Q. Our kids seldom go outside to play. I think they need more exercise, but my husband seems very anxious when they are outside. He worries that they’re going to run into the street or something bad will happen to them. (They are 3, 7 and 13, by the way.) Do you have any suggestions for how to help my husband loosen up and help our kids to get more exercise?
A. Not too long ago I looked out my window and saw my neighbor and her two small boys wearing rubber boots and playing in puddles of water from the rain. Their laughter was so contagious I had the urge to join them.
Children—and the rest of us—are affected by the moods and attitudes of those around us. Parents who love the outdoors tend to raise children who grow up to love the outdoors, whereas parents who are seldom outside tend to raise children who stay inside as adults. Parents who are anxious tend to raise children who are anxious.
There are numerous possible causes for your husband’s anxiety. Maybe he experienced or read or heard about a tragedy involving a child. Perhaps one of his parents passed down some anxieties to him.
While it’s important for your husband to avoid passing those anxieties on to your children, it’s also possible to get lots of exercise indoors. You only have to look at the ads and calendar in Austin Family magazine to find plenty of places to go and get exercise indoors.
The benefits of exercise are also myriad and include:
- Improved ability to fight colds, allergies and diseases through a strengthened immune system.
- Stronger cardiovascular system.
- Better control of body fat, reducing the chance of becoming overweight.
- Increased blood flow and oxygen throughout the body, including the brain.
- Improved memory and increased concentration, because exercise enhances brain metabolism and function.
- More energy due to increased oxygen in the body’s cells.
- Improved mood, reduced anxiety and better quality of sleep.
- Increased self-esteem and confidence.
- Healthier muscles, bones and joints.
- Improved motor coordination.
It seems clear that exercise is good for us, so how do we motivate ourselves and our children? One answer lies in finding activities we enjoy.
You could invite your children to brainstorm with you to create a list of activities and then participate in a discussion of which ones would be the most fun. If their choices involve parental participation, such as providing drinks or snacks or cheering them on, then doso cheerfully.
Maybe you could talk your husband into shooting baskets at an indoor gym with the older kids, and your pre-school child might enjoy a playgroup where parents do activities with the kids. You and your husband and older children might want to wear pedometers and challenge each other to meet your goals.
Find time for each one in the family to exercise and schedule it on the calendar. Be a role model for your kids in doing things like taking stairs instead of the elevator.
Your husband may never laugh and play in puddles with the kids, but it could open up a world of outside activities for you and the children if he were more comfortable with being outside. You might ask your husband to talk with a therapist about his anxieties.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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