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Kid Fitness: When Your Child Won't Exercise

12 Tips to Get Your Couch Potato Moving

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Kid Fitness Tip #5: Offer positive feedback.

Praise a child for perfecting that handstand or figuring out how to pump those legs to swing high in the sky. Out-of-shape or uncoordinated children need to hear encouragement for reaching even small goals, such as walking or biking further than last time. Remember, acknowledge the effort -- choosing to be active or trying to improve a skill -- rather than the outcome to help build your child's confidence, says Small.

Children who aren't naturally athletic may be self-conscious about their physical skills (or lack of them). They may also fear public failure, embarrassment, or teasing. A child may just be physically cautious. These kids need all the support and cheerleading you can offer. Nagging or negative comments don't work and will only serve to make your child feel bad, adds Nixon, who conducts research on physical activity and children at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Kid Fitness Tip #6: Bring a friend along.

Kids love to hang out with their peers, so invite a buddy along for a bike ride, offer to bring a friend ice-skating, or head to the pool with a companion. Young children enjoy going to the playground with friends to chase, climb, swing, slide, and run. If your child is more likely to check out a team sport with a friend in tow, then go ahead and sign her up. Just make sure the focus is on making fitness fun and learning new skills -- not competition and winning -- as this can dampen your child's enthusiasm for the game.

Kid Fitness Tip #7: Use exercise as a reward.

Forcing a child to go outside and play may backfire and increase resentment and resistance. "Exercise should never be punitive," says Small. "Don't make your child run laps or do push-ups as punishment." Instead, try using physical activity as a reward. Your child might be happy to play kickball for 20 minutes if it's a chance to take a break from homework.

Kid Fitness Tip #8: Establish a regular routine.

Make sure that children's fitness is plugged into the family schedule in the same way that school, work, shopping, chores, family gatherings, birthday parties, and playdates find their way onto the calendar. You and your child are more likely to stick to an exercise plan if you incorporate it into your life on a routine basis. And your child will begin to expect (and accept) that Saturday morning usually means a bike ride, and a couple of nights a week after dinner the family takes a brisk walk through the neighborhood.

Kid Fitness Tip #9: Take a non-negotiable position.

Is going to school, brushing teeth, or wearing a seat belt a subject of debate in your home? No, because these are all activities that promote the health, safety, and well-being of your child. Well, the same approach should apply to children's fitness, says Nixon. It's a no-brainer: Getting regular exercise is good for your mental and physical health. Stand firm from the get-go and don't let your child argue the merits of playing computer games versus playing ball games.

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