We’ve asked Sarah James, an Occupational Therapist at BC Children's Hospital, to answer a few questions about being active.
This depends on your child. For example, some children may enjoy team sports at a young age, but become frustrated as the skill level increases. These children when older may enjoy individual sports, such as swimming or bike riding, where the focus is on individual progression. Other children however, can thrive in a team environment and be more motivated to be active if part of a team.
Team sports can be a fun way for your child to get physical activity and develop skills. Around age 6 or 7, children can begin to reach the physical and cognitive levels they need to play organized sports.
With any team sports in the early years, make sure the focus is on learning and having fun, not on competitive play. For most sports, children should avoid specializing too early and try a range of different sports to develop different skills.
Support your child to play every day, and encourage them to play with siblings/friends. Play time provides your child with opportunities to practice and refine motor skills. And eventually, when your child throws a ball and hits a target, walks across a balance beam without falling, or kicks a ball into a net, they will grow more confident in their physical abilities and themselves.
Make time to be active together with your child. For many children, positive parent support and modeling activity can help to increase physical activity levels, which in turn allows for development of movement skills.
You can also help by providing an environment that supports physical activity, be it a large indoor area with furniture moved aside, an outdoor lawn, or a nearby park where your child can run and climb.
The key to increasing physical activity levels is starting with small increases.
Consider your child’s baseline level of physical activity and build up slowly to allow the body time to adapt. For example, if your child’s baseline level is no physical activity, starting with a 10 minute walk in the neighbourhood might be an appropriate place to start.
A conservative approach to increasing physical activity levels and avoiding injuries, especially for an activity like running, is the 10 percent rule. This means progressing time or distance by 10% each week (e.g. if currently doing a maximum walk/run of 5km, aim to progress to 5.5km the following week). You may find you can progress more than this with other activities, like ball games or free swimming.
Most importantly, encourage your child to listen to their body. There is a balance between doing too little, and too much!