It is not uncommon to hear grumbles and whining from my three children at the mention of a family walk. Although the proposition gets greeted with less than desirable enthusiasm, it has never been challenged outright. That is, until a few months ago when my 11 year-old son, who has always been an intense and passionate child but never
defiant, stood with arms crossed and feet firmly planted on the driveway as he sharply stated "No, I am NOT going on a family walk!" in response to my husband's announcement that it was time. At that moment, I realized that we were starting down a whole new path with my oldest - the "tween" years, a stage of development when a child seeks independence but still needs boundaries.
To coax our son into the walk we appealed to his new-found tween identity, but in a way that did not compromise our authority as parents. We made it clear that participation in the walk was nonnegotiable. However, we gave him the freedom to choose how he participated in the walk. That is, he could listen to his ipod instead of joining in on the conversation during the walk; and, he didn't have to keep stride with us, but could stay a comfortable distance either behind or in front. On recent walks he has chosen to take his soccer ball, practicing his dribbling skills on the way.
Another tween-appealing tactic that has worked to promote physical activity for our son is to enlist the company of a friend. He dreaded his summer practice runs for this fall's cross-country season until his friend agreed to join him. Now, they have a standing date to go for a run every afternoon, to which my son looks forward. Not only does this option provide a social outlet for my son (a tween must), but it helps to foster a positive self-identity as the boys accomplish their running goals for the day. This boost in self-esteem is especially important for the tween who is entering a stage plagued with feelings of self-consciousness and awkwardness.
It is our job as parents to instill proper exercise habits in our children now so that they are more likely to continue this healthy lifestyle choice into adulthood. This practice becomes more challenging to parents as the tween attempts to exert independence by questioning the "rules of the house." Below are some tips to get your tween to exercise.
Tips to Inspire Your Tween to Exercise:
- Give your child an opportunity to feel in control. Let him/her choose the physical activity in which (s)he will participate.
- Make it social. Enlist friends or encourage participation in group exercise programs offered through your community parks & recreation department, church, synagogue, or YMCA.
- Build confidence. Provide exercise opportunities that involve attainable goals (e.g. walking around the block two times or training for a fun run race) which will result in personal mastery and enhanced self-esteem.
- Provide positive reinforcement when your child meets set goals (e.g. give a "congratulations" card or certificate).
- Be a positive role model. Exercise yourself and discuss strategies with your child on how to overcome barriers to exercise.
For additional information on how to get your child physically active visit the We Can! website (www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart/obesity/wecan/
). We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition) is a national program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to help families adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Labels: children, exercise, tween, We Can