The Couch Potato Cure

Tips to keep your kids from hibernating

couch potato

When it’s dark long before dinnertime and temperatures are finger- and toe-numbing outside, the urge to hibernate hits. Although winter can be tricky, there are many ways to keep your children active during the cold months.

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The first step is to limit screen time, says Eileen Kennedy, PhD, pediatric psychologist with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health and Program Director for Fit Youth. This includes television, computers and electronic games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day for most children and nothing for those younger than 2. 

“Too many kids are plugged into their electronics for hours at a time,” Dr. Kennedy warns. “Parents should find out what TV shows, video games or websites their children like best and save their screen time for those favorites.”

Battling “I’m Bored!”

Many children think that when they’re not plugged in there is nothing to do. Dr. Kennedy offers the following tips for getting them up and active – for cardiovascular health and weight control (not to mention your sanity!)

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1. Focus on fun.

Instead of simply taking a walk, make it a game or set a goal. You can count the number of different birds you see or look for animal tracks. Help your children learn to enjoy cold weather activities, such as ice skating, sledding or building snow sculptures.

2. Make it a family affair.

It is much easier to get kids to participate when the entire family does something together, Dr. Kennedy points out. “Parents must be role models and younger children, in particular, need to see parents getting some exercise every day,” she says.

3. Keep things developmentally appropriate.

The younger the child, the more parental input they need to stay active. Parents should provide encouragement as well as direction for the type of activities their children can do. Older kids do better when they have a peer who is active.

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4. Move it indoors.

For those days when it’s not possible to go outdoors, Dr. Kennedy suggests jump ropes, hula hoops, hopping on one foot, calisthenics, exercise balls, community recreation centers or indoor pools to get needed exercise. “The important thing is for children to use extra energy and get their hearts to beat faster,” she stresses.

5. Select a sport or activity.

While team sports aren’t for every child, yours might enjoy an individual sport such as karate or dance. Whatever the choice, children need at least 30 minutes of high-energy activity every day, regardless of their age, emphasizes Dr. Kennedy.

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