Getting more physical activity into your child’s daily life can sometimes be a matter of spotting obstacles and working out how to overcome them. Here are some common obstacles and ideas for overcoming them.
Screen time: a big obstacle to physical activity
Screen time is one of the biggest obstacles to physical activity for children.
Screen time is the time children spend looking at or using electronic screens. This includes watching TV, using a computer, tablet or smartphone, and playing video games or hand-held computer games.
Screen time keeps children seated for long stretches of time, which means it stops them from getting the physical activity they need and contributes to health problems.
Given the chance, some children will often opt for screen time activities instead of going outside to play. Children form screen time habits from an early age.
Setting limits on screen time
A healthy family lifestyle includes setting and sticking to limits on daily screen time.
The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that:
- children under 18 months should avoid screen time, other than video-chatting
- children aged 18 months to 2 years can watch or use high-quality programs or apps if adults watch or play with them to help them understand what they’re seeing
- children aged 2-5 years should have no more than one hour a day of screen time with adults watching or playing with them
- children aged 6 years and older should have consistent limits on the time they spend on electronic media and the types of media they use.
Limits mean looking at the time your child spends on screens and making sure it doesn’t get in the way of sleep and activities like physical play, reading, creative play like drawing, and social time with family and friends.
Limits don’t mean you should stop your child from watching TV or playing video games because he uses screens at school or for homework.
How to limit screen time
Different rules and limits work for different families. Here are some ideas for limiting screen time that might work for your family:
- Set limits on after-school screen time – for example, one TV program, and then outside to play.
- Have a few ‘screen-free’ days each week.
- Record favourite TV shows and watch them at times that don’t compete as much with active play – for example, when it’s dark.
- Talk to other adults who supervise your child about your limits on screen time. For example, if your child visits a friend’s house, you could ask the friend’s parent to let you know how much screen time your child has there. Then you can adjust how much screen time your child can have at home that day.
- Limit how much TV or other screen activity is ‘in the background’. If the TV is on in the background, it can still interfere with socialising and concentration.
Some types of video games involve children being up and moving. Although these games are more active than simply sitting, they don’t completely replace the benefits of active outdoor play.
Prams, strollers and infant seats
Sitting in prams, strollers and infant seats for too long can make it difficult for toddlers and babies to be active.
Where possible, it can help to let your child walk instead of being in a stroller or infant seat.
You can read more ideas for physical activity for younger children.
Space for physical activity
Sometimes the environment around your home can make it hard to get physical activity into your daily life.
For example, you might not have a lot of play space at home. Many parents also worry about the safety of their neighbourhoods, so children don’t spend much time playing together in the street or in parks. And some suburbs are built in a way that means schools and shops aren’t within walking distance of home.
To overcome some of these obstacles you could:
- take your child to a park, sports field, beach, friend’s or family member’s house, library, school, community centre or other place with space to play
- talk to neighbours with other young children about sharing supervision outside or on the street
- park or get off a little bit further away than you need to, and walk the rest of the way together with your child.
Busy work schedules can also get in the way of finding time to play outdoors with your children.
It might be helpful to talk with other parents or people in your neighbourhood about helping each other overcome this. For example, you could take turns to supervise a group of children playing actively outside on different days.