Guilt trip won’t get kids exercising

In early childhood exercise is an inherent part of play, perceived as pleasurable rather than an imposition or activity that we ‘should’ engage in. This begins to change as children progress from year five to six, when they generally decrease their activity levels by 50 per cent.

Rod Dishman, professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia in the US, explains that this age is therefore a critical juncture in a child’s life and a time when children need to learn to value and enjoy the act of being physically active.

A new study, led by Dishman, warns that parents who guilt their children into exercising will ultimately fail in helping their children grow into adults who adopt physically active lifestyles.

The study found that children who do not feel in control of their exercise choices or who feel pressured by their parents to be more active generally aren’t. Children who feel that they are in control of their own decisions about exercise are more likely to see themselves as a person who engages in physical activity, which in turn makes them more likely to exercise.

It is therefore important to develop ways to encourage children to identify with and enjoy exercise at a young age. Dishman suggests teaching more structured games in primary school, integrating physical activities into classroom lessons or expanding community recreational leagues to give children more opportunities to improve or excel in a particular sport.

The most effective measure in encouraging exercise is to make it fun. Dishman explained: ‘It is the children who say they are intrinsically motivated who are more active than the children who aren’t’.

Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise