by Dr. Lisa Lenhart, Ph.D.; Child Psychologist
Kids like to be active- but with colder weather, darkness coming earlier, and fewer outdoor activities, it is easy to slide into the slump of winter blues. Exercising and being active are key components for both physical health and for emotional health. Helping kids find ways to continue to be active during the winter months can help offset a depressed mood and physical ailments. Here are some ways to foster activity and movement in your kids during these shorter winter days:
1. Consider the creative and active use of music- most children enjoy listening to music. To liven it up, begin to dance with your kids as they play their music. See who can make up the best dance to a song. Be silly and have fun while doing this and your kids will be more likely to join in the experience.
2. Use of active games on the Wii- although you don’t want all movement or action coming in response to a video game, the use of Wii sports games can encourage physical movement. Play a game of tennis, or baseball, or basketball with your child. Let your child choose the sport he or she likes best, take turns choosing the game to play, and track improvement in game performance. Or, enroll in a winter sports camp to maintain fitness for the preferred sport.
3. Despite the cold, walking outside can be invigorating. Taking a walk with your child is likely to be the best way to encourage them to go for a walk. Along the way, you can engage in a treasure hunt with younger kids (find acorns or pine cones, spot a bird), or simply engage in conversation with your older children. If you have a dog for a pet, your child may already be used to going for walks outside; in this case, walking with your child could longer walks.
4. If there are people in the neighborhood who have dogs, your child could set up a system/business for walking dogs in the neighborhood. This can allow them to begin developing a sense of responsibility and earn some extra money, as well as providing a needed avenue for increasing activity and exercise.
5. Create a chart at home regarding how long you and your child will utilize the exercise equipment available in your home, i.e., stationary bike, treadmill. Have each family member set a target for equipment usage, and track to see who meets their goal. If you are a member of a gym, this same plan could be used for participation on the gym equipment.
6. Take advantage of the fit bit craze and see who takes the most steps each day. You can have an ongoing competition for number of steps per day- this can add the motivation to move around and get kids off the couch.
The more kids see their parents being active, the more they will be active. Model for your children the ways you build exercise and activity into your daily life, and talk openly about the value of exercise. Keeping our kids from becoming couch potatoes will help increase their physical and emotional health, and sets the stage for a healthier life-style as they move into adulthood.