Getting a child who doesn't enjoy exercise to be active

Keeping our kids active year-round can be a real challenge for most of us. It’s recommended that kids need at least one hour of active activity most days of the week. This can be especially challenging if your child is more interested in curling up with a good book or building Legos than sports and outdoor activities. For these kids, unconventional exercise may be the key to help them get active. Here’s how to figure it out:

Make a list. Ask your children to write down a list of things that they enjoy doing. Be ready for such answers as playing video games, or watching YouTube videos and TV. If all of the activities listed involve a screen, ask, instead: “If all of your electronics stopped working and you could not charge them, what would you do?” You may be surprised at the answers you get: drawing, building Legos, playing with dolls, playing a board game, picking up a basketball, singing, dancing or maybe going to the park.

Streamline your list. Highlight anything that may be an active activity such as going outside or going to the mall; you can work in some laps at the mall. If all of your child’s list lacks movement, it’s time to think outside the box.

If video games were the first pick, how about sitting on a stability ball instead of the couch when playing? The child could play an active video game such as Just Dance or Wii Sports.

If they enjoy drawing, they could draw on an easel, which would require standing while drawing, or use chalk and draw things outside on the sidewalk. Even the bending and movement to draw on the ground is a step in the right direction.

If they listed watching videos, how about watching while riding a stationary bike or walking on the treadmill at the gym?

If your child listed Legos or playing with dolls, how could you incorporate movement to that? Your child can build a village with Legos in different areas of the house, and travel back and forth to the different locations. When playing dolls, have your child set up different spots for the dolls to go, such as the store,  movies, or zoo. Then the child can visit those spots to act out the activity there.

While most of these idea would not be classified as moderate to vigorous activity, it is a start and any movement is better than none.

Educate your child. A lot of kids know they need to be active, but they aren’t sure why it’s important. For some older kids, helping reduce the risk of illnesses and helping maintain a healthy heart and strong body is all they need to know.

Others would benefit from understanding that the more you move your body, the easier it is to climb the stairs at school without getting out of breath or help continue activities such as singing and dancing.

Find out what motivates your child. For some kids, it may be helpful to set up a sticker chart or reward system to help build active habits. Try having the goal of 15 active minutes each day, placing a sticker in their chart after they complete the activity. Each week increase the time by five minutes.

For an older child, try making a goal together with a reward such as a small trip. Being active together with your child may also be a great way to start. Others may find they are more intrinsically motivated by things such as achieving a better-timed mile in school or building abdominal strength to sing stronger or dance well.

Be the encourager and talk with your child. This is one of the most important and valuable tips. Each child is wonderfully unique and has likes and dislikes. It is important to honor these and work with them. It is equally important to alleviate any fears, anxieties, or frustrations your child may have about activity. Some children do not participate in activities because they are afraid of teasing or not keeping up with the other kids.

Talk to your child about these sensitive issues. In many cases, once some of these fears are addressed, the child is more ready to participate in an activity. Continue to talk with your child once some movement has been started, and see whether there is room to add more! Starting small is important in many cases to avoid a child feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by the new lifestyle change. Celebrate small changes in lifestyle — the small changes will add up and start to set the foundation for a more active lifestyle.