So, we always here people say "let kids be kids", but it can mean a lot of different things. When I say it, it means that kids should be able to express themselves physically, verbally, and emotionally. If they want to wear a Godzilla costume to Target, I don't care. It hurts no one, and it encourages imagination. Most of the time when people say it, it's aimed at letting kids play more, be louder, and be sillier. Right on! Today I heard it MULTIPLE times for something that just pissed me off. It was in regards to a certain race series' Facebook picture of a young boy (maybe 6?) doing a crapton of burpees. I'm not going to post the photo out of respect for the parents. But it set. Me. Off. And this is why.
The boy was doing the standard shirtless "showing off the guns" sort of photo, and he was obviously very healthy. He has a little kid six pack and strong arms. And for every "way to go, kid!" comment, I read two or three comments on how UNHEALTHY and UNNATURAL he was being. WTF? There was everything from "This is terrible parenting" to "This is going to ruin his body forever". Um, no. Neither of those are true at all. And comments like these are the reasons that we have so many obese children in our country! I'll expand.
First off, I honestly doubt that his parents forced him to do it, they weren't holding him back from "being a kid". Just because he has muscles doesn't mean he's been overtrained, muscles are more visible on skinnier children. I have two very skinny children. I feed them well, but they're just built that way, as was I as a child. I CANNOT find clothes for these kids! I have to either buy pants with those elastic adjustments and pull them all the way tight (giving them massive bubble butt) or go to H&M and buy them European-sized clothing. In fact, when we lived in Europe both kids were in the 50th percentile for height/weight. Here? They're around 5-10th percentile. Why the huge difference? Because they put their kids outside and keep them out there until the kids are tired. Because they don't let them play x-box all day and instead make them walk/run to a playground. Because there are very few fast food restaurants and most people actually COOK for their kids. Amazing! But nooooo, that's not good enough for our country! We need more fast food, more nasty bags of frozen meals, and more video games/tv shows to stare at all day. All this gets us is a country full of people who don't like to move, and it shows.
Most people don't know this, but the health recommendation for school-aged children is to get a MINIMUM of one hour/day exercise, EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not the 30mins/5 days per week that adults should get, but seven hours/week. Sound like too much? No way!! It doesn't mean that they should be in the gym, but instead just doing kid-play like going to the playground and participating in sports. And they should do it until they're adults! I know that most schools don't give a recess longer than 30 minutes, and PE isn't offered every day anymore, so this means that children need to be getting that extra exercise at home. As responsible parents, we should be giving our kids time to play hard and doing it daily. The stimulation that exercise provides to the bones promotes healthy growth and will lead to stronger, sturdier bones for life, not to mention the disposition to eat healthier and maintain a certain level of fitness into adulthood. It's "letting kids be kids"! The only things that are not good for young children are lifting HEAVY weights and running LONG distances. And they probably won't want to do that stuff anyway, because it hurts.
So, the question is now--How do we get our children more active, especially in the colder months? Well, I have multiple suggestions:
1. Take them outside anyway. If it's not raining and the wind won't knock them over, they'll play in it. Yes, that means lots of layers and parents having to sit in the cold with them. But it's going to make them happier and healthier, so I think it's an worthy sacrifice.
2. If you just can't bear to do that and you have the extra money, put them in a sport. Martial arts are year-round and are amazing for not only health but teaching respect and responsibility. Swim and dance classes are also offered year-round and give excellent fitness benefits. Also, most local rec centers and YMCA/YWCA's will have basic fitness classes offered year-round. Our local club just started a free youth class for children to learn aspects of yoga, pilates, zumba, and martial arts, as well as do group activities. Look into it, they're out there!
3. Let them play active video games on the really nasty days. Kinect especially has some awesome kid games that will teach them dances with their favorite cartoon characters. It gives them their video game time, but it makes them work for it. And for older children, Zumba and Dance, Dance, Revolution are excellent options.
4. Dance party! We have a kiddo dance party almost daily in our house. I put them in a room with a CD player and let them go nutty, usually with some dancing on my part too. Yes, my ears are usually bleeding from Kidz Bop and Fresh Beat Band afterwards, but again--worth it.
5. Family walks. Walking IS considered an intense enough exercise for a child. And it's wonderful bonding time. Bring the bikes and scooters, and circle the neighborhood for thirty minutes. Everyone will love it.
6. Let THEM lead an at-home workout! This won't work every day, but it will get you at least 10 minutes of activities from them. Stand facing them and have them show you what they've learned in PE or other classes. They love to show off, you get a bit of exercise time too, and you will probably be giggling by the end.
7. Buy a few cute kid yoga/fitness DVD's and rotate them as the kids like. It won't hurt to try different things out, and it's the perfect way to pump up a rainy day. We've even done kid yoga on playdates before, so it can be fun any time!
8. Lastly (and probably most importantly)--let them hear about and see YOU exercise and eat healthy too! They'll learn that it's simply a part of daily life, and it'll never seem like a chore. I can't tell you how many times my kids just ask to exercise so they can "stay healthy". It's just like teaching any other value--it's best learned from emulating!
Now, I know that most people reading this probably already do a lot of this stuff, or you wouldn't be reading a family health blog. I do get that, so I'm not as much preaching to you but asking you to preach it to others. Please, please, please--PREACH this stuff. If your child has a friend that you suspect doesn't get enough exercise, invite them over for an active playdate. Show them how fun it is to move! Show their parents how easy it is to get them to move with the right outlook! Get them to go to a local race or on a hiking trip and bring friends. Share videos like these:
Doesn't that look like "kids being kids"!?! Effing awesome!! Help me to help kids around this country get off the couch and playing hard. Our future generations will be so healthy AND grateful for it!