Affaf Jamal offers a selection of advice for building up your child’s physical fitness.

Fundamental movement skills are the basis for the skills your child will use later in life to pursue recreational and competitive sport activities. They include locomotive movements (walking, running, jumping, skipping, balancing, climbing, hanging, swinging, pushing, and pulling) and motor skills (throwing, catching, and kicking).

Acquiring competence and confidence in movement will enhance your child’s overall co-ordination and nurture his self-esteem. Your child will build up his fitness to develop good aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility, speed, alertness, and reaction.

From an early age, your child has to acquire good spatial awareness (both in personal and general space), develop body awareness, as well as learn to move with effort and in relationship with others. Children need to learn to move, but at the same time, they need to move to learn.

A child, who is physically active from an early age and receives positive, enjoyable, and successful movement experiences, will continue to pursue activity on a regular basis throughout his lifetime. The benefits in terms of general well-being are physiological, psychological (emotional stability), and academic.

Make fitness fun

Children attain fitness by doing activities they enjoy. When parents impose exercise on them, they are creating an uphill battle of resistance. Usually, the interest of young children is short and changes quickly. Their attention span is inconsistent, and they tire easily. Be reasonable about the degree of physical exertion you require from them.


Through playing, your child explores, expresses, and discovers many aspects of life. Play can also help your child to realize the real value of fitness and to learn the ‘social graces.’

Understand the ‘want-fear’ premise

Adults work on fitness out of such fears as heart attack or weight-gain. Children are too detached from this ‘fear’ factor; therefore, from an early age, we need to develop in our children the ‘want to’ attitude. This can be achieved by always making activities enjoyable.

Teach body management

Children need to be able to manage their bodies and feel comfortable with moving. A child, who does not like to be active because movement is difficult for him, will have coordination problems and develop a tendency to become over- weight and lethargic. An over-weight child and a child who lacks coordination and flexibility will look for excuses to be inactive. This will, in turn, affect his growth, general fitness, and social development. Therefore, we must engage children in enjoyable coordination activities.

Be aware of child’s growth and development

Your child’s bones have not yet fully developed. Movement will ensure the growth of strong bones and muscles; therefore, it is important that your child engages in appropriate movement for his age group activities.

Be a positive role model

Children learn by watching their elders. Be a positive role model by showing enthusiasm. Provide a constructive feedback to your child – encourage and praise him.

See FITNESS as a ‘big’ picture

It is important to emphasize that the physical fitness is only one part of general well-being, which also includes: nutrition, play, mental health, quality sleep, and emotional health. For a child to be functioning at his optimal pace, there must be a balance of all these components. They all are the ‘life keys’ to the ‘big’ picture.

Be aware of exercise ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’

First, always warm up your child with low to moderate activities. Movements should be gentle and rhythmical, then gradually increased in intensity. Try to use all the major muscle groups in the warm up activity. Cold muscles should never be stretched. Avoid ballistic movements when stretching. Avoid exercises that hyper extend any joint areas. Do not use massive weight bearing exercises. Children should use their own body weight to develop strength.

Develop a knowing attitude and an exercise habit

Develop a knowing attitude, not just a fitness attitude. Get your child used to being active and doing exercise. Your child should know why exercise is good for him.

General guidelines to follow

  1. Make activity a family affair.
  2. Set an example – be a good role model.
  3. Turn the television off to encourage your child to go out and play.
  4. Develop regularity and habit in doing activity. Produce a timetable but make it flexible and adjustable.
  5. Be aware of your child’s physical capabilities.
  6. Develop, check, and reinforce good posture.
  7. Foster good sleeping and eating habits.
  8. Encourage drinking water every day.
  9. Develop spatial awareness – general and personal.
  10. Develop a good sense of balance.
  11. Develop upper body strength, reaction, and alertness.
  12. Do relaxation activities.
  13. Develop flexibility – upper and lower body.
  14. Develop agility – quickness.
  15. Develop eye-hand coordination, foot-eye coordination.

Strategies for encouraging a reluctant child

  1. Observe why your child is reluctant. Insecurity, over-weight, poor coordination, low self-esteem, fear of failure, and feeling of being unsafe may be among the causes.
  2. Create a safe, fun, and positive environment. Ensure that there is no physical threat, ridicule, bullying, or put-downs. No ‘emotional hurts.’
  3. Provide immediate feedback. Give praise and encouragement.
  4. Try to experience success within a short period of time.
  5. From time to time, offer incentive or reward. Instant rewards are praise and encouragement. A reward could follow a goal – “after cycling, we will go to have an ice cream.”
  6. Keep within the limits of your child’s abilities. Do not force them or be constantly after them.
  7. Do not be over protective.
  8. Do not confuse the child’s needs with his wants. A young child does not have the experience to know, what is good for him. A child will express his want to watch television, for example, rather than his need for exercise. In this situation, we have to impose on the child our knowledge about the importance of exercise and encourage him to play outside regularly.
  9. Establish firmness and consistency. Insist on doing some activity together and stick to it.
  10. Vary activities to sustain your child’s interest.

Keeping in mind the above mentioned tips, parents should select fitness activities that would be suitable for their children. There are many good books available on the subject, which incorporate a variety of fun, fitness based activities.

Engaging yourself and your child in enjoyable fitness activities is one of the best ways to spend ‘quality time’ together. Get down to it and good luck!