Sometimes kids say the darnedest things. I got a good chuckle from 9 year old Ariel several years ago when she declared,
Dad’s always bugging me to exercise, but I’m not the fat one.
This comment is far more than just funny. It illustrates one of the most common errors moms and dads make: expecting their kids to do as they say, not as they do. In this case, Ariel’s very well-meaning dad, who was locked in a constant losing battle with his weight, just wanted to protect his daughter from the physical and emotional consequences of obesity. He and his wife taught Ariel about the value of a balanced diet and regular exercise. Mom, who was a homemaker, was blessed with a naturally lean body type and worked out three days a week while Ariel and her siblings were at school or camp. She believed it was important not to take time away from her family to go to the gym. As such, Ariel was completely unaware that her mother exercised at all. On the other hand, Dad, who was on disability following a work-related back injury, not only failed to exercise to improve his overall health, he avoided doing the physical therapy exercises that might have reduced his pain and disability.
Ariel, who loved to spend her time at home reading, playing with dolls, and writing and illustrating fantasy stories, complained that her father was always pushing her to go outside to ride bikes or roller skate or run around. He had a rule that she had to get 30 minutes of exercise every day and this did not include physical education class and recess at school. Meanwhile, Ariel maintained a healthy weight, ate more nutritiously than most kids her age, and exercised plenty between PE classes at school and twice-weekly ballet classes. In addition, she walked the family dog 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after school every day.
Far more effective than nattering Ariel about exercise or setting a 30-minute/day rule for outside play would be for Mom and Dad to engage with Ariel in physical activity. Perhaps Dad could join her for one of the daily dog walks and build up to 30 minutes/day of exercise himself. Maybe Mom and Ariel could enjoy a weekend bike ride together. Making exercise a shared part of a family’s routine and modeling regular exercise are much better ways to promote healthy habits and ward off obesity than nagging.
[Names and potentially identifying information have been changed to protect privacy.]