Talking to parents/carers about children’s physical activity
Whilst parents/carers may know that physical activity is a positive thing for their child, they are less likely to know how much physical activity children are recommended to do, and they may face challenges in keeping their children moving.
Busy parents/carers may fall into patterns of behaviour that prevent children from getting as much physical activity as they could, e.g., by putting the child in a pushchair to get somewhere more quickly, or putting them in front of the TV to give the parent/carer a break.
As outlined in the communicating with parents about weight module, listening to the parent/carer’s perspective is important to show empathy, and to give them autonomy in helping their child stay active. Before diving in with information or advice, check first what the parent/carer already knows, and ask them if there is anything in particular they would like to talk about. This will help you tailor the conversation to their needs.
Over to you
In the video below Paula is talking to the father of 4-year old Chloe (played by an actor) about his physical activity.
Watch the video and try to identify:
- Three positive communication strategies the practitioner uses
- Three areas for improvement where the physical activity guidelines for 4-year olds could have been made clearer to the parent
Click the tabs to read some possible answers.
Positive communication strategies
- Paula uses open questions to understand the family’s typical day, how active Chloe is and where there might be opportunities within the day to fit more activity in.
- Paula asks what the father knows before giving advice. This is important to do, as it acknowledges the father’s perspective and enables Paula to better tailor the advice to his needs. For all Paula knows, the father could be someone who works in physical activity promotion himself. If she were just to launch in with this information without first exploring his current knowledge, it could come across as “preachy”, or as though she does not care about him as an individual (which could frustrate his needs for autonomy and relatedness).
- Paula asks permission to talk about Chloe’s situation. At the start, she asks if it would be ok to spend some time talking about Chloe’s physical activity, and later if it’s ok to share some ideas with him.
- Paula reflects back what the father says, including some specific praise. She acknowledges what he is doing well, and shows she is listening by reflecting back what he has said.
- Paula uses the active games handout as a visual prompt, and encourages the father to come up with his own solutions. It was clear from the father’s responses he was struggling to come up with ideas, so providing the visual guide helped him to reflect on what might work within his family’s lifestyle. Paula let him choose (rather than making suggestions herself), providing the father with some autonomy.
Areas for improvement
- Paula didn’t mention the 60-minutes daily moderate-to-vigorous activity guideline. This is important to do, as it highlights to parents/carers that 4-year old children need both light intensity activities but also energetic activities.
- Paula said “up to” 180 minutes not “at least” 180 minutes. This is inaccurate as it sounds as though the 180 minutes is a maximum. In the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (2019) guidelines 180 minutes per day is the minimum recommended amount.
- Paula could have endorsed the laps of the duck pond. Outdoor play is highlighted within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (2019) guidelines as a positive activity for young children. When the father mentioned doing laps of the duck pond, Paula could have used this opportunity to tell the father this was a great idea and explain how important outdoor activity can be in helping children stay active (thus enhancing the father’s perceived competence).
Below is a short quiz to help you evaluate your learning from this module. You may take the quiz as many times as you like.
Physical activity and sedentary behaviour
Start the quiz
1. How long and at what intensity should a 2-year old child spend being physically active per day?
a) 30 minutes moderate intensity
b) 60 minutes moderate-to-vigorous
c) 180 minutes moderate intensity
d) 180 minutes any intensity
2. Which of these is a benefit of being physically active?
a) Improved sleep
b) Improved strength and muscular fitness
c) Improved social skills and self-esteem
d) All of the above
3. For pre-school children, what intensity of physical activity are getting dressed and playing board games considered to be?
a) Light activity
b) Moderate activity
c) Energetic activity
d) Sedentary behaviour
4. Which of these sedentary activities are parents not encouraged to limit in children?
b) Watching TV
d) All of the above
5. Which of these are helpful parental behaviours for encouraging children to be physically active?
a) Showing fear about children falling
b) Using the pushchair whenever they can
c) Allowing their child to do things for themselves
d) Watching TV together as a family
6. Which young children is physical activity most important for?
a) All young children
b) Children aged 3 and over
c) Children with disabilities
d) Children whose parents are living with obesity
Thanks for taking part!