Post No.: 0336
Children are born with relatively open minds, are highly inquisitive and are not ‘set in their ways’ yet, and so they should be raised to be aware that there are a lot of different sports, other physical activities and made-up or improvised active games for them to try – therefore if they don’t like one physical activity then they should know that there’s something else they could try until they do find something they’ll enjoy!
A child might not like baseball but may enjoy badminton or bouldering for instance. There is no ‘one size fits all’ – we must offer ideas and opportunities and then let kids find their own way. Offer them various options – where all of these options are healthy and desirable – rather than forcing one option onto them or none at all. Physical education should not be about ‘football whether you like it or not’ or pressuring them into competitive play – that can turn, and has turned, some kids off sports for life. There are team sports and individual sports, they can be played competitively or just for fun, the players can agree to stick to the official rules or modify a game to fit their own inventions – the possibilities are only limited by our imaginations. There are games with little or no required equipment, or objects or playing grounds can be improvised with a bit of creativity – they can keep active even when they’re stuck indoors. There’s a lot of variety to keep them interested in being and staying active.
The main goal is to get moving – how they move is entirely up to the individual, and if they’re being active then they’re exercising their bodies and minds and that’s good for their health. We explored how the benefits of exercise are not just physical in Post No.: 0325. Some active games or hobbies aren’t considered exercise or sports but are physically active nonetheless. Teachers and parents should therefore not be unimaginative or narrow-minded.
Children should ideally be free to take charge of their own ideas with reasonable autonomy, although the final and ultimate responsibilities for their safety are with the adults looking after them, who should play a supervisory, positive and supportive role if an idea is safe to try. It’s best not to mollycoddle, which is often actually lazy parenting, even though it looks like the opposite, because a parent doesn’t want to deal with the minor cuts, grazes or tears that are really just a part of growing up – deal with them! Intervene only if there’s a risk of severe danger.
So let your children outside to play (unless there’s a temporary quarantine lockdown currently in force!) Don’t neglect the outside or nature in particular, or conversely take them for granted (which I hope people won’t anymore). Don’t over-protect them otherwise they’ll be less prepared to cope with the outside world when they do have to fly the nest. Facing challenges, letting them learn and pick themselves up from their own mistakes (rather than not letting them make any mistakes at all), and granting some trust in their own judgements, will build their confidence, train their judgements, and hone their social and street-wise skills. It’s overall a greater risk to their development to not let them out or take them out to play enough.
There are indeed real and harrowing cases of sexual predators and child kidnappers and these tend to be reported in the news, thus the availability heuristic will be at play in people’s minds. But emotional perceptions – in this case of dangerous threats around every street corner – are often divorced from the cold and hard data, yet emotional perceptions rule our attitudes and behaviours far greater than statistics or probabilities. The news mainly picks up on every piece of terrible news because these are more attention-grabbing – but ‘everything is okay’ news, even though these occur far more frequently in reality, seldom get reported. It may also be the case that if parents don’t see other kids playing outside then they won’t let their own kids play outside either, but every parent could be thinking the exact same thing hence the equilibrium amongst parents is ‘keep your own children inside too’. Road traffic is also a problem on some streets.
It’s understandably a dilemmatic situation for any parent of today for the risks are very low but the costs would be very high if something horrendous did happen. Maybe parents have to simply join forces with their neighbours to find out if they have kids too and together create a safe and supervised environment for kids to play outside around where they live. Of course, local governments should also ensure that there are safe, local spaces for children of all age groups to play outside too, rather than allow urban developments that have ‘No Ball Games’ signs everywhere.
Particularly at a young age, it’s more about improving skills and confidence than winning or losing. The emphasis should be on fun and engagement, to develop body awareness, a good posture, maintain suppleness and flexibility (adults know that if they don’t keep flexible then it becomes difficult to become more flexible again e.g. doing the splits!) and to ingrain the habit of warming up and warming down if they are choosing to play competitively. They may then wish to gradually challenge themselves a little bit more each time as they grow older and stronger, to better their own previous bests and to improve and explore their own physical limits.
They should explore and discover the infinite world of activity. The attitude shouldn’t really be to ‘not become obese’ or to ‘look good’ but to aim to ‘be fit and confident’ and to intrinsically ‘enjoy being fit and active’ for its own sake. Children can learn good healthy habits for life!
Children pick up on and are influenced by things that grown-ups do too – before they reach adolescence, they typically want to do what grown-ups are doing. So leading by example is important too. Some parents say they’ve forgotten or feel they’re out of touch with how to play sports or physical games for having not done them for so long, so playing with one’s own children is a gentle opportunity for them to get reacquainted with such games again too, and be a positive and supporting influence for their children at the same time.
Our upbringing has an effect on us for the rest of our lives. Our habits, attitudes and how we make decisions, as say a 25-year old, is based on our habits, etc. as a 24-year old, which in itself was based on our habits, etc. as a 23-year old, and so forth. (This is true with anything and everything imaginable – if the initial conditions of the universe were just slightly different then would you and I even be here today?)
Our habits and so forth can indeed drift over time, and sudden ‘life-changing’ circumstances that are out of our control (e.g. bereavements, illnesses) or in our control (e.g. the motivation to change to impress someone one fancies) can possibly cause large and sudden changes to our attitudes and in turn behaviours, but our habits and so forth were and are anchored upon a foundation of how we were raised. (Which means that, although, say, a boy may have started to go to the gym just to impress a girl, he will likely rebound to his old default habits of not going again after they marry or if the relationship falls apart!) Good or bad luck can shape anyone’s life to take it unforeseeably one way or another despite our efforts or lack of it, but we shouldn’t count on luck. We should count on what’s most probable, and what’s most probable is that a child’s habits when young will carry over when they become an adult.
The impact and importance of a person’s upbringing is vital and cannot be dismissed even when they turn into adults. Our life from conception to death is a continuum. There are no mentally ‘clean starts’ (akin to the formatting of a computer hard drive), even during puberty – the experiences we pick(ed) up as small fluffy youngsters stay with us somewhere in our minds (save for as a consequence of a major brain injury or disease – but even in most of these cases, one is more likely to lose one’s more recent memories than oldest, most reinforced, memories). If you can consciously remember something then that’s clearly a sign that a mental mark is still there, and even if you cannot consciously remember something, a mark may still be unconsciously there. And that’s for better or worse depending on the experience. So we should obviously want to raise children with healthy, active habits that are for the better.
Even subtle events early on can potentially be reinforced and therefore amplified over time, which means that we may never precisely identify how or what it was that gave someone a particular behavioural trait or habit (e.g. an aunt bought her niece a skipping rope, she found out she loved skipping and that opened her to exploring more active games; or she heard a mean comment from an adult that suggested that she would never be great at sports, and that stuck with her whenever she had to do a PE class) – it’s the ‘butterfly effect’, where chaos is not random but follows the deterministic rules of cause and effect. So even the smallest moments can potentially matter – although we shouldn’t stress over them for the big or more consistent moments will logically matter even more, hence as long as we get them right or at least try our best, our children should be fine.
For pragmatic reasons, responsibility for one’s own health and life ultimately becomes one’s own when one becomes an adult, but the habits we fall back onto and the difficulty in deviating from what habits we’re used to were set on a path by our personal past. (Genetics play a key role too but no one can claim to have chosen them and no one so far is able to change their own DNA even as an adult so that’s even worse from a free will or choice perspective!) Examples of childhood influences affecting our adult beliefs are our religious upbringing, or the fear of dogs after one bad experience with one when young (but not all dogs are vicious or that dog was probably misunderstood – woof woof). Such fears, phobias or aversions can be fought and conquered but it may be a recurring struggle, so it will be easier if they never develop in the first place.
Bringing it back to the context of health – our happy experiences with keeping physically active and our healthy attitudes towards food as children positively influence our thoughts and efforts towards these things as adults. Conversely, fussy eating, and the reinforcement of such behaviours via parents taking the easy, short-term road by only giving their children what they want to eat (e.g. no longer bothering to offer them broccoli after their negative reactions towards it), will likely shape their dietary habits as adults. And yielding to the many sedentary pastime options available to children today (largely fuelled by social media, video games and electronic media in general, which are okay in moderation but not excess) will likely shape their physical activity habits as adults. (Video games and apps can be active or encourage physical activity but we’ve got to admit that most people aren’t being active when they’re playing or using electronic media.)
Woof! So let’s do our collective best, as parents and as society in general, to raise children with active and healthy habits that they’ll likely carry for the rest of their lives!