The facts on child obesity are sobering.  Nearly 25% of American children over age 6 are considered obese or overweight.  That’s one in four children!  School recess and PE classes have been cut considerably, and children spend an average of 10 hours a day in front of some sort of screen (television, computer, phone or video games).  Our children seem to have forgotten how to go outside and play!  As moms, we have a critical role in teaching our children to be healthy and fit.  Here are a few tips to make that job a little easier.

First, be a role model of healthy living for your children.  Children watch their parents carefully and are quick to point out any discrepancies between what we say and what we actually do.  Your healthy eating habits and commitment to regular exercise will be noticed by your children and will help encourage them to adopt these same habits.

Limit media time and be aware of what your children do in their free time.  In our house, my children get 30 “free” minutes of media each day (TV, computer, video games), and they are limited to 250 texts each month.  They can earn an additional 30 minutes of media time by reading for half an hour.  My children are responsible for setting a timer, and if I find that they are not keeping track then they lose media privileges for the rest of that day and the following day.

Send your children outside. There are very few days when kids can’t play outside for at least part of the day.  I keep plenty of outdoor equipment on hand such as balls, jump ropes, skates, hula hoops, Frisbees, sidewalk chalk, bikes, sleds, etc. and we have several books on fun games to play outdoors.  If my children protest, I tell them to just go outside for 15 minutes.  Before long, they are involved in some sort of play and don’t want to come back in.

Have a rainy day or bad weather plan. If playing outside is not an option, then offer your children indoor alternatives for exercise.  You can purchase fun exercise DVDs for kids at Collage Video or Fitness Beginnings.  My children enjoy doing workout cards that depict a variety of exercises called Fit Deck Junior.  Games like Twister or video games such as Dance Revolution get your kids up and moving.   If nothing else, just turn on some music and let them dance around the living room.

Kids love obstacle courses! This can be done outside or indoors.  Use hula hoops, pool noodles, cones, mats or blankets, etc. and a little creativity to set up a course.  For example, jump over the pool noodle, then lie on the blanket or mat and do 10 sit-ups, then jump rope for 30 seconds, then bend down and touch your toes 5 times, run through the cones, then balance on one leg and finally walk like a crab back to the beginning of the course and start over.  You’ll probably just have to make up one course because after that your children will be begging you to let them create their own obstacle courses.  I’m often amazed at children’s creativity in setting these up.  (Just be sure to monitor it for safety hazards.)  Join in the fun by offering to go through the course that your children create.

Children appreciate recognition and rewards for their hard work.  What child wouldn’t beam with pride when you hang a gold medal around his neck after he’s worked hard to set an exercise goal?  Increase your children’s self-esteem and teach them a skill that will serve them well in life by helping them reach an exercise goal.  The President’s Challenge has an excellent website with plenty of resources and goal-oriented fitness programs for a wide variety of sports and activities.  Simply set up an account, and your child can earn awards and track progress toward a goal online.  (The program is free, but there is a nominal fee to order medals.)  You can set up a similar program at home by helping your child create a simple chart that she can post in her rooms to log workout goals that you set together.  Most discount stores carry inexpensive medals that you can award your child.  Older kids and teens may appreciate a movie ticket, new CD or video game or another suitable reward in lieu of a medal.

Schedule a family day at the park.  Load some outdoor play equipment in the minivan, pack a picnic lunch or dinner and head to the local park.  Spend a few hours outside just playing together as a family.  If the weather prevents going outside, then plan a family trip to the bowling alley, indoor mini golf or roller rink.

Encourage your child to play a sport. Sports teach children commitment, teamwork and sportsmanship.  You certainly don’t need to overload your children’s schedules with activities, but perhaps allow them to participate in one sport activity each year.  Children who are uncoordinated or intimidated may prefer martial arts or a more individual sport such as swimming, track and field or archery.  To keep costs down, look for equipment at garage sales or thrift shops.  Many city recreation centers offer youth sports programs at a reasonable cost.

As Catholic moms, we can certainly also pray for help in this endeavor! These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Consider that children who grow up with a positive attitude toward exercise and view it as a fun activity will be much more likely to continue this habit as adults.

Copyright 2011 Peggy Bowes