My three children will tell you that they hate exercising. They're firmly of the iPad generation and given the choice, you'll find them on the couch doing who knows what on their screens rather literally all day long.
As someone who exercises daily and uses fitness to manage an inclination towards anxiety and depression, I not only understand the importance of exercise, but I also love it. If I'm having a bad day or feel like I need time to process something, I'll go out for a run. I mean, I run marathons for fun, that's how into it I am.
So it drives me nuts that my children will proudly tell anyone who listens that they're not into exercising. And with a family history of anxiety and depression, it's important to me they have the tools to keep themselves healthy, both physically and mentally, so I've started tricking them into it.
Like hiding veggies in your Bolognese sauce, I've found clever ways to hide exercise in my children's days without them cottoning onto me. Yet.
How do I do it? Like this:
1. Parking further away
Every day when I drive the children to school (we live too far away to ride or walk), I pretend the parking is too busy outside of school and I park about 10 minutes away. That way we can walk and talk on our way to school, adding 100 extra minutes of movement every week. As a bonus, we have wonderful conversations and also run into school friends along the way.
2. Turning up the music
When I cook dinner each night, my children like to gather in the kitchen to chat and do their homework. I turn up the dance tunes and ensure we stop what we're doing and have a dance around the kitchen for at least a song or two every evening. The children love it. I even overhead one of them asking his friend's mum if they have kitchen dances too recently.
3. Dangling rewards
I know we're not supposed to use food as a reward – and in part it counteracts the idea of moving in the first place – but I'm working with what I've got and I'm trying to create positive lifelong habits. There's a mountain near where we live that has a bunch of hiking trails all over it and guess what's at the top of the mountain? A café and ice cream shop.
My kids love to look at the view from the top of the mountain and eat ice cream, and they know the only way to get there is to hike. It's taken a year or two but I can now get them to the top without complaining or needing to be piggy-backed.
4. Turn things into a game
When we're out walking somewhere I'll challenge my kids to see who can race up that next hill first, or who can hop all the way to the corner, or how many cartwheels can you do in the back yard before you get tired? This doesn't work for all kids, but my hyper-competitive eight-year-old is a sucker for this one. He has to be first at everything.
My six-year-old daughter hates competition and is much more responsive to ideas such as "let's skip together to the next corner", or "let's do handstands together". Either way works, and you'll be getting a workout too.
5. Pay them
Hear me out. I'm not suggesting you pay your kids to exercise as such, but I pay my kids to do chores around the house, even though I already have a cleaner who does a far superior job. That way, the kids learn about contributing to the household plus they're getting active.
And I don't get stressed when they do an average job because I know it will be taken care of. Vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms and mirrors, hanging out washing – it all adds up to activity off the couch and children feeling good about themselves.
The best thing about tricking kids into doing these activities is that once they're up and moving, they will often stay that way. A dance around the kitchen will often lead to a game of hide and seek, and a walk to school will often result in a game of football on the oval before school. Activity leads to activity, and sometimes all they need is a push.