How to Keep Your Child Physically Active — a Mother’s Advice

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
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    How to Keep Your Child Physically Active — a Mother’s Advice

    This is part 3 in a multi-part series that explores “Raising a Normal Weight Child in an Overweight Society.”


    To recap from part 1 of this series, many mothers feed their children readily-available convenience foods - just as I did when I raised my child - unknowing these foods are calorie-dense, low-nutrient and contribute to being overweight. Too often these foods are consumed while the children are seated in front of the TV, which instills the bad habit of mindless eating and further contributes to overweight. What’s more, research shows that children ages 2-5 are exposed to more than 5000 TV ads per year for cereal and junk food so as to influence their food cravings. A lack of understanding of the poor nutritional and high-caloric value of convenience foods, our time-starved lifestyles, and too much screen time have contributed to -- if not caused -- the steady rise of overweight children. 

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    Currently one in 3 children ages 2-19 is overweight. My adult daughter, Crystal, who is a wife and mother, has beaten those odds and raised a normal-weight child. So I asked her, "how exactly have you instilled healthy eating and activity habits beginning when your daughter was in the cradle, and raised a 5-year-old child who loves raw veggies and playing outdoors? 

    My Bariatric Life: What have you done to keep your child physically active? 

    Crystal Wyatt:  I limit "screen time"- that's not TV time, [but] ALL screens: computer, leap pads, TV, video games, etc.  On the average day, she doesn't watch them at all.  She's in school now, so the precious time we have together where we aren't sitting down to a meal to eat, getting dressed for the day, ready for bed or showering, we spend it doing crafts, playing games, reading stories, playing outside, talking, going to visit new or favorite places, having play dates — things like that. As I put it, enjoying life.  For me personally, video games and movies are fun family activities for rainy days and we love them for that.  It's something special we do when the weather outside isn't inviting.  


    When Madison was younger, she watched TV more often, but she was limited to no more than 2 hours a day of screen time (and she realistically got more like 1 hour of screen time daily). Her shows were on DVD so there weren't commercials to deal with. And we picked what she watched: Age appropriate cartoons that were either educational or at least embodied behaviors and characteristics we agreed with. My daughter loves My Little Pony and Doc McStuffins, and she was a Dora, Strawberry Shortcake and Blue's Clues fan when she was younger.  So she watches "normal" cartoons.  But we don’t watch cartoons like Calliou that show kids being bratty or fresh.  To be educational, cartoons don’t have to be forcing the alphabet or numbers down her throat 24/7 (even if it is done in a fun and stimulating way). Shows about being good friends or going on adventures are great to spark her imagination!  I'm not going to allow cartoons that give her any bad ideas or normalize temper-tantrum-throwing though.  Sorry Calliou!  How is that to her benefit at all?

  • And just an "aside"for Mom's that use the TV as down time (I'm not going to insult you and say as a babysitter; give me a break. I put on shows so I could slam in a 20-minute shower without worrying about what my kid was getting into once she was old enough to be left unattended).  I hear you and I completely agree with giving kids independent time - I think it is important and I've always tried to do this with Madison for as long as I can remember (I think it is part of what keeps her active.)  At first it was maybe only 15 minutes, but as they get older, the time increases.  Do yourself and kid a favor though - don't just leave the TV on as "background noise" and don't overdo it with screen time either.  Need downtime?  Put on kid's music (if you can tune out Dora, you can tune out "Mary Had a Little Lamb".)  Kids love music and it tends to get them up and dancing. Even little ones bop to the beat and wave their arms around.  It gets them stimulated instead of zone out.

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    The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a number of advisories about how TV stunts imaginative play attention spans, etc. So Instead of taking away from play time, music enhances play time, gets your child active AND gives you a break.  Again, don't go and throw out your kid's favorite shows and erase the DVR, but do pick up some kid CDs, especially personalized ones!  My daughter just loves hearing her name in the songs on her CDs.  Now that she is older, I think this independent time has helped keep her active because she isn't looking for leap pads, computers, TV etc constantly.  She loves to play with her baby dolls and set up big elaborate play scenes - and I love to see her using her imagination, up and moving, instead of plopped down in front of some type of screen for the majority of the day.


    [Also,] No electronics at the table.  That's right, they are too distracting.  Phones and everything away.  When we are at the table, it's family time, and that includes restaurants.  Madison is allowed to color or play with small toys at restaurants (not at home during meals, I'm talking about while we are sitting there waiting at restaurants).  Why?  Because she is still engaged in our conversation and includes us in her activities ("look at my coloring, Mommy!" etc.)  You put a TV show on and I'm pretty sure the house could collapse around her without drawing her attention away from the screen.  I really think part of staying active is keeping your mind active, so we try to reinforce that throughout the day. 


    Think of how much time slips away when you are just plopped down in front of your computer or TV and how draining just sitting there doing nothing really is.  Part of the beauty of coloring or playing with small toys, whatever, is they have a built in time limit.  Eventually kids get bored with them and want to move on to another activity.  That's the point isn't it?  To get them moving?  Park them in front of electronics 24/7 and they have the tendency to stay parked.


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    Continue to part 4, “How My Family Eats and Plays Healthy — Advice from a Mom.”

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Published On: December 17, 2014