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For More Active Kids, Forget Exercise; Have Fun Instead!

Active kids and families know that exercise is to be enjoyed, not endured.

By

Updated September 16, 2009

Active kids and parents with bikes and trailer

Active kids mean fitness is a family affair.

Rob George

You know it's important to raise active kids who move their bodies every day. But it's also important to make that motion fun. The message: Physical activity is a healthy habit that makes you feel good, not a chore to be endured.

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Active Kids:

  • Set a good example by choosing action over electronics whenever you can. Walk to the store instead of driving, take the stairs, and choose a rake over a leaf-blower.

  • Enjoy exercise. After a workout—or a walk around the block—tell your child how you feel. Energized? Happier? Tired, but proud of what you accomplished?

  • Play together. Kids love your attention. Get your child off the couch by taking him to the playground or outside for a game of catch.

  • Praise effort, not results. Your child won't be able to ride a two-wheeler or sink a basket on her first attempt. To fend off frustration (in both inactive and active kids), be sure to acknowledge how hard they're trying.

  • Offer positive reinforcement. If your child makes a healthy choice, notice—out loud. When he learns a new skill, record it on video and show it to friends and family.

  • Ask her to teach you. Is she a star skater or a whiz at water polo? Request a lesson! Active kids love to show off their expertise.

Avoid These Mistakes that Discourage Active Kids:

Even the most active kids may be discouraged by confidence zappers and bad habits. So don't:

  • Use exercise as punishment. Never assign push-ups after a bad grade or laps around the block in response to a sassy remark. You don't want your child to associate physical activity with punishment.

  • Offer food as a reward. It's tempting to offer candy when a preschooler uses the potty or an ice-cream cone when a grade-schooler brings home a good report card. But this teaches kids that food can change their mood, and that it's OK to eat when they're not hungry (not to mention that most treats are high in added sugar, fat, or salt). Instead, offer praise, hugs and kisses, and plenty of your time—doing something active together.

  • Use scare tactics. While it's true that lack of exercise can have serious health consequences, emphasize the positives. Instead of "If you watch too much TV, you'll get fat and sick," say, "Riding your bike helps make your legs and heart strong."

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