When my kids were little, our days were centered around getting outside and moving our bodies. To be truthful, my first child had (and has) a ton of energy. When he was two, we spent many rainy days wandering the halls of the Museum of Natural History, and those wide marble staircases between floors provided him with endless exercises for balance and mobility. Fast forward 12 years to today, and an old fear of my children’s physical energy has revisited my life because of the pandemic. Sports practices and games and phys ed classes are all on hold, so their need for physical activity is back on my list of tasks. A few weeks back, I started to implement some new strategies to help my kids get active for my own self-preservation no less than for their physical and emotional well-being. Here is where I landed:
Be as flexible as possible. They weren’t going to just go the park and shoot baskets on their own, so I started adjusting my “working” hours, which I am fortunate to be able to do, to meet them after school. At 3:30pm, I would give them a choice of physical exercises from the serious to the silly. Whatever it was, they were going to get moving. I had to stop waiting for them to go play something…. It wasn’t happening until I made an adjustment and joined them.
Tolerate the push back. When my kids were little, they tended to be game for most things, especially if it meant going outside. I learned to live with (if not tolerate) the fights over shoes, and outfits, but once in the activity, they were usually up for whatever I otganized. Now, it’s a different type of push back from my budding teenagers: eye rolls accompanied by “I’m too tired!” or “Why do we have to…?”
I appreciate that these are just new forms of them exhibiting some control, which I have to remind myself (with clenched fists and grinding teeth) is developmentally appropriate. I know that the boundaries I set around getting them exercise during this time is just as important as getting them to eat and sleep. Their lack of socializing and activities that they love impacts their emotional well-being more acutely now, nine months into the pandemic. So, I am reminding myself of that when I set boundaries like, “You can go on House Party after you exercise…” it’s easier to tolerate the push back when I stick to my expectations and treat this as no different than the tantrums of their toddlerhood.
Get creative and get involved. At Dynamo Girl, all our coaches play when they coach because we know that it increases the “fun factor” when all the adults are playing. When Vanessa and I are leading a game of Team Handball, we are dripping in sweat and laughing while playing an intense game with our class of girls. In the last few weeks in my house, we’ve turned our dinner table into a ping pong table with a moveable net. Is it regulation size? Not even close. Was it super fun during lunch on an @home day for school? You bet, and we’re still using it during Winter Break. During the pandemic, I have been a soccer goalie, free throw rebounder, and the frisbee catcher. I have hit tennis balls to my kids across a field to see how many pop ups he can catch. Whatever it is, my kids seem to have more fun when I am having fun along with them.
Lead by example. Ok, I will admit it, I hate exercising just for the sake of exercise. I need a purpose beyond just working up a sweat. My high school coach would say, “Draddy is a terrible practice player.” I love working at a camp so much because I get to join kids’ activities. No surprise that when I look at my personal exercise routine from March to now… let’s just say, it’s been less than inspiring. But when I am asking my kids to exercise because I know what exercise does for stress, my own exercise routine has greater meaning. Whether it’s going on a long walk (my favorite thing to do in NYC), getting on my bike, or joining an online pilates class, I know that my kids’ seeing me move my body makes it easier to set the weekly expectations around their exercise.
Pull them in. Having a list of activities has helped my kids get interested in exercising. My current list for winter break includes: running races (making it fun, timing sprints or fake hurdles, etc), online yoga class together, biking (indoors or outside), using a tennis wall in the park, going for a catch (baseball, softball, or frisbee), playing CanJam and Frisbee golf, sledding,strength training as a family, online dance class, pickleball (a recent favorite of ours).
All kids need a sense of agency, so giving them a voice in making the list is a great idea. You may be surprised what they come up with. And mixing in a well-considered surprise now and then keeps them on their toes. As always, we love to hear what you all are playing. Is there a game your family likes to do that meets both the emotional and physical needs of your kids?