Anonymous asks:

I'm worried about my children- they spend so much time watching screens and not enough time outside. I am sporty and so is my partner, but they just aren't that way inclined- what can I do to fix this? I don't want them to be unhealthy and we have tried to set a good example, but they haven't followed in our footsteps!

Dr Sophie Kent says: Physical activity has many important benefits for children's physical health and mental wellbeing. However, despite many children and families having high levels of knowledge about the importance of physical activity engagement, this knowledge does not appear to always translate into actual physical activity behaviours.

xel Bueckert / Alamy Stock Photo

xel Bueckert / Alamy Stock Photo

One reason for a reduced or lack of participation within physical activities is if the sport or activity is highly competitive and highly structured.

Typically, children often report participating in a number of structured sports such as football and swimming.

However, research has shown that traditional, structured forms of physical activity (e.g. sports) are only practiced by a minority of children, in part because of a lack of enjoyment or confidence in their ability to perform such activities.

Enjoyment is a central facet to participation behaviours, and if children do not experience a positive affective response, they may lack motivation and avoid taking part in physical activity.

This may suggest why promoting children to engage in physical activity in unstructured environments where they are free to interact with their peers is advantageous.

Secondly, children are also more often to participate within physical activity if the task is unusual, experimental and performed within a safe and supportive environment. For this reason, providing a child with many different types of physical activity has been one way to increase exercise participation. By doing so will provide the child with a greater sense of choice and autonomy.

My suggestion would be to have a discussion with your children and ask what types of activity do they enjoy, value and why. Is there anything they would like to explore further that is not offered on a traditional PE curriculum? (eg rock-climbing, skateboarding).

By exploring different physical activities of their choice may enhance enjoyment and engagement long-term. Alternatively, children can be incredibly creative and by allowing children to explore the large outdoor play environments may be helpful in encouraging alternatives to the sedentary home environment after school and on weekends.

Dr Sofie Kent is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a British Association Sport and Exercise Psychologist. 'I have been engaging in applied practice and research professionally since 2019. My previous and on-going applied practice includes work with organisations such as the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme and Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. I have a number of published articles that aim to explore stress, well-being, career transitions across a variety of contexts.'


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