5 Ways to Introduce Fitness to a Tween
In an age where "soccer mom" is a title many mothers wear with pride, what do you do when your kid is the one who can't kick / catch / hit a ball? ANY kind of ball.
One of the things that shaped my character was the fact I was always chosen last for a team. My friends even apologized as they picked everyone around me until I was the last one standing. I was essentially a toothpick with no visible muscle mass until college, where I quickly gained the cliche fifteen (or twenty) pounds. Years later when I tried to get on a healthier track it took several attempts to find an exercise I enjoyed. I wish it had been instilled at an early age rather than a struggle in adulthood. And now, with my kids, I'm having flashbacks. It's time to do things differently.
My tween doesn't have my build but she does have my athletic qualities (sounds better than 'athletic deficiencies'). I spent the first several years of her life exposing her to ballet, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, swim, biking, and hiking. But she's artsy and would rather cuddle on the couch, invent something or create an alternate world of blankets in her room rather than go outside. It wasn't much of an issue until recently. My daughter has a sweet, curvy body (curvier by the day, thank you, hormones) and a metabolism that seems to burn at a slow pace. At her last doctor visit, her pediatrician told me that, given how she's growing and progressing into puberty, she needs exercise now more than ever. It's a time in her life when habits are formed and minds - and bodies - are shaped and, sadly, judged. I care less about the judgement and more about the health. I just want her to be and to feel healthy.
We found my tween's path to fitness in a roundabout way, but it worked. Here are five things you can do to introduce exercise if your child isn't a natural athlete.
Be patient and listen; your child will eventually tell you what they like. Let's say your tween loves music (singing, moving to the beat) but doesn't like ballet and tap. There are many types of dance, some that you may not know about. For example, Zumba for kids is a great way to get the body moving in a fun and energizing way. For us, my daughter saw a video on Latin dancing and started asking to take classes. Now she takes Latin Ballroom Dance and shines on that dance floor. Who knew these classes even existed for kids?!
Does she love hip hop music? How about a hip hop class? If that falls flat, as it did for us, research other musical options.
There are more options out there than you can imagine. If the top sports choices are not up your kid's alley, check out these fitness alternatives:
- Ninja Warriors classes based off the popular show, American Ninja Warrior
- Martial Arts
- Rock climbing
- Ice Skating (figure, hockey)
- Snow skiing
3. fitness organizations That are about more than Fitness
Wellness programs abound these days. Research your specific area for local "health and wellness programs for kids" and I guarantee you'll find options off the beaten path. These options (think yoga and martial arts) often focus on mindfulness, strength of both body and character.
The one that resonated with my daughter is a national organization called Girls on the Run. It's a girls empowerment group with chapters in all 50 of the United States (and they're very easy to start if you don't have one at your school / in your town). And if you're not in the U.S., I highly recommended researching this to start something similar in your area. A (very) brief description of their mission:
"We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running."
Or walking. They don't care if you run, walk, skip, or jump, the point is to be active and to feel empowered. Each meet includes a group discussion about issues at school, how to be a good friend, learning responsibility, and more real-world topics that help them navigate everyday life. The season ends with a 5K where the girls and their family and friends run together. And best of all - in our case - it started a running habit for my daughter.
4. Physically take on a Cause
Kids are naturally empathic. If given context and a relatable story, they're typically curious about what can be done to change or help a situation. Goals, both physical and emotional, can be achieved by taking on a challenge to benefit a cause. Consider doing it together, with your child. You'll get fit while bonding with your child! For example, The Walk for Hunger and The PMC (Pan-Mass Challenge) are both amazing organizations that provide motivation to people of all ages. You'll discover countless causes and events to join no matter where you live. Encouragement to be both healthy while helping to change the world is a powerful message that will resonate with many kids.
Never underestimate the power of a friend. Find out what your child's friends are doing and dig deeper. Focus on friends that share your child's interests and, generally, a similar personality. Coordinate with his or her parent(s) and book a fitness class - or whatever physical outlet the two of them find remotely intriguing - for them to take together. The motivation to be with a friend can be enough to bypass any reservations about physical activity.
It's not easy to physically motivate a physically unmotivated kid. But it can be done. And your child will thank you for it in the not-so-distant future. Good luck and be strong. And please let us know if your kid does something out-of-the-ordinary! Remember we grow stronger as a village. :)