How to Encourage Your Kids to be More Active

Getting our children more active and more involved in physical activity seems to be at the top of everyone's agendas as childhood obesity levels are on the rise across the country.

Regardless of whether the discussion focusses on sports in schools, local facilities or the rising epidemic, we know active kids are healthier kids - both physically and mentally.

Fit For Sport and healthier children

We asked Craig Jones, Operations Director at Fit For Sport, how we can get children more involved in sports and make sure they have fun while they are at it!

"First things first," says Craig, "Stop calling it 'Sport'! Having worked with children in schools for over 25 years, we know that as soon as you utter the word sports you lose engagement from two thirds of the class. If children are able to catch a ball, run or sprint and balance, they already have many of the fundamental skills needed to play sports! Starting a child in sports before they have these basics makes it difficult for them to succeed, and less likely to take up sports later in life."

"In my view a healthy and active generation of children is possible, but we need to start with a clean slate. We need to set new guidelines and provide primary schools with the appropriate training, support and quality assurance systems to make it work. There is no quick fix - it will involve a lot of key players, from parents to governments and head teachers. But, if we can make active living second nature for early years and foundation levels, the transition to sport at year 4 is more achievable."

Only 1 in 3 kids consider themselves good at sports

We know from our own childhoods that not everyone is a natural when it comes to football or hockey - many of us will have been scared by the time we weren't picked for the team or let the winning goal soar through our hand and into the net. This is what we associate with sport and, according to Fit For Sport, only 1 in 3 children consider themselves good at sports, which is why the other two thirds disengage the moment you mention the word.

So how can you get your children climbing trees and chasing butterflies rather than sofa surfing?

Encouraging an active lifestyle for kids

Healthy lifestyles, not Olympic athletes

We know that habits form early, so instilling a healthy approach to life at a young age is important if we hope to influence the future. Providing information as well as living examples of a healthy approach to nutrition and physical activity is paramount - if you spend your evening scoffing ready meals in front of the television, you can't expect your child to understand why you and their teachers are telling them this isn't healthy.

It's also unfair to assume that because you were the star of your football team or run a marathon every year, your child will follow in your footsteps - it's important to instil healthy habits and foster talent and interest as it emerges!

Start simple

Being physically active does not necessarily mean playing sports; it might be that your child likes catching butterflies or stomping through mud puddles. It's often easy as a parent to think there isn't time in the day to let them run around, but for your child these experiences may be more positive than the dread of not leaving the bench during the next match.

Why not hop off the bus before your stop and explore the area together, or play 'I spy'? Before you know it, you'll be home and no one's realised they've engaged in physical activity. When this is the norm, you're less likely to hear protests from your little ones when you head off out and about.

Fill in the gaps

Between classes, on their lunch hour, and around homework, there is time for children to engage in fun and physical activity. Whether you are walking them home from school before they start homework or offering to kick a ball around when they're finished, your influence as a parent doesn't need to stop there.

Discussions with your child's school about what activities are available at lunch time or how much time children spend sedentary may lead to some enlightening moments for both you and the school.

You might be surprised to find out that every lunch hour there is a walking club for those who are interested or the school might find ways to get the children out of their seats more frequently. You won't know if you don't ask!

Using the facilities outside of school

We know that there are many factors stopping the increase of activities in schools. There is curriculum to teach, meetings and assemblies to hold, and - as we all know - not enough hours in the school day. However, in many cases these facilities can be used outside of class time by the community.

As a parent, you could be asking these questions:

  • Can you rent out or use the facility at weekends?
  • Is there a way to hire someone to run an extra session for a group of children?
  • Does your local leisure centre run a program for kids outside of school hours?
  • Do they have special training session for teens?

There are some great spaces out there that are being used for a fraction of their usable hours; work as a community to find a way to change that!

Who's the 'go to' person for healthy active living?

Be it at home or at your child's school, having someone who is taking an active interest in healthy living is helpful. At home it might be one or both parents, or a childcarer; at school there might be one teacher who emulates the lifestyle and is happy to depart their skills onto others.

According to Fit For Sport instructors, a school with a PE Coordinator whose concern is to engage all children in activities - overseeing and aiming to achieve an active, sporty school without overcomplicating things - is a school that's more likely to produce healthy, active children.

Keep on motivating

As a parent, it's important to provide praise and motivation for a child who is active so they will feel confident and want to continue.

Here are a few tips on how you can encourage your children:

  • Be confident and assertive yourself - remember there is no need to shout but raising your voice is fine
  • Have fun - children will respond to your enthusiasm, fun and energy
  • Smile LOTS - laugh with those around you and involve the children!
  • Body language - you are being watched by other parents/guardians, teachers and most importantly the children, they will act how you act - if you have your hands in your pockets and move slowly, so will the children!!
  • Be cool - but not too cool, remember you are a role model
  • Encouragement - Children must be encouraged constantly and feel like they are involved all the time, this can be through talking, chanting, high fives, buddy up, etc. Note: Don't worry if children don't respond immediately - they need to warm up too!
  • Be caring and considerate - You must be sincere, children are clever and know if you don't mean it - share personal stories with them as examples
  • Praise - ensure children feel they have succeeded
  • Responsibility - Try to treat the older children in a more responsible way to ensure they feel part of the session/camp/game, they don't respond well to being treated like little children.