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Physical activity and sedentary behaviour

Encouraging a physically active lifestyle

HINT  – remember what you have learnt from the communication module. Try to apply these skills when discussing a child’s and their family’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour. For example: allow parents the time to come up with their own ideas of how they can change their behaviours, if they’re struggling show them the hand-outs attached to this module, or ask permission to give them some advice about areas they could change; and ask does the parent present barriers to making these changes? If so, explore these barriers and encourage them to come up with their own solutions.

One of the easiest ways to help a family increase their pre-school child’s physical activity is to help them build physical activity into their daily lives and make it a fun and enjoyable activity for the whole family. This makes reaching the recommended guidelines easier as parents do not have to find additional time in their day to ensure their child is being sufficiently active. Some ideas for achieving this are outlined below (for a resource for parents see the active games hand out

Getting around

  • Allow toddlers to walk, ride their scooter or balance bike rather than going in a car or push chair (especially for short journeys i.e. to the local shop). This can take longer but keeps children physically active.  
  • Walking with reins can help keep walking toddlers safe.
  • If parents are keen to be active themselves, incorporate running or skipping into journeys to make the trip more fun.
  • Take the stairs rather than lifts or escalators (could count the stairs to make it more fun).
  • A toddler can push their doll in their push chair to encourage them to walk.

At home

  • Try to make tidying toys into a game
  • Toddler can help to sweep using the brush from a dustpan and brush
  • Ask child to find you something ‘red/green’ etc. in the room you are in
  • Hide a small toy in the house for the child to find
  • Washing and hanging up dolls clothes
  • Dusting with a feather duster
  • Dancing to music
  • Play active games in the living room

In the garden

  • Help in the garden
  • Help peg washing out
  • Put pegs on plants to find/collect again
  • Chalk drawings on the patio
  • Make their own mini obstacle course 

Outside

  • Go to the park and play active games
  • When walking search for leaves/pine cones/conkers etc.
  • Jumping in puddles 

Local activities

  • Leisure centre children’s activities
  • Swimming 

Increasing physical activity for the whole family

It is important for the whole family to be physically active, both for the family’s and pre-school child’s health. Parents and carers can encourage activity by interacting with young children in a physically active way whenever possible, and by giving children praise and encouragement. Even if a family member is unable to be physically active themselves, it is important they are positive about physical activity and actively encourage the child to participate. Adults are important role models and their involvement in physical activity and active play will encourage their pre-school child to be more active, and enjoy being active. This will stimulate further participation in physical activity. Some young children can be shy and reluctant to join in with others. It is important these children are guided and shown how to enjoy active play (e.g. how to use different equipment and play spaces).

Increasing children’s confidence to be physically active

Parents of children of all ages can be anxious about risk. However, even if parents are anxious about risk, it is important to encourage them to communicate with their child about physical activity in a positive way so that their own fears do not impact on the child’s activity levels. This will help to increase their child’s confidence. Parents can do this by supporting the child’s autonomy, competence and relatedness (to recap on these concepts refer to the communication module). See below for tips on how a parent can communicate positively about physical activity:

  • Offer specific praise and encouragement to children while they are being active e.g. praising catching skills, encouraging a child to walk rather than be in a pushchair (relatedness and competence).
  • Encourage children to explore (they may need to be willing to step back and allow some risks – within a safe environment) (autonomy).
  • Encourage children to do things for themselves (even if it does take longer) rather than be tempted to do it for them (competence and autonomy).

For further ideas to help parents incorporate physical activity in their daily life, refer to infographic hand out