The rise in the use of tablets and smartphones amongst young children is believed to be creating long-term health risks for the UK. A UKactive poll of parents suggests that almost nine in ten British mums and dads (87%) feel that increased use of tablets and smartphones by children has contributed to a decline in the amount of exercise they do.
It seems children are far more motivated to give their fingers a workout by playing video games or using the remote control rather than moving their bodies, with children watching on average 3 to 5 hours of television a day, according to Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, author of Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children (Harper Collins, 2007).
This therefore doesn't leave much time to move their bodies more and take advantage of the many benefits physical activity can offer children. Here are some top tips on how to encourage your children to ditch the ipad or remote for a more healthy alternative.
1. Let them play video games
If your children truly love video games, then use them as a reward for doing something active and sporty. Encourage your children to play outside or do something active everyday and if they achieve this then reward them with some screen time after dinner (and after homework!)
2. They’ll never know it’s exercise!
Get your children involved in activities around the house which require plenty of movement and physical activity but remember to make it fun. Washing the car or doing some gardening are all great ways to get the heart rate up.
3. Walk the walk
Walking is a great form of physical activity for everyone of any age! Walk the dog together (if you have one), walk to the local shop for milk, walk to school – try to incorporate walking wherever you can.
4. Get the gift of fitness
For birthdays, Christmas and special occasions why not ask family to give vouchers for local activity centres or for specific activities such as rock climbing or tennis lessons etc.
5. Lead by example
Children are like sponges and as parents you are a key influence in their lives. If they see you constantly eating junk food and spending hours on the sofa, they will start to believe that’s what they should do. Whereas, as a parent, if you’re active and lead a healthy lifestyle your children will look up to this and aspire to be like you.
6. The real meaning of team
Instead of sending your children to swim or play sports on their own try to do activities as a family as often as you can. Something as simple as a family bike ride will have a big impact on your child’s interest in exercise and physical activity.
7. Keep it fun!
More the merrier! Encourage your kids to invite their friends around and use this as an opportunity to play sports and exercise together. Children love to play games and doing this with a group of friends is a great way to nurture and encourage your kids’ enjoyment of exercise.
8. Short and sweet
Remember kids have short attention spans – especially younger children. Try and keep games or activities short, sharp and interesting. Set a goal so your child knows what they are working to – i.e. first to ten points or the best of three sets. If you notice that they are becoming bored or distracted quickly move on and don’t make a fuss.
9. Using the TV to help your kids’ interest in exercise and sport!
The TV can be a great way to inspire children. Take advantage of sensational summer of sport we are having, with Wimbledon and the football World Cup – watching these together might inspire your child to pick up a tennis racquet or kick a ball about. Never underestimate the wow factor of watching sports together.
10. Age appropriate activities
Remember children of different ages will enjoy different activities. Babies and toddlers will enjoy and should start to develop their motor skills through playing and beyond these formative years, specific sports will be important to introduce to children.
11. Praise be!
Always praise and encourage your child especially if they are new to exercise and sport. Appreciate they won’t be the star player from day one but if you encourage, reward and praise them it will build their confidence and encourage them to go back week after week.
12. Explore and discover
Not all children are natural football players or have the grace of a ballerina. Therefore, it’s about working, talking and listening to your child about what activities they enjoy and understanding what they are good at. If they have zero co-ordination or rhythm then dancing might not be for them but they might love rugby or swimming. Pay attention and listen to your child.
Children aren’t children for long. Enjoy spending time playing, watching, encouraging and being proud of their sporting achievements. Who knows you might have the next Harry Kane or Jessica Ennis in your family!