Child Caring

Make Physical Activity A Family Activity

I have a wonderful 20 month old girl who is pretty sedentary by nature. She is also in the 95th percentile for her BMI. Although I know that at this age, it's still hard to predict a trajectory for her weight, I would like to be proactive about encouraging her to exercise and eat right. We are doing the right things in the food department. However, when it comes to staying active, I've noticed that she's just not a kid who likes to move around much.

We don't have a TV at home. She spends several hours outdoors every day. On the playground, she picks a spot in the middle and sorts rocks or draws on the ground with sticks. When we go for walks, she mostly likes to ride in the stroller or on Dad's neck. When we try to get her to walk alongside us, she crouches on the sidewalk and observes people going by, so we don't get very far. She almost never runs around the way I see other toddlers doing. Every once in a while, I can trick her into playing "tag" for a minute or two, but she gets bored with it quickly.

As she gets older, we plan to use the "peer pressure" element by signing her up for organized sports. However, I've also noticed that she doesn't like doing things she's not good at, so I worry that if she finds she doesn't run as well as other kids (who have been more active from a younger age), she will refuse to join in the fun.
I'd like to note that as a family, we're definitely not athletic, but we're quite active - long walks, hikes, that kind of thing.

I'd love some strategies or games that I can use to encourage her to move around!

From: Dee, Framingham, MA

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Dear Dee,

I get your concern but be careful not to turn this into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Sitting on the ground and sorting rocks? Wanting to sit on daddy's shoulders? These are age-appropriate behaviors. At 2, she is not a fully formed individual. Tendencies are only that: tendencies. Yes, 95th percentile BMI is high. But again, children change and grow; a young child's body fat percentage does not remain static and you sound confident that you are on top of this in terms of her nutrition.

Guidelines recommend a 2-year-old gets about 90 minutes a day of physical activity. Kids this age typically love to run, jump, chase a ball, splash in a kiddie pool. Does your daughter not like doing these activities at all, or just not for a sustained period of time? Because "sustained period of time" for a 2-year-old could be only minutes. If she doesn't like doing them at all, is there a gross motor issue? If not, give her time to grow into them.

At the playground, keep in mind that same-age kids can vary wildly at this stage. Some kids like to sit on the sidelines and watch before they figure out how to enter into the play. Some kids find playgrounds too noisy, too wild, too something. Try different playgrounds.
Try them at quiet times when she can explore the equipment at her own pace and without others around. Your analysis that "she doesn't like doing things she isn't good at" may be more of a developmental stage than a tendency toward being a perfectionist. Again, don't turn this into a self-fulling prophesy.

OK, so you may not have a varsity athlete in her future. In the long run, it's far more important to set her up for a lifetime where physical activity is part of her lifestyle. Her are some suggestions:

* Play games that engage her. You mention tag. That's great. Have you showed her the Hokey Pokey? It's not exactly the most physical game in the world but it tends to engage young children (my son loved it at that age, especially when he got to be the leader and especially if the "group" included nana), and they get very silly and physical with it. What's important with any activity is making it fun and doing it together. Don't get stuck nagging her to not stop. What about a mom/dad toddler play group? Does she have push/pull/ride toys? Balls of different sizes for kicking?

* Be a positive role model. Keep doing what you are doing, that is, show her, don't tell her. Pack her up on a bike. Take her on mini-hikes. Be outdoors as a family. Keep up the family walks but don't get bothered that she wants daddy's shoulders or a stroller. Show her that being physically active is part of who you are as a family.

Most of all, give this a little time. When my son was 2 (and even older), a friend and I used to laugh at the difference in physicality between our boys, born within a few days of each other. Her son ran like a professional in comparison to mine! I was laughing but I was worried. Silly me. My son went on to be a terrific athlete.