Let’s face it, boosting a child’s enthusiasm for exercise can be challenging—especially these days, when screen time and sitting are so ubiquitous. But don’t worry, all hope is not lost. You don’t have to forfeit the phone or punish them with laps around the front yard! Whether you’re concerned for their health, seeking ideas for athletic enthusiasm, or looking for a non-intimidating way to introduce your children to some of the activities you loved, or still love, to do, these nine tips will help make fostering physical activity easy and enjoyable for your kids and you.
Understand Why Exercise Is Important For Kids
If you don’t already, it’s worth understanding why children need to be active. (Hint: it’s way more than just tiring them out.) One of the best things you can do is to consult your pediatrician about why physical activity is important for children. She or he may touch on these key reasons:
- Healthier bodies
- Chronic disease prevention (eg: childhood obesity)
- Muscle & strength development
- Cardiovascular improvement
- Bone health & strength
- Weight control
- Foundation for healthy habits
- Cultivating new interests
- Building social bonds
- Control mood swings
- Increased happiness, enthusiasm & curiosity
- Might make your kid the next Serena Williams or Cal Ripken Jr.
Here are nine ways to encourage your kids to be active.
1. Make Exercise Fun
This sounds about as obvious as it gets, but it can actually require a lot of effort and creativity. Let your children’s interests and behavior do the work. Are they full of energy needing to be burned? Sweet! Get them outside for free play, to the local YMCA, or to the nearest trampoline park. If they’re more focused driven, try getting outside with no objective and letting them follow their interest. Need a house activity? Dance video games and Wii consoles are designed to blend tech with indoor activity—perfect fun for rainy days.
2. Lead (An Active Lifestyle) By Example
If you veg out on the couch watching TV every day, it can subconsciously signal to your kids to follow suit. When you then tell your kids to go be active, it sends mixed messages and not practicing what you preach. Encourage activity by being active yourself. Some parents find that motivating exercise with a lead-by-example approach motivates healthier lifestyles in themselves.
3. Think Outside The Goalie/Batter’s Box
A lot of children just aren’t interested in sports, or they’re interested in non-traditional sports. If your child isn’t taking to soccer, baseball, or tennis, remember that there are fun, foundation-building activities they may enjoy, like rock climbing, skating, martial arts, dance, and swimming. Start by talking with your kids to find out what they’re most interested in. Don’t force anything, let them tell you.
4. Limit Screen Time
Limiting children’s screen time is important for so, so many reasons. When it comes to exercise, screen time can demotivate kids from getting up and moving their bodies. (Perhaps you’ve experienced this too.) The American Academy of Pediatrics  recommends only 1-2 hours per day for kids, at the most. Replace other hours with imagination-boosting or energy-burning activities.
5. Include Friends In Your Kids’ Activities
Childhood and young adulthood are crucial times for social development. Plus, hanging with your friends is just plain fun! Invite your kids’ friends (and even their parents) along for an active day at the pool, climbing gym, hiking trail, or wherever your children get their exercise.
6. Leverage Activity As A Reward
Like almost anything pushed on kids, forcing children to get outside and play can easily backfire. Instead of forcing your kids into a sport or activity they don’t like, or, worse, forcing them into specific sports leagues, let their favorite activity be an incentive for chores, behavior, grades, etc. Maybe it’s throwing a football in the front yard before dinner, maybe it’s going to the jungle gym. For older children, you may reward them with something grander, such as a snowboard trip for an all-A’s report card.
7. Be Firm About Fitness
Encouragement and incentives don’t mean you can be firm in your approach to fostering an active, healthy childhood. Take a stance that conveys you’re okay with whatever activity your kids choose, but not okay with inactivity. This one can be tough, but it’s important to hold your ground. If you need your own encouragement, reach out to the SkinnyFit Facebook Community Group for tips and ideas from other parents.
8. Plan Family Trips Around Fun Activities
From skiing in Utah, rafting in Colorado, hiking in Vermont, kayaking in Washington, even cycling in the Alps! Try planning your family vacations around fun ways to exercise.
9. Show Kids That Exercise Is Cool/Popular
From music, to food, to sports, childhood experiences are largely influenced by peers and trends. Instilling in your kids that exercise is pretty darn awesome can help keep their enthusiasm high. Skateboarding, Jiu Jitsu, dance, flag football, school athletics… If your kids are older, let them choose what physical activities they’re most interested in (within safe reason, of course. You know… maybe leave spearfishing for their late teens. 🤷🏼♂️)
The Bottom Line
For health, mental wellbeing, and social development, it’s crucial for children of all ages to develop active lifestyles early on. But, especially these days with so much digitized distraction, children aren’t always prone to self-motivation, especially when a tablet or TV is always a reach away. Fostering an active lifestyle in your kids may take a lot of encouragement or creative thinking on the parents’ end. However, helping your children get into physical exercise can benefit them for the rest of their lives. And who knows, their newfound healthy habits may even rub off on you. 😉