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Kids, Sports, and Exercise

There is no question that exercise is good for growing children, and the earlier they start, the better. But is it advisable for 6-year-olds to play team football? Should you encourage an uncoordinated child to take up gymnastics? It's important to remember that it's OK if children are not interested in certain sports as long as they pursue activities that help them stay physically fit. The key is finding activities they like to do, that are fun, and that get them moving! And don't overlook the other benefits your child will be receiving from exercise - including learning to share, making friends, and developing self-esteem.

What Parents Can Do
Try to concentrate on your child's successes, rather than her failures. Your child may not be able to swim well, but she may be a terrific skater and basketball player. Praise what she does well and provide plenty of opportunities for her to succeed. Introduce new activities, especially if she shows interest. Try to attend your child's games and meets as much as possible to encourage her and provide support. Whenever possible, parents should participate in fitness activities with their children. When a family rides bicycles or snowboards together, parents act as role models and everyone has fun and gets some exercise. What could be better?

Sports and Exercise for Ages 6 and Under
If a child doesn't want to do something or doesn't seem ready, it's best not to push too hard. Just because the child next door can ride his two-wheeler at age 5 doesn't mean your child should be able to do it, too. Children develop skills at different ages. Try not to draw too many comparisons between your child and other children. As long as she is developmentally on target, let her master skills at her own pace.

Some children shy away from sports because they're afraid of failure or easily frustrated. Again, you must look to your child for cues and you should provide encouragement, but never force an activity on an unwilling child. Wait 6 months and try again when the child feels more comfortable!

Some Suggested Activities for Ages 6 and Under

  • Gymnastics (tumbling)
  • Hopscotch
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Wiffleball
  • Jumprope
  • T-ball
  • Swimming
  • Karate
  • Tag
  • Kickball
  • Dancing

Sports and Exercise for Ages 7 and Up
Children should be at least age 7 or 8 before they engage in organized team sports, most experts say. It depends on the child, but many team sports are contact sports, and most children under age 7 aren't ready for rough contact. For them, the risk of physical injury is not the only concern. There's also the issue of winning and losing. Emotionally, losing at sports can be very hard, even for adults. At this age, it's more important that children have the chance to play than worry about who won and who lost.

Most experts agree that between the ages of 8 and 12 is the time to introduce competitive sports. Competitive sports include baseball or softball, soccer, field and ice hockey, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and football, among others. Parents should be well informed about their child's chosen sport(s), including the proper protective gear to be worn and injury prevention techniques. Coaches can provide most of this information, but it's still a good idea for parents to know, so they can help kids perform well without getting hurt.

Using free weights or weight training equipment is not recommended unless a child is following an age-appropriate program and is supervised by a qualified professional.

Distance running should be postponed until adolescence. Even then, track programs for middle school-age children (sixth to eighth grade) usually limit running distances to 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile at a time. Age appropriateness for these activities varies depending upon the duration and intensity of the activity. It is always recommended that you consult your child's doctor for specific recommendations.

More information on Kids and Fitness


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