My husband and I were registered to run our first half marathon when I became pregnant with our first child. I ended up not running that half, but I registered immediately for the next year’s race because I wanted to be committed to it. After my son was born, I had serious reservations. The race was six months away, but in that postpartum fog, I couldn’t envision being at a place physically to be training. I was wrong, and having that goal and training was amazing to get me moving and back in shape. It also helped guarantee that I lost the baby weight within that six months.
When we started getting to the longer runs, I have a distinct memory. I looked at our son in the stroller, happily watching the world go by, and I asked my husband if he thought we were ingraining exercise in his young brain. I can’t remember Jay’s exact response, but I remember having a long conversation about instilling fitness in kids at a young age and ways we thought that could happen.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure our running with him in the stroller had no impact on our son’s thoughts about fitness now, but I think many other aspects of our lives have and continue to do impact his perspective on exercise and health. Part of our priorities for our family is health.
We eat a lot of healthy, real food, do a lot of activities outdoors and make sure our kids get to bed early and rest well. This can be a juggle and often it is all about making realistic choices. Sometimes, fast food is the only way we can fit in dinner. Sometimes, we need a couch potato day. Overall, however, everyone’s health is a priority.
The number one thing that I have found that has helped my children is setting an example. We used to watch Biggest Loser and I always think of the scenes where the contestants had lost weight and were home playing basketball and riding bikes with their kids. Those parents’ entry videos always included them saying how sad they were that their kids were heavy and that they couldn’t do activities/keep up with their kids. You know that expression, ‘do as I say, not as I do?’ That is so true here. If you are unhealthy and not moving, how can you expect your kids to listen to you when you tell them to eat healthy food or exercise?
Kids are ALWAYS watching. Always. You think they are zoned out doing something else, or tuning out, but there is always a tiny part of their brain tuned in to you. Don’t believe me? Ride in the car with my son in the third row with headphones on and try to whisper something serious… he suddenly zeroes in and needs to know what you said. They see us and notice what we do. In my experience, my kids often want to do certain things because they see us doing them. If we are working outside, they want to be outside. If we are vegging out, they want to veg out. It goes beyond this though. My kids now know that I get up early to take the dog for a walk. My son sometimes wakes up early to try to catch me and go along. He loves it and it’s also an instance of him seeing me prioritize exercise and health.
In the summer, my kids go to camp at a nearby club and we ride our bikes there instead of driving. I have a treadmill in my basement and the kids know that I use it to walk and run. They’ve seen me run in relay races and half marathons. Yesterday, I caught my two-year-old putting on my tennis shoes and trying to walk on the treadmill. They pay attention and want to be like us. When we need a break, or they’ve been cooped up because of weather, we use Youtube yoga videos to help everyone stay sane (we highly recommend Cosmic Kids!!)
When you are actually hungry, it’s harder to be picky.
We sign them up for active things, but they don’t object. I think our enthusiasm and example helps that. Do they always jump for joy when it’s time for soccer practice? Of course not! They do, however, try and work hard and I almost never hear complaints about the exercise. Exercise also helps with eating because, as we all know, when you are actually hungry, it’s harder to be picky. You can go back to my post “Embracing the Suck” to see how my trying a new sport has been valuable, but they see me try new things and see that it will be okay. If you want your kid to try a new sport and they resist, maybe try doing it yourself. Don’t push them to participate, just take the soccer ball and head outside to play. Look enthusiastic and play around. See if your kid comes out to join- it’s hard to resist when you see someone else playing!
Start adding one thing in every single day and see if you can keep it up.
If you are struggling with getting in the habit of moving your body, or have a desire to get your kids more active, take a step back. Evaluate what an average weekday looks like. Evaluate what an average weekend day looks like. Are you doing activities with your kids that involve exercise? It can even be something as simple as a walk through the neighborhood or kicking a ball back and forth. Start adding one thing in every single day and see if you can keep it up. Kids don’t have the same thought process of choosing one thing over another or feeling guilt that they should be doing something else instead. If you hop up and say, ‘let’s go on an adventure!’ I expect that your kids will be excited and go along, even if it is some disguised exercise.
If you want help or suggestions, reach out! I love to brainstorm this stuff and have learned a lot with my own kids.