all the cones wins the game. Other kid pleasers: using inexpensive water squirters to douse each other outside, playing a rousing game of tag, and going on a bike ride with parents. “It’s important to establish new routines to break the sedentary habits,” says Dr. Barr-Anderson. “Say something like, ‘After dinner, let’s do something fun and active together—as a family.’”
Wait—does this mean that I need to be active?
Well, yes, say the experts. “You can’t underestimate the importance of going outside together to throw around a ball or start a garden.” says Dr. Barr-Anderson. “You get movement and activity, and time spent together.” Parents can set limits on screens at home by designating screen-free times and zones. Just say there are no screens in the bedroom, or at mealtime, Dr. Kennedy says. You can also find an online tool to help you create a family screen-time plan, Dr. Woolford adds.
Are you sure it’s that important that kids get moving?
Absolutely! Physical activity helps fend off chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes. Also, it may help kids to do better on tests, boost their mood, and foster self-confidence. “Movement releases endorphins, so it helps children to feel good,” says Dr. Barr-Anderson. “It also helps children to be physically comfortable moving their bodies, which translates into self-confidence.” And the earlier kids start, the better, notes Dr. Woolford. Adds Dr. Barr-Anderson: “Make it a family priority. You really can do it, and have a wonderful time.”