By Janet Bertrand
As a mother of four children I know what it is like to want the very best for my kids- to feel that tremendous high when they succeed. I also know the flip side of that- how hard it is to watch them struggle with disappointment. There is an epidemic facing our children that brings with it the potential for many additional challenges and disappointments: childhood obesity. Over 15% of American children are currently considered obese, with the number growing day by day. Kids today are growing up in a world that pushes immediate gratification and over-indulgence. They are faced with much more of a challenge when it comes to healthy eating habits and making exercise an enjoyable and desirable activity. What then can WE do as parents- are we able to take action, possibly creating a different and positive future for our children?
A quote by Robert Fulghum really got me thinking. It said ” Don’t worry that your children are never listening to you; worry that they are always watching you”. I could not agree more! The actions we take in front of our children are powerful. Our children are watching and studying us, memorizing patterns and habits that not only influence but also shape who our kids will someday become. When we make healthy decisions they are taking note. When we make fitness a priority, we are sowing the seeds of a life long love and connection to moving our bodies and finding fulfillment in it. Many kids today have lost that connection. They rely on video games and TV to fill the empty spaces in their day, instead of going outside and exploring the world around them. They are losing a valuable part of childhood, the freedom from worry and stress. They are now carrying embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem, which usually leads to more of the same.
As a personal fitness trainer this is a topic close to my own heart; as a parent I can understand the struggle with wanting something better for my children. There is hope however. Right now, this day, we can take action. That is the key: ACTION. Once we take action then we are in motion, moving to a better place. The first step of the journey has been taken. I try to teach my clients that the power to change your life and turn things around is already there inside them. When children learn that it is up to them to change, and that change IS possible, they are capable of limitless possibilities. All this sounds great but without a PLAN it is just words on a page. So I have come up with a few “Action Items” that will spark the fire of fitness, and create a touchstone for those of us looking for a way to fight the monster that obesity has now become.
Action Item # 1
Model, Model, Model
What we do with and in front of kids is life and death when it comes to shaping good healthy habits. Evaluate yourself: how do you measure up? Do you make fitness a daily priority? Do they see you ENJOYING it or dreading it and saying how hard it is? If your attitude is negative, what do you think they will learn? What is your attitude about food? How and where do you eat your meals: as a family, or crowded around the TV? I can remember growing up that many mothers I knew were on some sort of diet. These women had developed negative relationships with food and even there own bodies. This created for me a source of anxiety about certain foods. I had to relearn as an adult how to enjoy food again, and not view it as “the enemy”. Showing our kids that exercise and healthy eating is fulfilling and enjoyable will set up a positive counter balance to the overindulging fast food adds and diet products that they encounter everyday.
Action Item # 2
Make a plan
Sit down and make a family plan. What do your kids like to do? Do you live in a safe neighborhood where they can ride their bikes? Do you have any hiking trails near your house that you could explore together? Come up with ideas that could be alternates to TV- things your children enjoy doing that involve movement. It can be as simple as dancing to their favorite music, or blowing bubbles and chasing them. It really doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving your bodies and finding enjoyment in that. One of my favorites is taking a hike and bringing a plastic zip lock baggie. Along the way gather small things that you can glue/tape into a “traveling” journal. Mark it with a date and maybe a picture. You can look back on it and make it a special memory that involved going outside and using your body. Opening our children up to the world around them pushes back the limits that are created when they are sedentary.
Action Item #3
Get up and do it TOO!!!
Be the parent who gets sweaty themselves: the one that gets down and dirty in the sand with the kids, building a fort, or playing Marco Polo in the pool. Show your kids where you workout. Let them see you sweat and work hard. Tell them how many miles you run a day. Have them count as you do push ups, sit-ups and squats. Include them in your fitness routine. I will sometimes let my clients bring their kids to a session, and it is a great way to let them see what mom or dad does when they go to “the gym”. My husband and I don’t even park our cars in the garage because it is full of workout equipment. When we exercise we open the garage door and invite our kids to be a part of that time with us. As my younger son is getting ready for pop Warner football, I have been taking him for short runs around the block. I told him that I’m not telling you to run while I sit and wait- rather, I’m right here by your side the whole way, doing it with you, and I will stay with you until you’re done. I told him, “We are in this together”.
Action Item #4
Include them in preparing meals
One of the biggest surprises in my life was when I took my kids to one of those places where you prepare your meals in advance for the entire month. My kids loved helping out and were excited to learn about cooking. When you include them in the cooking of the meals they realize what they are eating and the work it takes to put a meal together. Think of the available opportunities to teach them about food, and giving them the gift of knowing the correct way to fuel their bodies. Also think about how you model eating snacks. Do you eat right out of the bag, or do you use small bowls, and portion it out? This will help them learn what healthy portions are. Look together at labels at the store. Have them read off to you the sugar content, making a game of who can find food with the lowest gram amount of sugar.
Action Item #5
Write down goals together
Settings goals gives power to your plan and increases your chances for success. Start by getting out a calendar and marking the days with what activity you are going to do. You want to work out up to 30 minutes a day five days a week, which will shape the habit of making fitness a priority and a part of life as your children grow up. Let your kids pick some of the days and activities so they feel like they are part of the plan. Create a simple way to track your progress, maybe a smiley face on the days you were active. When you reach a certain goal, reflect with your kids on what it took to get to that goal and celebrate by maybe purchasing a new outdoor game or outdoor play equipment.
Action Item #6
Make the activity FUN! Just get out and play tag, throw water balloons, fly kites, or learn how to surf together. Find activities that make you smile and that you enjoy. Have your kids make up games, and encourage their imagination, letting them explore their own creativity. Spending time as a family, playing games, and just having fun is a highlight in our home. On numerous occasions, we have gone up to the park to just run around with the kids- and they like it. I remember what it was like as a kid to just go out and play, feel the wind in my hair and the grass under my toes. Rediscover in yourself what it feels like to be a kid again.
Being a working mother in the fitness industry has definitely influenced my views on raising healthy kids, but anyone anywhere can benefit from being more involved with their children. Just spending the time together can be a positive change. Most of all, I want it to be known that we can ALL do something to help defeat childhood obesity. By being healthy and active ourselves, we can empower our children with a desire to get their bodies moving and create a passion about being healthy that starts with having fun!