Creative ways to get children to exercise

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 10:45am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 6:03pm

Find their passion

Ask your children which sport or activity they enjoy, or would like to try out. Starting with a multi-sports or mini-sports class at a young age is ideal; it develops a wide variety of skills, and lets your children establish what kind of sports they like. The more traditional, competitive sports are not for all. There are a number of alternative exercise classes available in Hong Kong, such as yoga and Zumba. All sports coaching companies should let your child join a free trial class before signing up, to make sure it's a good fit.

Be active with your child

Set a fixed time each week that your family exercise together - children learn best by example and parents are their most important role models. You could start a tradition of going for a family hike every Saturday morning, followed by a well-deserved lunch and play at the beach. The popular Dragon's Back walk, for example, finishes at Shek O village, which is the perfect spot for family fun time. This has the added benefit of ensuring that you are spending quality time together as a family each week.

Keep it social

One of the most important benefits of playing sports, at any age, is the social aspect. When children take part in regular sports activities they strengthen bonds with their existing friends, and also make new ones. Find a good sports class for your child in your area and spread the word among the parents of your child's friends. Some children feel nervous or embarrassed about being in a new environment where they don't know anyone, and this can prevent them from wanting to participate in sports. Having a friend or two by their side can make all the difference.

Reward with activity

It's common for parents to reward their child's achievements or good behaviour with food, particularly with unhealthy treats. This is okay occasionally, but you could easily address your child's aversion to fitness by creating a positive association between exercise and achievement (that is, by rewarding them with physical activity). When they do well in a test at school, praise them for the achievement, and take them to the park with a friend as a reward. Or head for a day out at the beach.

Limit technology

If you set aside time each day where technology like television, phones, tablets, laptops and video games is banned, you will find your child naturally gravitates towards physical activity. Make sure you keep some balls, skipping ropes, buckets and spades, and the like, readily available in a box or cupboard at home. That way, when they have the urge to head outdoors, you are ready.

Have an adventure

Invite your child to join you on a treasure hunt in your local playground. This will require mum or dad to go down first, to hide the clues and the final prize. Or take them for an outing where there are new things to see. A visit to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden or the Mai Po marshes are good examples. Give your child a scrapbook so they can paste photos or mementos from these outings.

Any movement is good movement

If your child doesn't enjoy organised physical activities, there are plenty of other activities they can try that don't feel like exercise at all. Shooting hoops, flying a kite, hitting one of the city's ice skating rinks, or dancing around the living room will all get the heart rate going. Another natural way to increase fitness is by walking to the local shop or park, as opposed to driving or taking a taxi. Once your youngsters are toddling, encourage them to walk, as opposed to always pushing them around in the pram.

James Quinlan is the co-founder and head coach at Sport4Kids. He has been coaching children in sports for over 10 years.