6 Sneaky Ways to Help Your Kid Develop Healthy Exercise Habits

little girl

Sure, little ones love running around and wreaking havoc, but in today's tech-obsessed world, kids are much less physically active than their iPad-less counterparts of yesteryear. Need we even tell you? This isn't a good thing. "Kids need to move. It is how they develop," says Tovah Klein, author of How Toddlers Thrive. "Children need to work off their energy, and they focus better when they've had time to be physically active." 


If prying your child away from a screen and convincing him to head outside has become a battle, take comfort in the fact that, with a few small adjustments to your usual routine, your little one will be excited to get up and get moving. Here are six easy ways to get your toddler or preschooler more interested in being active. Spoiler: It isn't nearly as hard as you think. 

1. Set up a routine. Kids are creatures of habit, and transitions can be hard for them. Instead of making an impromptu suggestion about going to the park, set it up early in the day. "Adults have to guide kids through transitions," says Klein. "Making fitness part of your routine helps. Rather than asking your child if she wants to go outside, simply say, 'After breakfast we will get ready to go play in the backyard.'" This way, your child is more likely to be excited by the prospect instead of completely caught off guard. Also, you're not asking, so they don't really have a choice.  

2. Don't use the word "exercise." Instead of carving out a time for "exercise" every day, which may wind up feeling like a chore eventually, you want your toddler or preschooler to think of daily physical activity as something that happens organically. (Remember: You aren't just getting them to move now, you're hopefully setting up a lifelong habit.) "Make physical fitness a natural part of the day," says Klein. "Go outside daily, even two or three times a day. Kids can run, jump, climb, kick balls, ride bikes, play in the sand. This is all natural exercise, and children view it as play and fun."

3. Give options. The best place to be physically active, without question, is outside. But there's so much more to the park and backyard besides the jungle gym and running in circles. Don't just stand there when you get to the playground; offer suggestions to your kids. Whether it's digging in the dirt to look for bugs, climbing trees, or playing hide-and-seek, whatever your child chooses will be the most fun -- and most engaging -- to them. And most importantly, they'll spend a longer amount of time getting fresh air and exercise.

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4. Don't reward them. Let's be honest: The idea of rewarding a child for playing outside is a little ridiculous in and of itself, but desperate times call for desperate measures. If you're at the end of your rope with your preschooler's reluctance to leave the confines of the playroom to be physically active, resist the urge to dangle a metaphorical carrot, as it will only lead to power struggles. "Rewards set up a system that says to them, do this for a prize," explains Klein. "The motivation is then external. If there's no prize, they won't do it." Instead of offering a reward to your child, make going outside fun and simply for the purpose of moving around and being part of the physical world.

5. Don't compare. As every parent knows, there's no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to children -- and that includes time spent being active. The Center for Disease Control suggests kids get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, but you don't need to set your watch. "Some children run and move more than others; there is no set rule on how active a child needs to be," assures Klein. 

6. Think outside the box. There are the run-of-the-mill activities that get kids moving -- bike riding, scooters, tag -- but it's always good to mix it up. Once in a while, introduce something new into your child's physical repertoire, such as blowing bubbles and chasing them, collecting leaves, or going on a scavenger hunt. Not only will it be fun for them, but it will also keep them interested in fitness.

But of course, they won't be thinking of it as fitness. 

What do you do to keep your children active?

Image via iStock.com/BraunS

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