How Can I Get My Child to Exercise?

Parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd, answers a parent's question about motivating sedentary kids to become more active.
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Q. "We are trying to get our daughter to participate in a sport of some kind. She is absolutely sedentary. She and her friends never do anything active. They only want to listen to music, watch TV, and eat junk food. How can we motivate her? She's 12, and a bit overweight."

A. Rather than trying to convince your daughter to take up a sport, try instead encouraging her and her friends to take an exercise or dance class. With such activities your daughter and her friends can move their social group from the sofa to the dance floor or workout room, and develop some healthy habits along the way.

Convincing your daughter to join the swim team, try out for soccer, or learn to ski might be impossible, but taking a movement, yoga, or weight-training class might be more in their adolescent realm of possibility and fun as well.

The most you can do is provide exercise class options, pay the fee, provide the transportation and suggest your daughter invite her friends; the rest is up to her. Young adolescents are often reluctant to do as parents request. They're out to prove they have a mind of their own separate from Mom and Dad. The typical adolescent often does exactly the opposite of what parents recommend simply because doing so proves independent thinking.

Therefore, your challenge is to create an interest in your daughter being more physically active by coming quietly in the back door with subtle influence. Forcing the exercise issue by barging through the front door with demands for compliance won't get you to your goal. You want your daughter to believe it's her idea, not yours.

Even if you offer your daughter well-researched, logical, reasonable, and sound information about the long- and short-term benefits of eating right and exercising, and deliver it kindly and thoughtfully, she'll most likely balk. Therefore, it's important to proceed cautiously.

Realize that an inspirational physical education teacher might have more luck than you when it comes to influencing your daughter to eat better and exercise. The adolescent takes in information and suggestions much more easily from an admired adult than a parent.

Although it seems you have little control, it's important to use effectively the control you do have. You control the food you bring into your home, so don't buy junk food or eat it yourself. Buy nutritious food and make it available to your daughter and her friends. Exercise yourself; go for walks and bike rides. Invite your daughter and her friends to join you.

Lastly, never mention the fact that your daughter is a bit overweight. It won't do any good. It will only make your daughter resent you and she'll be less likely to do as you'd like with respect to developing healthy exercise and eating habits.


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