Gareth Lippiatt is a dad of one who runs the children’s activity provider Sports Xtra, which he created to bring high quality, structured physical activities to children. His company engages over 75,000 children each week, promoting his ethos that every child should have a positive experience through physical activity. Gareth and his team are passionate about promoting this message and providing children with the opportunity to enjoy being active. In this article, Gareth recommends ways to keep young children healthy and active.
Many children (and I suspect some of their parents too!) love games consoles, because they are a way of allowing them to have some power and control in a life where they are told what to wear, what to do and when to go to bed.
As parents, we know it’s not exactly the healthy option but it works for us, keeping the children quiet and safe. We consider it much better to have the child safe at home rather than exposed to the dangers that lurk outside.
That’s a sensible, valid point of view and no-one could argue against that, however what we as parents also need to consider is that although the child is safe from the immediate dangers that we all know exist, there are also other threats to the child’s well-being that may not be as tangible but are just as real.
Consoles themselves are not a threat to a child’s health or well-being, and as part of a balanced lifestyle that includes physical activity and participation in environments that promote socialisation skills and increased self-esteem, I have no problem with them at all.
As a society we are fully aware of the increasing problem of childhood obesity and the health warnings that accompany that message, so why do we continue to ignore them? Physical inactivity is either directly or indirectly linked to heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain types of cancer and many other illnesses…all of which may not be manifested until later life but all are increasing health issues in western culture.
Working with over 600 primary schools across the UK, unfortunately I can assure you that our children’s generation is in a far worse position than we were at their age as we now live in a completely different society. As well as the direct dangers of being physically inactive due to the huge volume of time spent on the console, in my view just as great a threat is the lack of interaction with other people that this promotes.
Such long periods in isolation cannot be beneficial to socialisation and the development of self-esteem and confidence that comes with personal interaction. Although these are strong reasons in their own right for a parent to be concerned, the reason that I particularly highlight them in the context of this discussion is that research indicates that the greatest barrier for participation in physical activity is…low self-esteem!
Cultural change is far too great a project for any individual to take on so the only way to break the pattern is to take responsibility for what you can in your own circumstances. If you’re a parent that is familiar with the scenario described above and is concerned about getting your child more physically active, here’s my top tips to getting the ball rolling in your household and ensuring that your child gets the most out of their activity.
- Be a positive role model: As a parent, you are the greatest influence on your child so what messages is your own lifestyle sending out to your children?
- Praise/reward good behaviour: Linked to the previous point, forget the sweets or donuts, the best reward a child can receive is affirmation from their parent which is a power that only you possess!
- Consider unstructured activity: Just as important as higher intensity physical activity is so called ‘incidental activity’ such as walking to school. The minimum recommended daily amount of physical activity is one hour which doesn’t need to be structured ‘sport’.
- Find an activity that they enjoy: Our most popular activities include street dance, fencing, rock climbing and spy school! Just because your child believes that they don’t like sport (they’re really referring to team games such as football etc) doesn’t mean there’s not something out there that they will love.
- Check out the quality of the provider: There are a lot of different types of providers offering different types of activities for children. That offers great diversity and choice for children and parents, but you should be certain to check that the provider is properly qualified and insured to deliver the activity. No reputable provider will take issue with you asking the difficult questions!
- Is your child enjoying it: There’s no better way to put a child off an activity than putting them in an environment in which they’re not happy. It takes expertise to create an environment that provides a positive experience for the children and factors such as the ability of the coach/instructor, the activity itself, the number and mix of the children on the activity and the way the activity is presented will all be factors in this.