Children often model what they observe, regardless whether it is positive or negative (what psychologists call "observational learning"). If a child's parents are couch potatoes, always watching television or sitting in front of their computers, they are likely to mimic that behavior. By participating in fitness activities with your children, they will see their role models setting a good example by being physically active.
Not only will you have fun together, but you will be teaching your children that you can have a good time doing something healthy, and that's a good lesson to learn. Remember excelling at the activities you select is not what is important; it's about being active and being together. Over the years, retrospective longitudinal studies have shown that what young children value most about participating in fitness activities with their parents is the chance to spend quality time together. A October 2009 study by the Women's Sports Foundation found that 63% of parents practiced or exercised with their children once or more per week.
Pick age-appropriate activities
Another key to a successful fitness program is to make sure the activities you select are in sync with your child's interest, age and capabilities. Most five-year-olds would think a rousing game of tag with mom or dad would be fun, but a teenager might feel quite differently. If the activity is too easy, it might become boring and you could easily lose your child's interest; too difficult and, more often than not, a child will become frustrated and give up .
Keep in mind this strategy can also be applied to group activities. Take it upon yourself to round up the neighborhood children (and their parents) and suggest they all go outside and play basketball, kickball, capture the flag, kick the can or another type of social game. Not only will your child be physically active, he will be learning about teamwork and sportsmanship while making new friends. And it will give you a chance to get to know your neighbors!
Find activities that fit your child's personality
When selecting a fitness activity, it's important to consider your child's personality and his personal preferences.
If your child prefers playing in a group environment, he would probably prefer to play a team sport like soccer, softball, or lacrosse. If he tends to thrive more on his own, consider an individual activity like biking, running or tennis. Does your child like one activity that takes a significant amount of time or is her attention span one that would do better with several shorter activities? Knowing your child's answers to these questions will help you both more accurately select the fitness activities that provide good results while maximizing fun and enjoyment.
Cory Bank, Ph.D., is a founder of the Abington (PA) Center for Therapy and Sports Psychology, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Montgomery County Community College and an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program of Education at Rosemont College .