Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Currently, nearly one in five children is overweight or obese—compared to just one in 20 in the 1980s. Physical activity is very important for children, as it sets the stage for a lifetime of health and nutrition. Here are some tips for getting your child up and active and laying the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy living.
Chores for Exercise
No parent wants to have arguments about making the bed, picking up toys, or cleaning emptying the trash. Make those chores rewarding by offering an incentive—a fun outing or performance-based allowance. If you have more than one child, make it a friendly competition. Whoever completes most tasks gets the prize. To add another layer of motivation (and movement), slip in a fun CD, and set a time limit based on when a song finishes playing. You’ll all be moving faster, and the work will be done sooner.
Sweets Aren’t Treats
Tempting though they may be, rewards shouldn’t come in the form of candy or food. Instead, offer a fun reward that encourages physical activity—like a night at the ice-skating rink, picking the board game at the next family night, or a new hula-hoop.
The TV can be a great babysitter in a crunch, but it encourages you and your child to always turn on the tube to fill time. Instead, create a basket of activities—sidewalk chalk, puzzles, jump rope, scavenger hunts—that you can offer your child when you need just a few minutes to yourself. It encourages them to think outside the box (as in, “don’t watch TV”), and it reinforces your message that TV time should be limited.
Practice What You Preach
Verbally encouraging your children to be active only gets you so far. You need to be a good example and set the tone. If your child sees you crashing on the couch and channel surfing, he or she will want to do it too. Limit your TV and computer hours, and take your kids out for a bike ride or roller skate around the neighborhood. It’s good physical activity and great family-bonding time.
Encourage Good Eating Habits
Children’s palates are constantly changing and evolving. What they didn’t like as toddlers may become their favorite food as teens. Reintroduce foods, especially fruits and vegetables, to encourage expanding their food tastes. You may even consider introducing a One Bite Rule—you have to take one bite of everything, even if you think you won’t like it. You never know when it may be yummy.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Setting goals and limits for your house is a great way to encourage behavior and structure a healthy environment; all it takes is effort and willingness. But don’t blame yourself if you offer a Snickers bar as a treat once in a while or if you let your kids watch an extra hour of TV one night. As long as you continue to promote healthy habits, the occasional indulgence is just fine.