Children, Physical Activity, Diet - Part I of a 3 part series
Part 1 of 3 - Making Time and Making Sense -
I can think of many things in life where less is more. Life as a parent, at least from my perspective, validates that thought tenfold. I have really started to take a look at what we do and what we buy to make sure it supports an active lifestyle that has quality time. I started thinking about this yesterday when I came across a poster online about children who have type 2 diabetes and who are overweight. I realized that I am lucky not to have that problem and wanted to share ideas on how to get kids more active.
Be pragmatic not overscheduled
I see so many parents sign their children up for so many activities it turns their houses upside down. No one has time to think much less prepare a healthful meal or sit down to eat it. Are these activities really necessary and will they really lead to something fruitful later in life?
Now that my son is a teen and never mind in this economy, I have taken a more pragmatic stance on what we do.
Last year he wanted to play football and I indulged him. But reality dictates he is too small to really go anywhere with it, and the time it took up from our schedule was too great of a sacrifice for what it brought to our table.
It was a competitive travel team and while the workouts in the beginning were good during the summer, when school started it became too much. The coaches were starting practice later and later and they were ending later and later as time went on. Plus they had a great drive to win and I believe that clouded their judgement against the welfare of most of the young players. We attended practice 5 or 6 nights a week. And we had the added challenge of getting up at 5:30AM for an AP Math class that is on a high school level - that is a lot to ask of a middle school boy. All of this was for him to play the last 2 minutes of every game with the other rookies. Then there were the injuries I had to witness to the other players and that made me hit the eject button.
I finally had an epiphany that he would have a greater chance at going somewhere with his math skills and owning a football team than he would to play on one. So, I made the decision that we would not continue. Or rather, I came up with a severance package that went something like this, "I will buy you anything you want if you quit." It was not one of my better moments as a parent but I knew I did the right thing.
Street sports are under-rated
The first day he got to stay home from football and play outside he was happy and agreed with my decision. Now our football team is a street affair with the rest of the neighborhood. I do nurture the whole neighborhood with the amount of sports equipment we have in our garage. Skates, bikes, skateboards, slip and slide, the pool, pool toys, footballs, basketballs - you name it - if you can play it, we have it
Later in the year we elected to play on the school volleyball team - he gets to play with kids that are his school friends and he is far more talented with volleyball. Games and practices were for a few hours after school. And the duration is about a month. Much more conducive to school and sanity and he had fun and a great experience!
Buy toys that increase activity - bikes, noodles and balls are good
Summer is here and we are signed up for one tennis camp that he can ride his bike to. He is also riding the bike to run errands - go to the bank and the store. He is swimming because I bought some fun noodles and balls to play fetch with the dogs. Simple, but with activity in mind.
When they are big enough to earn money they stay more active and learn more skills - it is time to earn those electronics!
I have decided that he has to buy all of his own electronic equipment and that he should do this by starting his own business. That is a much better alternative than me buying it and him sitting around playing for hours and hours not really happy with it and very sedentary in the process.
I suggested pet sitting because there seems to be a need for that in our neighborhood and he is very good with our 2 large dogs. He of course came up with a better idea. He is detailing cars! He has had to figure out a way to make a marketable enticing offer, write up a flyer, distribute the flyers rain or shine, make a website, check email, watch tutorials on youtube, realize that constant promotion brings in steady sales, nurture existing customers, get up early, work hard, manage the customers and a flurry of other very useful entrepreneurial skills. He is getting a lot of exercise. He is learning to make his way in the world. Every time he walks in the door with $20 he beams like a little kid at Christmas. And we are not driving all over the place for activities that might not matter 10 years from now.
Dogs are great "activity-increasers"
I do realize a dog is not for everyone. But I must say I am so surprised at the amount of physical work they have created. Mostly it is to clean up their myriad of playful messes and chase after them. But we do love walking, running, swimming and playing with them and they have brought a lot of love and lessons and family quality time to my son.
Clean, don't watch TV
I bet most people don't realize that sitting only burns 76 calories or so per hour. But start cleaning and you double that! So, my son does a chore each day and we don't really watch TV. We are just not a TV family unless there is a major sporting event on TV. My son does play video games but he has to have chores done and since he has so many fun things to do outside and the responsibility of the dogs I believe we have a happy medium.
Quality time is good
And we have more quality time. I am teaching him to cook and bake. I am getting more work done and having time to stay active. I am not saying it is wrong to play football; but it is better to look at the individual needs of the child and the family and make decisions that make sense for all involved.
Less is MORE! Do what you are already doing together
And it is better to have them alongside you whenever possible rather than always depending on a program. When he was young I used to include him in many of my workouts - he rode his bike with me on my runs even with training wheels. He ran the last mile of a track workout and he learned to swim. He even competed in the triathlons we went to. And he ran 5Ks with me. One of our advisors, Peggy Martin, has an excellent article here about shopping with kids that recommends the same thing - doing chores with kids as a way to both stay active and promote quality time and life's lessons - it is about shopping with your child.
I know I don't want to be overscheduled and drive incessantly to the point I have to drive through a fast food restaurant to make dinner on time. I guess what I am saying is that we are being creative with what we have to do, like him riding his bike with his friends for our errands, instead of dreaming up new things to do for the sake of having something to do that requires driving.
Part 2 will bring good tips to engage children with food and especially cooking and healthy food. Picky eaters invited!
Part 3 brings great healthy family meal ideas and sneaky ways to get them all eating more fruits and veggies.
Comments and tips are appreciated - if you have ways on getting your kids more active, let's hear them!