In light of the current childhood obesity epidemic, it’s good to know that your active lifestyle provides a positive influence on your kids’ attitudes toward fitness. In fact, until recently, this kind of role modeling was thought to be the greatest influence on kids’ activity levels. Research published by R.J. Brustad in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport showed that your role modeling may not be as important as your beliefs, encouragement and support of your child’s activity.
Beliefs Make a Difference
In a study done by SpencerHall in 2003, mothers of children whose activity levels ranged from low to high were interviewed in order to better understand the relationship between the mothers’ attitudes toward physical activity and the activity level of their children.
“They may actually spend more time on [television and computer] than I think. Sometimes, I am so busy doing other things, that I’m just glad they’re safe in the house and quiet,” said one mom in the low activity group.In contrast, a mom in the high activity level group had the opposite approach:
“We do not allow any TV during the week. We just don’t. It’s not a fight, or a discussion, it just doesn’t come on until some specific shows on the weekend.”Mothers with children who had a low activity level:
- Did not consider their children’s activity a priority
- Were more focused on just surviving a busy day than on long-term lifestyle impacts
- Were often glad not to have the extra “burden” of driving children to organized sports
- Family time was centered on “relaxation and rest.” Children were given free choice in how to relax, and most often opted for television or computer time
- Often expected lower levels of activity from daughters rather than sons
- Expressed fear of alienating their children by pushing them to be more active
- Tended to be active themselves
- Felt that sports and activity were important for a child’s development
- Enjoyed being involved in facilitating their children’s activity
- Have more limits on time spent watching television or being on the computer
Encouragement may be as simple as turning off the TV and saying, “Go play!” to indirect efforts to encourage interest in a new sport. One of the most powerful motivators is simply a vote of confidence from you. Children look to their parents to provide important feedback on their physical abilities.
Talk is good, but action speaks just as loudly to your child. By organizing family bike rides, coaching a team or just playing a game of catch, you are making it clear how much you value activity.
Increasing concerns about safety have changed the focus of our kids’ activities from a neighborhood game in an unsupervised park to an organized team environment. This requires parental action to find the opportunities, and to provide support and transportation. Becoming a “soccer mom” can be pretty demanding, but resourceful parents can often find a way to fit in activity of their own while a child is at practice or a lesson.
Once thought to be the main influence on a child’s activity level, role modeling is important in that it shows your child that you value physical fitness and fit it into your busy life. However, your training run doesn’t burn any of her calories! Use your love of sports as a way to encourage your child’s interest. Better yet, take her along for the run.