Motivating Your Kids to Move
To shrink the growing problem of obesity, parents need to inspire kids to be more active. That’s easier said than done.
“Kids have to ‘own’ the desire to move,” says Eileen Kennedy, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Fit Youth Program.
How to promote greater physical activity without nagging, monitoring, begging or lecturing? Focus on “what physical activity can I introduce my child to that will make them love being active for the rest of their life?” advises Elizabeth Sprogis, MA, lead exercise physiologist for Fit Youth.
To thy child’s self be true
The key is to “Know your child,” says Dr. Kennedy. Not just their talents, but what they are drawn to.
“If you have an artsy kid, encourage that, but let your child know that physical activity needs to be a part of every day,” says Ms. Sprogis. “It will give them more energy to put into their art.” If kids are physically active, it improves every other area of their lives — including academic achievement, says Dr. Kennedy.
Sorting out sports
Most parents think sports when they think of physical activity for kids. Between ages 5 and 11, sports should be noncompetitive so kids learn about discipline and teamwork in the context of fun, says Ms. Sprogis.
Avoid signing kids up for travel teams and elite leagues before age 12. “Kids who start competitive, specialized practices too early can burn out by the time they hit high school,” she cautions.
When kids don’t like a sport, “let them say, ‘That sport is not for me’ and try something else,” says Ms. Sprogis. Kids in first grade and up should finish the season, says Dr. Kennedy, but don’t push 3- and 4-year-olds to finish T-ball or rec league soccer.
If kids don’t enjoy sports at all, that’s OK too. “Not everyone needs to be an athlete,” says Ms. Sprogis. “There’s lots of other ways to be physically active.” For school-age kids, keep props at home — hula hoops, pogo sticks, jump ropes, cones — for when they get bored. “Then you can say, ‘go play outside with this,’" she suggests.
For teens, invite them on a walk — but don’t be surprised if your invitation is declined. “The ‘no’ needs to be OK,” says Dr. Kennedy. “The offering is the generous thing. You move on. You enjoy your walk and come back smiling. Your teen may notice. You don’t need to say a word.”
Screening kids’ screen time
One roadblock to being active for all ages is the hours spent in front of the television, computer or video game console. “Two hours a day of all screen time combined is plenty,” Dr. Kennedy advises. Parents can even tell teens, “I think this is enough, it’s time to find something else to do,” she adds. Encourage them to bike or walk to a friend’s house to hang out instead of texting back and forth.
Dealing with backlash
It’s easy for parents to see sedentary kids as lazy, but that isn’t so, says Dr. Kennedy: “They just haven’t figured out how they want to be active.”
Talk with them about living a more active life, but stay calm and cool. Start off with, “Movement is an important part of life; how do you want to handle it?’ ” suggests Dr. Kennedy.
Teens may jump at the chance to try a brand new activity — fencing, hip-hop dance, golf. Sign them up for lessons, suggests Ms. Sprogis. Encourage them to invite friends along.
“Parents need to bring their best stuff to this issue: their best listening, their best positive support, their best expectation that this is going to work out well,” Dr. Kennedy stresses. “Nagging, pleading, cajoling, shaming and angry statements will not engage teens.”
Here are some do’s and don’ts from Dr. Kennedy and Ms. Sprogis:
Ages 2 to 4
- Do make movement “Fun with a capital F.” Play follow the leader. Kick a soccer ball around. Download music they can move to. Visit the playground.
- Don’t leave the TV on. “Preschoolers who are not watching TV are more likely to be moving,” notes Ms. Sprogis. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages television for children under age 2 and recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time for older children each day.
Ages 5 to 12
- Do plan 60 minutes of physical activity for your child every day — don’t count on gym class or recess to provide it. Think unstructured exercise: Visit the zoo. Play in the park. Go hiking. Have kids bounce on exercise balls while watching TV.
- Do join in the fun. Shoot hoops in the driveway. Play Wii Fit, “but move your arms and legs — that’s my rule,” says Ms. Sprogis. Dance to music in the basement.
- Don't pressure kids about sports — or their performance. “Everybody suffers when there’s too much intensity: the referees, the other parents, the kids on the field who are trying to do their best,” says Dr. Kennedy.
Ages 13 to 18
- Do reward teens for being active at least 60 minutes a day. “Give them a ‘chore pass,’ an outing with friends, a movie pass, or a $5 or $10 gift card,” says Dr. Kennedy. And praise them: Contrary to popular belief, teens enjoy it.
- Do encourage volunteering. “Doing for other people is a really good thing for a teenager,” she adds.
- Don't sign up for a gym or rec center membership if your teen is not interested. “Save your money, or take the family members who want to go,” says Dr. Kennedy.
- Don't go on and on about your teen’s weight. “Let the less anxious parent have a calm conversation about plans to increase activity,” she says. “Share your anxiety with a best friend, spouse or relative — the kid can’t use it.”
Tip: Shade your kids this summer
Just like brushing teeth and wearing seatbelts, practicing sun safety from the very start can help kids form healthy habits. Reduce the likelihood of skin cancer later in life by shading babies in strollers and sending toddlers out to play with sunscreen and hats on. Invite kids indoors for lunch to avoid mid-day sun exposure. And warn teens to stay away from tanning beds.
Parents Be Well – May 2011 Issue
Rethinking Snacks & Comfort Foods: 7 Tips
The next time you feel like foraging in the cupboard or fridge, consider that mindless snacking can pack on the pounds. Here, Cleveland Clinic registered dietitians team up to offer you seven healthy alternatives to time-honored comfort foods:
1 Crunch time: Rethink chips & dip.
Crunching your way through a big bag of salty potato chips, corn chips or cheese doodles will make your fat, calorie and sodium intake skyrocket. Onion or ranch dip adds calories, saturated fat and sodium.
Instead, try 1-ounce snack packs of tortilla, multigrain or baked, reduced-fat potato chips — or measure out one serving in a small bowl. Scoop up salsa (loaded with lycopene and vitamin C, but watch sodium content), hummus (filled with fiber and protein) or yogurt-based dip (providing calcium and protein).
2 Ice cream: Find a better way to chill.
A big bowl of ice cream seems like a great way to treat yourself. The bad news is that it’s high in saturated fat, sugar and calories.
Instead, try an all-fruit frozen bar, ½ cup of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, or sugar-free popsicles or fudge bars. Make your own treat by stirring blueberries or raspberries into fat-free yogurt and freezing. Or try frozen grapes.
If you must have the real thing, go out for a single scoop of single-flavor ice cream. Stick to chocolate, vanilla or strawberry — forget the moose tracks and chunky monkey — and then take a 30-minute walk.
3 PB&J: Time for an upgrade.
Talk about a comfort food — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches take us straight back to childhood! Peanut butter has fiber, protein, B vitamins and monounsaturated fats, but it’s high in calories. Store brands have added sugar and salt. Traditional white bread has little nutritional value, and jelly is 100 percent sugar.
Instead, try spreading just 2 tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter (no added salt, sugar or oils) or almond butter on whole-grain bread. Sweeten with sliced bananas or strawberries, or with 1 tablespoon of pure fruit spread, or drizzle with a teaspoon of honey. Or forgo the bread entirely, and spread natural peanut butter on apple slices.
4 Thirsty? Get tough on soft drinks.
Pop open a can of soda when you’re thirsty, and you’ll free refreshed. But you’re basically drinking sugar water with zero nutritional value. And the phosphates in soft drinks aren’t healthy for your bones.
For a healthier alternative, try making a juice spritzer. Add a splash of soda water, diet ginger ale or diet lemon-lime soda to half a cup of 100 percent grape, orange or cranberry-blend juice with ice. Or cool off with diet tonic water and a wedge of lemon. Better yet, try water —it truly is “the real thing!”
5 Cake cravings: Take on your sweet tooth.
Leftover birthday cake just begs to be eaten. Store-bought cakes are high in sugar, saturated fat and trans fat (especially that fabulous butter cream frosting).
Try baking home-made angel food or sponge cake, then dressing it up with a fruit topping or spreading fruit-flavored “lite” yogurt on top. Or choose to limit the damage by ordering a single decadent piece of cake at a restaurant and sharing it. Then you’ll have no leftovers to tempt you at home.
6 Starved? Build a better sandwich.
Old-fashioned bologna and cheese sandwiches, typically made with white bread, are high in fat, saturated fat and sodium. Bologna and other processed deli meats also contain preservatives and other agents linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Instead, buy low-fat, reduced-sodium turkey, chicken or lean beef slices, or water-packed tuna. Place them on whole-grain, rye, pumpernickel, light or thin-sliced bread. Top with reduced-fat cheese, avocado slices, lettuce, spinach leaves, alfalfa sprouts, or thin-sliced apples or carrots for extra vitamins, nutrients and fiber.
7 Condiments: Get creative.
Slathering sandwiches with ketchup, mayo or butter only adds unwanted fat and/or sugar. The sugar in ketchup comes in the form of unsavory high-fructose corn syrup.
But don’t settle for a dry sandwich — try mustard, hummus, olive- or canola-oil based mayo or sandwich spreads, or low-fat cream cheese. Moderate use of apricot chutney or marmalade and additive-free organic ketchup can also add flavor and moisture.
Cleveland Clinic adult dietitians Maxine Smith, RD, LD, Julia R. Zumpano, RD, LD, Kathleen McLaughlin, RD, LD, and Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE, provided these tips.
Our Children's Hospital registered dietitians are available to help parents plan healthy meals (and snacks) for the entire family.
Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Parents Be Well – May 2011 Issue
Video – How to handle colicky babies
Babies with colic can exhaust both moms and dads with nonstop fussing. This video offers helpful hints for soothing colicky infants.
Recipe: Lemon and Fresh Herb Tabbouleh
½ cup medium- or fine-grain bulgur wheat
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 3 bunches)
¼ cup diced red onion
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
⅓ cup finely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- Bring kettle of water to a boil. Stir together the bulgur and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heatproof bowl. Add boiling water to cover. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, pressing on the bulgur to remove any excess liquid.
- Transfer the bulgur to a large bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the rest of the ingredients until everything is well mixed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve cold.
Makes 8 servings.
Calories: 80 (45% calories from fat)
Saturated fat: 0.5g
Dietary fiber: 3g
One of more than 150 heart-healthy recipes from the Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook, available from Broadway Books and wherever books are sold.
Parents Be Well – May 2011 Issue
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