This morning, I had one of my favourite clients tell me this little story:
Last night, his twin sons disappeared downstairs on their own. They're five years old, and after twenty minutes, he decided he'd better take a look. Peering around a corner, he saw one boy with a five-pound dumbbell on one shoulder, doing squats. The other was doing pushups. Now, this guy is a dad who believes in doing stuff with his kids; each of them (his older daughter, too!) have been to the Park with him, and participated. What's more, mama just finished OnRamp. Do you think these guys are learning from watching? Better believe it.
Yesterday, we posted a little essay about appropriate exercise choices for kids as they grow.
It's absolutely critical to start young. Studies done in small schools (like ours) show that, while all school teams are full, it's nearly always the same kids playing each sport. This is especially true for girls. Statistically, if you have 10 girls on a basketball team, and 10 girls on a volleyball team, and 10 girls on a school soccer team…9 are the same kids. 5 years later, as High School Seniors? Almost 100% played elementary school sports. If they don't start early, they don't start.
While no one would call our Park gym a "family fitness centre," we're the only ones around who allow small kids to come with their parents. Why? Well, we believe that immersion leads to participation. And participation leads to effort. Got a 2-year-old? As Allyson once put it to me, "the big tire is the best playpen money can buy." Even if they're not paying attention, focused on colouring the giant tire with sidewalk chalk or hiding their little cars inside, they're there. They notice. They know.
There have been attempts, of course, to include kids in exercise before. The problem is that the well-meaning administrators attempt to apply an adult solution to a child problem. Kids aren't miniature adults. Nerf-coloured exercise bikes with video games won't hold their attention long; they have better video games at home. And is teaching a kid that self-distraction is the best way to endure the painful, horrible, boring practice of exercise the right message anyway? I think we can do better.
The real best way? Make up a challenge (read: game.) You participate, too. Make it tough. If the challenge is truly difficult, you don't need to offer a reward at the end. Finishing is the reward.
I think every parent would nod their heads at this one:the best way to get a kid to start exercising? Don't. Get them to start playing.
Go to CrossFit Kids and try some stuff. Take them to activities. Race them. It's your responsibility to leave your child with the habits that will one day save their lives.
My kids do burpees. Am I a dad who pushes his kids, relentlessly, up some ladder of sport? Nope. It's a trick to get them into the tub(3 burpees! 10 squats! Run upstairs! 3-2-1…go!) Did Walter Gretzky force Wayne outside, night after night, to skate for his dinner? Nah, he just flooded the rink. Did Lance Armstrong's mom poke him awake at 5am to go to a cyclodrome? No, she just made sure he always had a bike to get around. It really doesn't take much.
Provide opportunity and encouragement, then jump in with them. Insert finish line. Everybody wins!