Most of us know that kids are supposed to get at least 60 minutes of physical
activity a day. And 1 hour spent being active sounds like a pretty easy goal, doesn't
But as kids get older, increasing demands on their time can make getting that hour
of exercise a challenge. Also, some kids get caught up watching TV, playing video
games, and surfing the Internet. Even doing a lot of studying and reading, while important,
can add to a lack of physical activity.
On top of that, during these years kids often come to a fork in the road with sports.
Those who are athletic might end up increasing their time and commitment to sports,
which is great for their physical fitness. But more casual athletes may lose interest
and decide to quit teams and leagues. Unless they find replacement activities, their
physical activity levels tend to go way down.
But being active is a key part of good health for all school-age kids. Exercise
strengthens their muscles and bones and ensures that their bodies are capable of doing
normal kid stuff, like lifting a backpack or running a race. It also helps control
their weight and decreases their risk of chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure
and type 2 diabetes.
Keeping Kids Motivated
So how do you get kids motivated to be active, especially those who aren't natural
Kids can be fit even if they're not winning sports trophies. The key is finding
activities they enjoy. The options are many — from inline skating and bike riding
to tennis and swimming.
When kids find an activity that's fun, they'll do it a lot, get better at it, feel
accomplished, and want to do it even more. Likewise, if they're pushed into activities
they don't like, they're unlikely to want to participate and will end up frustrated
and will feel like exercising is a chore.
Stick to Basics for 6- to 8-Year-Olds
Expose younger kids to a variety of activities, games, and sports. Keep the focus
on fun. A mix of activities at home and at school is often ideal. And be sure to include
some free time for kids to make their own decisions about what to do.
At this age, kids are still mastering basic physical skills, such as jumping, throwing,
kicking, and catching. It will take a few more years before most can combine these
skills the way many 11-year-olds can (for instance, being able to scoop up a baseball,
run toward the base, and throw the ball — all in one fluid motion). So if your
child is on a sports team, make sure you and the coaches are setting realistic expectations.
Such expectations are also important when it comes to how much kids can handle
mentally. Younger kids often are not ready for the pressure of competition, nor can
they grasp complex strategy. Look for teams, leagues, and classes that stress the
basics and provide encouragement and praise for kids as they improve their skills.
Done correctly, team sports and other group activities can teach kids a lot about
teamwork and good sportsmanship.
9- to 12-Year-Olds Are More Coordinated
Older school-age kids usually have mastered basic skills and can start enjoying
the benefits of being more coordinated. That means a kid who likes basketball isn't
wildly throwing the ball at the basket anymore, but is perfecting the free throw.
They're also better able to understand the rules. Parents of kids involved in team
sports might want to talk about handling setbacks and losses, and remind kids that
sports should still be fun even as competition
Whether it's soccer or ballet, if your child doesn't enjoy an activity or feels
frustrated by failure, it may be time to switch to something else. That doesn't mean
the time spent on those activities was wasted. Instead, ask which ones your child
would like to try next. Achieving this transition smoothly, without making a child
feel like a failure, can prevent negative feelings about sports and physical activity
Help Kids Find Their Niche
When choosing activities, consider a child's interests, abilities, and body type.
A bigger child might be suited for football because size is an advantage. A smaller
child might succeed at baseball or might consider a non-team sport.
Also, consider temperament. A mild-mannered boy who might not be comfortable playing
football may like the challenge of karate. Likewise, an active girl might not have
the patience and control required for ballet, but is well-suited to a fast-paced activity,
Personality traits and athletic ability combine to influence a child's attitude
toward participation in sports and other physical activities. Which of these three
types best describes your child?
These kids may lack athletic ability, dislike physical activity, or both. By
this age, kids are aware of these differences and some may have even been teased about
them. The danger for them is not leaving one activity that didn't work out; it's abandoning
all physical activity altogether.
Casual athletes: These kids are interested in being active but
aren't star players, so are at risk of getting discouraged in a competitive athletic
environment. Most kids fall into this category, but in a culture that is obsessed
with winning, it's easy to overlook them as athletes. Encourage them to remain active
even though they aren't top performers.
Athletes: These kids have athletic ability, are committed
to a sport or activity, and are likely to ramp up practice time and intensity of competition.
Some are happily settled in a sport or activity by the older school-age years. It's
important to ensure that athletes manage schoolwork, get enough rest, and still enjoy
the sport. Continue to let your child try out new things and enjoy a variety of physical
Parents Can Make a Difference
Kids look to parents for guidance, support, and encouragement. It's very important
to set a good example, so don't groan about your own exercise — make it a priority
and look for chances to be physically active as a family.