Parents can help keep kids active and off their screens by making activity a part of daily life and adding a boost of motivation
This pandemic has been really long, don’t you think?
I remember in the very beginning of quarantine how many families were out walking. It was actually crowded outside which felt worrisome at the time.
Now, not so much. This is even though a good portion of kids are not in the usual routine with school. I noticed when my kids were home all day for online learning, they still complained of being tired.
It’s called the pandemic slow down and it’s affecting kids everywhere. According to a survey out of Canada, only about 5% of kids are meeting physical activity guidelines.
We all know the CDC recommends an hour of physical activity for children. But how can you motivate them when they’d rather stay glued to their screen? And is there a way to encourage your child while having him or her practice social distancing?
I believe it’s better to work on instilling motivation to move their bodies in a different way. So, I reached out to some parents, did some research, and got some ideas on how to keep kids active during a time it’s all too easy not to be.
Make family time, active time
It’s not only kids that need to stay active but parents. Finding activities the whole family can do offers the benefits of bonding and physical activity.
When quarantine hit Krista and Joe, parents of an 8th and 6th grader started a new tradition of family hikes on Sunday. Now it’s something the whole family looks forward to.
“It’s out of the house, out in nature, exploring the beauty we have around us, no screens and family time,” said Krista. “Even if we don’t talk a ton, we are quieting our minds and enjoying nature. Plus, exercise!”
She says they usually get a treat or lunch after and head back to the house to relax for the coming week. They’ve seen more of their surrounded areas including lake Clementine in Auburn California.
“Swimming, bike riding, hiking and walking,” said Rachele, when asked how she keeps her family active. “Also, we have been taking more trips to the beach and doing active outings – we joined the Botanical Gardens, so we can get long (beautiful) walks outdoors.”
Neeta’s entire family including her middle school son and high school daughter enjoy playing badminton in front of their house. It was a sport she and her husband used to love but hadn’t played in 20 years.
“My husband and I dug out our old racquets, made a DIY court in our driveway, found some birdies and started to play,” she said. “We did it for a few days, and that intrigued our kids. Surprisingly the kids started enjoying it and wanted to play with us.”
Now, it’s something they all look forward to doing every day. Badminton has afforded them a good stress release, physical activity, and most important time to laugh and make jokes.
“We love to play a good game, get a good sweat going and bond as a family in these unprecedented times,” she said. “My son loves it so much now that he is seriously thinking of taking it up as a high school sport.”
Play pandemic friendly sports
This is a good time to try sports that fit well within the social distancing and outdoor guidelines. Katie and Erendira (Eri) put both her kids in tennis
“It’s one of the few opportunities for them to be active and to be social in this post COVID world,” said Katie. “Now Max (her son) is playing tennis with his dad and it helps their relationship, and it helps his dad’s fitness levels.”
“Tennis, bike riding and kayaking are also COVID friendly activities that I feel good about the kids doing on an ongoing basis,” said Eri. “I don’t worry about exposure.”
The perks are a better mood and overall demeanor.
“Because they’re in a better mood when they are home, they tend to practice the piano more on their own,” adds Eri.
Think out of the box
Many families find themselves trying new things in order to stay sane and active. Julie and her husband got a Peloton when their gym closed. But their kids needed something, too.
“We got gymnastics equipment for our kids in the basement so they can still do gymnastics at home,” she said. “Plus, a puppy!”
A couple of my Facebook followers do Geocaching, using this app. It’s like a treasure hunt that shows a map where you look for “gems” based on clues.
One reader explains: “Once you find the ‘gem,’ which is something that was left there by someone else, you can take a little treasure, but you have to leave something for the next person.”
When the small gym where my husband and I work out offered outdoor kid’s classes, we asked our kids and they said yes. Now they go three times a week and are really enjoying it. I never thought they would join a gym so young, but these are not normal times.
Encourage dopamine breaks
This all sounds great but what about when kids are on screens for long periods both in school and out.
I ran across this article on Screenager’s blog Tech Talk Tuesday about digital binging. The site’s creator Delaney Ruston, MD, mentioned the work of Clifford Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist for children who specializes in internet and video game use.
His work shows instant gratification activities like TV shows, video games, and social media release high levels of dopamine. The brain reacts by developing tolerance by decreasing dopamine receptors.
When people are on these activities for long periods, it not only results in less enjoyment but boredom from lower dopamine activities. Ruston explains it this way:
When the person stops doing social media or playing video games after several hours, they may feel cranky or just not very happy. They may think it is only because they want to be on screens more, but part of these lower feelings can be due to having fewer dopamine receptors….Non-screen activities may just not be that appealing because the receptors are less (downgraded) so things, like reading a book or being with family, might not be as enjoyable as could be.
The good news is that time away from screens allow dopamine receptors to regenerate. This is why kids need breaks about every hour or so with low dopamine activities like physical activity, playing board games, baking, and reading.
According to the article, older kids can match time on and off screens. So, if they do an hour of screen time, they spend that much time in a low dopamine activity. Younger kids should only go for 30 minutes of activity.
So, try talking to your kids about this, what’s happening in their brains, and how they feel. And don’t forget to do the same for yourself.
In our house, we call them “dopa breaks.” I was super happy one day went to give Little D a reminder and found him reading a book for his dopa break.
Sussman has developed a digital guide for the pandemic on youtube so check it out. Consider subscribing to Tech Talk Tuesday for lots of ideas on how to manage screens at home as well as Ruston’s new book Parenting in the Screen Age.
Don’t miss my review of Screenagers the documentary by Delaney Ruston
Explain the benefits of staying active
In the same way too much screen time leads to more screen time, inactivity does little to motivate kids to be active. People simply feel less energetic when they are sedentary. Kids may not know that this is actually a sign they need to move their bodies. In My Body’s Superpower, I explain it like this:
It actually takes movement to give you energy. This movement shifts the body to feel energetic. That’s because it releases something called endorphins, natural chemicals in the brain that make you feel great. That’s why if you’re in a bad mood, simply going for a walk or bike ride can help you feel better.
In addition to more energy, being active increases attention, focus, learning, and results in better sleep at night. It provides a big boost to mental health. It also helps build strong bones and keeps the heart strong. And it’s something our bodies want very much to do!
Helping kids see the immediate rewards of being active, especially now, is an important component of motivation. Simply doing it because they know they should, is not enough.
READ: Why Exercise is Important to Me (for the adult perspective)
The lesson of the covid-19 pandemic
When I moved to work at home full-time, I soon realized my activity levels plummeted and that’s with regular workouts. So, I’ve incorporated daily walks, tennis, and use my watch to track activity.
Kids can learn this important lesson too. When we don’t have activities like sports, recess, walking to and in school, and PE, we need to find ways to add activity to our lives. It not only keeps us healthy but also happy. And better able to manage this unpredictable time in which we are living.
When they go off to college as young adults, they can take this very important lesson with them. Learning through this difficult time is an important way to help kids manage screens and stay active.
How is your family staying active during the pandemic?