This past weekend, I noticed a group of kids playing out in their front yard. Listening to the sound of their laughter brought back memories of the many hours my brothers and I spent outdoors engaged in a variety of individual and organized physical activity. Our endorphin factories worked to the max as we played tag, hide and seek, and games that incorporated our imaginations with movement.
My mother’s directive for us to go outdoors and “blow off some steam” makes sense now. Intuitively she must have known the positive impact of being “endorphin motivated,” even if she didn’t know the word endorphin. Physical activity has many benefits that are both health-related as well as psychological. But, how as parents, do we motivate our kids to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity a day suggested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services?
Simply put, motivation is what encourages us to continue to engage in a behavior. The September 2000 edition of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digestoffers a model worth considering.
Self-perceptions, how a child feels about his/her self, is at the core of the model. How are those perceptions formed? For young children, feedback received from caregivers and parents plays a huge role in how feelings about abilities and performance form. When significant adults in a child’s life model physical activity its importance is instilled in a child. Whether its going for a walk, throwing a ball, or riding a bike – doing these activities together demonstrates that activity is important for everyone. As children grow in their physical skills, the reinforcement that parents provide of effort and accomplishment outlines a child’s image of self.
As children become older and involved in activities outside of the home, comments by teachers and coaches are added to the mix of information a child receives. My son had the good fortune to play for the same soccer coach for 9 years. Early on, feeling our son, Nick, was not receiving the playing time he deserved, we approached the coach. Before responding to our concern, Coach invited Nick to join the conversation. Talking together, we learned that Coach had established goals for Nick to achieve before he would be given more time on the field. We also learned that he wasn’t taking these goals too seriously. Coach concluded the conversation by encouraging Nick to move beyond his physical ability and achieve a higher level of performance that would not only benefit him but also the team. These words stuck and continue to influence our son in new endeavors, both physical and otherwise.
Peer acceptance and friendship are powerful forces when it comes to self-esteem. This is especially true when it comes a child’s acceptance of his physical ability. Remember how it felt to be picked first for a team? And who can forget the disappointment of being chosen last? Peer acceptance when it comes to physical ability is a huge influence. Friendship, especially for those kids who feel like they are not accepted, serves as antidote for the negative feedback received. Not only is participation more fun when done with a friend, it also provides the encouragement and support, both of which foster improvement.
So there you have it – Locomotion Motivation. The positive feedback a child receives from their parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, and peers nurtures positive self perceptions of physical ability leading to enjoyment and motivation for continued activity.
How have you seen this model play out in your child’s life? How about yours?