I made the decision over the holidays to spend part of my child’s gift money on activities instead of toys or tangible goods. As I watch her each weekend taking gymnastics or learning to swim, I know I made the right choice for several reasons.
For one, these activities will help build coordination and strength as well as help foster a lifetime love of fitness. Second, the gift is an experience and not a material good. Arguably, experience is often the greatest gift we can give to our children, often holding more lasting value than just another toy or consumer good. In fact, it is just this kind of parental encouragement or “belief” that can be a much more powerful influence on our children’s level of activity than even role modeling.
In a study done by SpencerHall in 2003, mothers of children whose activity levels ranged from low to high were interviewed in order to better understand the relationship between the mothers’ attitudes toward physical activity and the activity level of their children. (After the jump, study results and four ways to encourage your child’s healthy activity level).
Mothers with children who had a low activity level:
- Did not consider their children’s activity a priority
- Were more focused on just surviving a busy day than on long-term lifestyle impacts
- Were often glad not to have the extra “burden” of driving children to organized sports
- Family time was centered on “relaxation and rest.” Children were given free choice in how to relax, and most often opted for television or computer time
- Often expected lower levels of activity from daughters rather than sons
- Expressed fear of alienating their children by pushing them to be more active
Mothers with children who had a high activity level:
- Tended to be active themselves
- Felt that sports and activity were important for a child’s development
- Enjoyed being involved in facilitating their children’s activity
- Have more limits on time spent watching television or being on the computer
Four Ways to Encourage and Support Activity
Encouragement may be as simple as turning off the TV and saying, “Go play!” to indirect efforts to encourage interest in a new sport. One of the most powerful motivators is simply a vote of confidence from you. Children look to their parents to provide important feedback on their physical abilities.
Talk is good, but action speaks just as loudly to your child. By organizing family bike rides, coaching a team or just playing a game of catch, you are making it clear how much you value activity.
Increasing concerns about safety have changed the focus of our kids’ activities from a neighborhood game in an unsupervised park to an organized team environment. This requires parental action to find the opportunities, and to provide support and transportation. Becoming a “soccer mom” can be pretty demanding, but resourceful parents can often find a way to fit in activity of their own while a child is at practice or a lesson.
4. Role Modeling
Once thought to be the main influence on a child’s activity level, role modeling is important in that it shows your child that you value physical fitness and fit it into your busy life. However, your training run doesn’t burn any of her calories! Use your love of sports as a way to encourage your child’s interest. Better yet, take her along for the walk, ride or run.
[This post was written by Beth Bader.]