Oh how the times have changed.
I remember growing up as a kid here in Perth, I’m 34 now but it doesn’t seem all that long ago. I was always dropped off at school early and I would make a beeline for the basketball courts or to the footy oval. As soon as I got home at night mum would kick me outside and I’d be off playing some form of sport with my mates on the block.
The rule in the house was that as soon as the street lights came on I had to head back home for dinner. Usually accompanying the street lights was my mums bellowing voice calling “AAAADDDDDAAAAAAAMMMMM” four times in a thick English accent. I remember being embarrassed about it because my friends would imitate the yelling and they were always allowed to stay out later.
My folks weren’t particularly sporty people but Dad always had the time to take me down to the local park a couple of nights a week to kick a ball, mum always had me enrolled in a sports team or two. Looking back at it now I was forced to be active, either my parents had a real focus on my health or maybe they just enjoyed a quieter, more knackered son!
It’s a different landscape these days. I’m not sure if things are more dangerous out in the suburbs or maybe we just hear more about the weirdos out there because of social media, but I’m not sure about how I will go kicking my son out to play until dark when he hits primary school age as I was.
These days we are more connected than ever with improved communication, mobile phones and Facebook check ins but back in the day I rode my BMX miles away from home with my folks really having no clue where I was. The world just seemed safer back then.
The second culture shift we are seeing in the kids of today is some don’t even want to go outside. Now with online gaming and smartphones there is no need to “go and entertain yourself” as my dad used to say. Why build a fort and play pretend “wars” when you can pretty much do the real thing (without the pain) online. Why make BMX jumps getting hot and sweaty with the risk of breaking bones when we can just play Xbox in the air con?
Fast forward a fair few years, I now have two children of my own. At first I thought my daughter Chloe was some kind of rocket scientist in the making for knowing, at 2, how to punch in my iPhone passcode, open Youtube and find full episodes of Twirly Woos! But more recently my daughter has turned into somewhat of a sneak, nearly addicted to trying to pick my pocket for my phone and it’s 100% my fault.
Daily, my kids see me rattling through my phone, sending texts and emails for work as well a chunk of time wasting each evening checking the socials. Kid’s brains are like sponges and they figure out pretty quickly that the little black box we’re tapping must be pretty important. The problem is that behavioural change to the negative seems to happen pretty quickly but change for the positive tends to take some time.
5 Ways to encourage your kids to be healthy
So how do we get our kids to become more active and improve their health? Below are some tips to improving your little one’s health.
1. Lead by example
You are a superhero in the eyes of your children. Every child wants to be just like mum or dad (until they hit teenage years when we become uncool…but I digress). Make sure they know what goes on when you go to the gym and the reasons why you do it. The last words my boy said to me before I left this morning was if I could pick him up from school so he could come for a run with me.
I don’t think he particularly likes running, he just wants to hang out with me which is pretty cool. I won’t be able to pick him up from school, unfortunately I’ll still be working at 2:50pm this arvo but when I get home I’ll convince him to get on his bike instead and he can ride next to me while I jog. We can talk about his day, connect and both get a bit of exercise at the same time.
The study Influence of Parents’ Physical Activity Levels on Activity Levels of Young Children and found that children of active fathers are 3.5 times more likely to be active than children of inactive fathers. It’s just that simple; monkey see, monkey do.
The other thing to understand, when we talk about leading by example, is our ability to be a better parent when we are fit and healthy.
An analogy that has always stuck in my head over the years where family and relationships were concerned is that of the safety instructions you get on an aeroplane just prior to takeoff. There is a sentence that seems to best describe this particular scenario;
“In case of emergency Oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. Please fit your mask before you help out the people who are travelling with you”. We are often so selfless as parents and put our kids first the majority of the time and leave ourselves for last.
Using the analogy above we need the oxygen for our own health so we can better care for our kids. When we are fit, healthy and firing on all cylinders we can be present, more resilient, patient and make better choices.
2. Turn off the TV, put down the devices
Being connected to the world has so many benefits but there is a flip side. A study from the University of Michigan has found that people who use Facebook more, are more likely to be unhappy than people who use it less. Similarly, those avid users also said they were less satisfied with their lives overall.
This could be because people often compare their real lives to idealized versions of their friends’ lives online. People post a lot of smiling pictures and not so many sad ones.
A different study out of the UK found that two-thirds of people now have trouble relaxing when they can’t access their social media accounts. This is especially troubling because it means that Facebook and Twitter are affecting people even when they’re offline. These studies where administered on adults and it is believed the results would be compounded if the subjects were children.
Having boundaries or restraints on “Device Time” can ultimately release stress and free up time for activities done as a family. It will be tricky at first because the nature of social media is quite addictive and many of us have a mild separation anxiety whenever we are out of arm’s reach from our phones.
3. Disguise exercise
Not all kids are sporty. Not every “little Johnny” has dreams to pull on a West Coast Guernsey. The main point to remember here is that not all exercise has to be structured in the form of sport. We hear a lot about “Incidental Exercise” for adults.
I’m sure you have heard of this notion in the past where someone has said: “Just get off the bus a stop early on your way to work and walk the rest of the way” or “If every day you take stairs instead of the elevators you can get a bit more exercise”.
This is no different when it comes to your little ones, except we need to make it a little more fun. Coming into the summer months a simple water fight can entertain and exercise kids for an hour while at the same time creating all inclusive family bonding time. The goal is to just get moving and add some fun to it. Be sure to plan ahead and make it a great experience so they will more inclined to join in again next time.
4. Introduce exercise to your children early
As we have already discussed “positive behavioural change” can be difficult. It’s very easy to fall into negative behaviour like; sleeping in until late, eating ice-cream every day, binging on Netflix or maybe doing all three in one day! It’s the positive behaviours that seem to take the most effort.
We know how hard this is first hand, I’m sure you have experienced it when we go from eating a certain way (that’s not too healthy) and then we decide to go on a diet. We nail it on a Monday, Tuesday is struggle but we get through and on Wednesday we crack and demolish a whole packet of tam-tams. If it’s hard for adults to change their behaviour can you imagine how hard it is for children?
The best way to bring exercise and activity into a child’s life is as early as possible. Having access to bats, balls, rackets and sports equipment early and sending them out to the backyard consistently is the key to promoting activity.
5. Control the pantry
This one is a no brainer but one of the biggest issues when it comes to kid’s activity levels. There are two simple rules I follow when it comes to nutrition. I’m not talking about a diet. I’m talking about life in general:
- Put rubbish into your body means you will feel rubbish
- Eat more energy (calories) than you burn and you will get fat.
Looking at point number one, if the foods we are buying are full of sugar, fluorescent in colour and have never been a living organism, the chances are it is terrible for a child’s health. I’m all for a treat here and there but where there is a sugar high there is a sugar low. If our kids eat poorly they are less likely to be motivated to exercise. It’s as simple as that.
The second point above is the simplest way to sum up fat loss/gain. A calorie is a unit of energy you can either consume it through food or drink or burn it through exercise and living life. The foods I mentioned in the last point tend to be massively high in calories and super low in nutritional value (vitamins and minerals).
If we consume more calories than we burn we get fat. It’s just that simple. I’m not suggesting putting a 7 year old on a calorie counting routine but the goal should be to fill your shopping trolley with foods and snacks that have a short shelf life. If they go off within a week they tend to be better foods to eat.
Where nutrition is concerned, as a parent, you are ultimately responsible for what is purchased at the shops. Try to challenge yourself to new way of shopping and selecting more nutritious foods for your little ones.
At the end of the day, our kids take their exercise cues from us. As parents we want them to live happy, healthy lives. So take your first step towards healthy living with your child today.