Part 3: All In The Family
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. – Fred “Mr” Rogers
When we first built our home gym in our finished basement, one of the immediate benefits was that I was no longer spending the time driving to and from the gym. A second, arguably more important, benefit was that the kids could be in the gym with me. We used a large play yard, foam interlocking floor mats, and a bouncer to allow a safe space to bring our daughter into the gym. After being home all day with a 6-month-old, my wife could hand off our daughter for some “mommy time” while I was able to do my workout and spend time with my little girl. This also meant that instead of listening to my normal but varied gym music (90’s rap, metal, etc), I switched to listening to classical and/or Yo Gabba Gabba music, but some changes are definitely worth it.
Yeah, I realize that many gyms have daycares, but I think that this is a better option for parents AND kids. What’s more restful and energizing than getting a hug or kiss between sets? If you said nothing, that’s correct. But think of the benefits for your children too! They are seeing from a young age that being physically fit is important to you, thus, you are making it important to them too. This also allows you to become a positive role model for them in the area of physical fitness, regardless of your level of actual fitness.
Remember, kids do what they SEE, not what you tell them to do.
In this article, I will look at how my family has integrated exercise and nutrition as a positive focus for our daily family life. If you don’t have any children, this article, unfortunately, won’t really apply to you so I’d say it’s safe to skip if you really want, although you may find some value and/or humor in some of it. 😉
- 1 Part 3: All In The Family
I highly recommend a home gym if you have the room for it. As I mentioned above, it worked out well for us to have a designated play area where our kids could be in the same room but away from the equipment. As they got older, they wanted to “DO WORKOUT” too. Our son was so interested in watching daddy do bench press and deadlifts, that for his third birthday we added a foam weight bench / bar to our home gym so that he could do the movements “just like Daddy,” but not have any weight that would negatively impact him.
If your kids are young, it’s critical to not force “structured exercise” on them like a routine, but rather an open flowing type of “play” while also cultivating a respect for some dangerous things in the gym. So when my kids do hang out in the home gym, I encourage their randomness. My children love to swing on the gymnastic rings, hop on a bike and pedal for 20 seconds, kick the punching bag, do one rep of bench press, jump rope, etc. They change their minds about what they want to do in the gym as often as they do on any other non-gym activity, and that is perfect as being in the gym is natural play for them.
The biggest concern of having children in the gym is their safety. It will take plenty of repetition, but having a few clear rules will promote safety and allow both you and your kids to enjoy your time in the gym.
Gross Family Gym Rules (as worded by 4-year-old and 7-year-old)
- “Safety first.”
- “No running.”
- “Not allowed to talk in the gym when Daddy’s doing a heavy set.”
- “Not climb on stuff if I don’t tell Daddy.”
- “No crying or whining”
The rules keep both kids and parents safe. First and foremost we have “Safety First” which is an all the time family rule, reminding them that they should be looking out for themselves by thinking IF something is safe before they do it. “No running” helps to keep them from moving too quickly where they could accidentally walk into the path of a weight. “Not allowed to talk in the gym when Daddy’s doing a heavy set” teaches them to watch out for the safety of others and ultimately teaches them that the purpose of lifting is to move heavy weights. “Not to climb on stuff if I don’t tell Daddy” is to make sure that they are using the equipment correctly. So when our son asks “Can I hold this dumbbell while riding the stationary bike,” the answer is “no” and allows me to reiterate the purpose of both the bike and the dumbbell. “No crying or whining” also has two purposes, the first is really just to keep the two kids from fighting when they are together. Alternately, it allows us to teach the positive message of not saying “I can’t” to something and learning instead to say “I need help” or “how can I get better at this movement”?
In addition to allowing the kids in the gym, we really stress the importance of just moving around. We still are a family of gamers (the kids love Disney Infinity), but we make sure to not have hours on end every day of video games. When the weather is nice, we make sure to go for walks, let the kids ride their bikes, or head to a playground so that they can just be active kids.
Fitbits for Kids?
One struggle we had was whether or not to let our kids have Fitbits. My wife and I both have them, and the kids are fascinated by them. They often run over, grab a wrist and tap the button to see how many steps mom has vs how many dad has. It didn’t take long before they were asking to have one as well, and we really struggled with this decision. We decided that it was okay for them to have them, but only after asking WHY they wanted them. For them, having more steps than mommy or daddy or each other was a game. While for us we were tracking data, for them it was just another game. I think it’s incredibly important that we not turn our kids into “trackers” that are collecting data and while routines can be helpful around things like chores, and homework for them, I don’t want to reach a point where play becomes an “exercise routine.” Play is something that I feel is incredibly important, and they’ll have enough scheduled exercise through wanting to play a bunch of different sports. We found an off-brand version for $20 and don’t let them wear them all of the time. So far, the biggest downfall is having to remember to charge someone else’s tracker and the continual banter that ensues as our 7 year old always beats us in steps during her normal school day vs daddy or mommy’s normal work day.
Having good nutrition knowledge and the skills to implement good nutrition in my life is something that I wish had been available to me as a kid. This has been a driving force in how I talk to my kids about nutrition. For example, since my kids were born, even before they could talk, I’d explain to them why it’s important to eat your vegetables, fruit, and protein. The explanations were simple and kid friendly. Vegetables and fruits have vitamins and minerals that make you feel good from head to toe, help you sleep and be happy, and they also have fiber which helps you poop. Protein helps your muscles grow. I also explained that outside of protein and fruits and vegetables are other foods like bread, corn, etc. are sources of energy, and that you eat those based on how much energy you need to have (both for your brain to work and for your body to not get tired).
While my kids obviously don’t weigh or measure portions, they have what I consider a healthy relationship with food and proper portion sizes. They understand that plants need to take up more than half of your plate and eating meat is required to grow big and strong. We also work to cultivate a positive relationship with sweets. They know that things like cookies or ice cream are “sometimes foods” we eat for a treat, and that these foods taste good and make us feel happy because we tend to have them during happy times, but in general they don’t always help our bodies get better, bigger and stronger.
We also have a rule in our house that you have to try everything mom puts on your plate, and we have talked in depth with our kids about how you don’t like foods the first time you try them. It takes quite a few attempts at eating something before you begin to acquire a taste for it. Our son loves black olives. Both of our kids complain if there isn’t avocado on their tacos. Both olives and avocados were acquired tastes meaning that we just kept letting our kids try it and kept telling them it was good for them. It took a few weeks of consistently tasting the new foods, but they learned to love olives and avocados and broccoli and green beans and tomatoes and… you get the idea.
Some of our kids’ favorite “Healthy Foods”
- Roast beef
Some of our kids’ favorite “Sometimes Foods”
- Ice cream / Milkshakes
- Pancakes (They like them with lots of mini chocolate chips)
- Remember, kids do what they SEE, not what you tell them to do. If you want your kids to embrace a healthy lifestyle with exercise and healthy eating the best way is to demonstrate that by living it yourself.
- If your kids are young, it’s critical to not force “structured exercise” on them like a routine, but rather an open flowing type of “play” while also cultivating a respect of the home gym.
- When the weather is nice, make sure to go for walks, let the kids ride their bikes, or head to a playground so that your kids can just be active. Be active with them. Sitting on a bench, and playing on your phone while they play sends them the wrong message. Plus, play is good for YOU too!
- Explain to your kids that it is important to eat vegetables, fruit, and protein. The explanations should be simple and kid friendly. Vegetables and fruits have vitamins and minerals that make you feel good from head to toe, help you sleep and be happy, and they also have fiber which helps you poop. Protein helps your muscles grow.
- It takes quite a few attempts at eating something before you begin to acquire a taste for it. Keep reintroducing foods to you kids and requiring them to take a few bites. Eventually, they will learn to accept (and maybe even love) a variety of new foods.
- If you have some ideas that I didn’t cover, please let me know what they are!
- If you’ve enjoyed this series and were looking for some accountability in implementing these bite-sized tips into your relationships, I’d love to work with you!