Getting them off the sofa

Now is a great time of the year to get the children into some form of physical activity outside the home, perhaps even something a bit physically challenging, says parenting columnist Ian Munro.

I'm not suggesting you drag them up Mt Cook or throw them into a dinghy and point them in the direction of Australia (although at this stage of the school holidays you just might feel like doing that!).

It could be to the park, the pool or the beach; or, if you're so inclined, out on the water, into the bush or up the mountains.

While they aren't all going to be All Blacks, Silver Ferns, Olympic medallists, Everest conquerors, champion golfers or dancers with the New Zealand Ballet, physical activities provide many opportunities to build a well-rounded person.

Depending on what the activities are, they can:

• improve physical and mental or emotional wellbeing

• assist developing motor skills and co-ordination

• allow the positive release of surplus energyprovide leadership opportunities

• foster self-confidence, self-reliance and social skills

• maybe spark a lifelong interest

People can be quick to point to some of the downsides, such as time commitments, becoming a taxi service and expected committee and fundraising involvement.

However, these sorts of things shouldn't be a reason for children being physically inactive and usually do require some rationalisation of our activities and theirs.

It could be that going tramping, hunting, swimming or mountain biking with parents and a friend is a suitable alternative to organised sport, while still providing many of the benefits listed above.

It's also important that children aren't forced into activities which they have no interest or just don't have the skills.

They can come to hate all physical activity and also have their self-confidence severely knocked.

They may chop and change their minds about what they want to be involved in, especially if they take on something because a friend does or it's the local fashion and then find it doesn't suit them.

This can be particularly frustrating if you've reorganised your life to accommodate this activity and perhaps forked out for expensive gear.

We also need to be careful that we don't start living our life through our children's sporting successes, have unrealistic expectations and apply undue pressure on them to succeed at all costs.

These stances can be totally counterproductive with everyone becoming stressed or obsessive, children being publicly humiliated by parents on the sideline and, ultimately, turning them off the activity.

To be productive, physical activity should be fun, involve some challenges and be balanced with other activities.


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