Maybe your child hates sports or is more excited about video games than the kickball field. Or maybe they just don’t feel up to keeping up with other kids their age. Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to motivate a child to exercise when they just aren’t interested.
You know bullying doesn’t work. And you might be worried that if you push too hard on that evening walk or your little league sign-up, you’ll put your child’s exercise on hold forever.
But you have more power than you think, says Blaise A. Nemeth, MD, associate professor at American Family Children’s Hospital at the University of Wisconsin.
“Parents can do a lot to inspire even the most sedentary kids to move more,” he says.
A few tricks can get kids moving more regularly, even if they won’t be signing up for a soccer team anytime soon.
1. Understand that exercise is different for children. For you, exercise might mean running on a treadmill for 30 minutes or burning a certain number of calories. But children are active in a different way than adults, Nemeth says.
“Children exercise in short bursts and use their bodies in many different directions,” so keep that in mind when suggesting activities for them, he says. “Think of yourself as a playmate – not a personal trainer.”
So instead of sending your child out for a jog, offer to play a family game of tag in the backyard.
Bonus: “When you move with your kids, there’s a triple effect: your kids move, you move, and it’s a great way for all of you to interact with each other,” says Nemeth.
2. Talk about the benefits of exercise. You don’t have to convince your child to change their hobbies or interests. Just help them understand all the ways that moving their bodies will help them feel better about other aspects of life.
For example, if you have a bookworm who would rather be in the math league than on the baseball field, talk to him about how exercise can boost his brain with better focus and concentration.
3. Be sneaky. There are many ways to get kids moving without them realizing they are moving more. Park your car away from the mall entrance so everyone has to cover more ground to get in. Or, if your child loves animals, suggest that they volunteer at a local shelter where they can walk their dog.
“Rather than looking at it like you’re sneaky, think of yourself as the mastermind of your child’s well-being,” says Kathleen Bethin, MD, PhD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University at Buffalo.
4. Understand why your child doesn’t like to exercise. It could be a simple reason like they don’t like to be hot and sweaty. Or there could be other issues at play. Are they being bullied on the tennis court or having trouble breathing when running?
If you know what is going on, it is easier to find a solution to help them.
If you can’t get to the bottom of it, consider taking your child to a counselor, who may be able to help you figure out why your child doesn’t want to get active.
“You may not have the skills to uncover the root cause of why your child is avoiding exercise, and that’s okay,” Bethin says. “There are professionals who can help you.
5. Start small. Experts say kids should get about an hour of exercise a day, but that doesn’t mean you should tell them that, says Bethin. “If exercising for 30 minutes seems like too much for kids, they won’t do it,” she says.
Instead, get them to commit to a small amount of exercise time, even just 5 minutes.
“The goal is to get them to set a goal and stick to it,” says Bethin. “When kids commit to even a small amount of exercise, they’ll probably feel better about themselves and think and say, ‘I did it. “” This will inspire them to do more and more over time.
6. Change up your favorite family activities. Instead of watching Friday night movies or going to brunch after church, head to a trampoline park or rock climbing wall, or go for a hike with a picnic. Come up with new movement-focused ideas and see what excites your kids the most.
“Just like adults who avoid the workouts they hate and make the exercise they love a priority, kids will want to keep doing what they really love,” Bethin says.