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The Bonding Benefits of Family Fitness


Updated January 04, 2011

Fall family hike
Erica Greis

Sharing physical activities with your kids isn't just a good way to get your heart pumping and burn calories. It's also a great way to build family bonds. When you play tag, toss a Frisbee, or join in a dance party, you're creating memories your child will treasure someday—memories of times you spent laughing and simply enjoying each other's company.

"Play is a magical time for kids and parents," says Steve Sanders, Ed.D., the director of the School of Physical Education and Exercise Science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "It's a time when parents aren't thinking about other duties of the day, and can spend one-on-one time with the child."

Kids love to see Mom and Dad get silly. "We are big fans of chasing each other around the house," says Julie Marsh, a mother of three in Denver, Colorado. "Recently, my husband ran after me with our three-year-old on his shoulders, threatening to 'get me' with her stinky feet. And last weekend, during our baby's nap, the rest of us rolled around on the dining room floor pretending to be cats."

For the Marshes, these active games provide important shared family time. "It's hard to get all of us interested in the same thing at the same time, and it's only going to get harder as the kids grow up," says Julie. "So we take our moments of togetherness where we can get them, even if it's in an unconventional way."

Togetherness, Not Teaching

Kids also love to feel a sense of power and mastery, so it's critical to let them take the lead when you play. "Your role is to be a facilitator or guide to help your child learn about, refine, and improve physical skills," says Dr. Sanders. "This creates trust that carries over into other areas of your child's life." So allow your child to initiate the games you play together, whether it's crawling like a cat or kicking a soccer ball.

"Learn new skills cooperatively," says Sanders. He recommends letting your child practice a skill (such as swinging a bat) several times before you step in with suggestions for improvement. (This goes for big brothers and sisters too). Kids also enjoy the chance to give lessons. "My kids have been trying to teach me to hula hoop and I've been trying to teach them to jump rope," says Scituate, Massachusetts mother Laurie Schneider. "Neither of us have been very successful, but it's fun!"

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