How to get your kids to love being active

Physically literate kids love to be active. When kids have learned to love physical activity, it means that they’ve developed their own internal, intrinsic motivation to move. They don’t need to be pushed and they’re ready to sustain their own activity and play.

How can we help kids to feel this way?

As parents, educators, and coaches, we need to help kids learn to associate physical activity with fun and success. That means we have to start by understanding what “fun” and “success” really mean to kids.

1. Feeling like you’re good at it (or getting better)

First, research shows that kids like to do things that they are “good at.” No one enjoys doing anything if they’re constantly failing in their efforts. If kids come to feel reasonably competent in their activity (read “successful”), then they enjoy doing it. Conversely, if they never come to experience any degree of success, they won’t enjoy it. 

Part of their success relies on developing a foundation of fundamental movement skills from an early age. Just having basic movement skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and catching can go a long way in helping kids to experience a sense of competence in a wide range of physical activities.

2. Socializing with friends or family

Research also shows that a big part of having “fun” is positive social interaction. When kids have the chance to do physical activity with friends and peers and they experience positive interactions and feelings with them, they develop an equally positive association with physical activity. In structured activity settings that are led by teachers and coaches, the same holds true. Kids want to experience positive emotions when they relate to both their peers and the adults in their lives. 

3. Having a choice

When kids are given power to choose between different activities, or help in making those choices, they also experience more enjoyment. In early childhood especially, children should be given the opportunity to direct most of their own play activities. As they reach school age and take physical education classes or participate in structured physical activities outside of school, they should be given the opportunity to participate with teachers and coaches in selecting the activities whenever possible. 


Related read: How parents can avoid interfering with children’s play


4. Finding the right activity

Ultimately kids experience the most enjoyment when they find the physical activity that most appeals to their personal interests. Some kids like competing in sports and scoring goals against opponents, while other kids like moving their body rhythmically to a musical beat. Still others like to challenge themselves to do acrobatic tricks on skateboards and bicycles at high speed. There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to be physically active, but many children are never given the opportunity to explore the different options. Giving them options and choices is one of the greatest favours we can ever do for our kids.


Related read: The multisport advantage


A love of movement

As parents, educators, and coaches, we want the children in our care to develop physical literacy. It’s a lifelong process that begins with developing the basic movement skills and confidence that leads to a lifelong, intrinsic love of movement. It’s this love of movement that will ensure that they choose to be physically active for the rest of their lives.

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