Youth and mental wellbeing: Be active, me kori tonu

The coronavirus (COVID-19) and associated restrictions can cause feelings like worry, anxiety and uncertainty. These emotions are felt by children of all ages. Children need to feel loved and supported while navigating this uncertainty. Increasing their ability to cope is crucial. For children, making sure they can burn off energy and stay active is key for their well-being.


Studies suggest that children across the globe aren’t getting enough physical activity. Lockdown only serves to exacerbate this problem. When you're going through a difficult time, it can be hard to think about exercise - especially if you’re stuck indoors for most of the day. But even though we're all stuck inside, there are ways to stay active.


For adults and children alike, keeping fit can do wonders for both our physical and mental health. Children who exercise more show fewer depression symptoms. Exercise is a powerful fighter against low mood. Being active lifts our mood, reduces stress and anxiety, improves physical health, leads to better sleep, and gives us more energy.



So how can caregivers keep kids, from toddlers to teenagers, active during isolation?


Here are our tips for keeping tamariki and rangatahi active:

  • Make it a part of a routine! For younger kids, this may mean a visual schedule or even a star chart to reward them with a sticker when they follow the plan. For older kids, getting them to plan their schedule gives them a sense of autonomy. Explain to them why exercise is important and ask how you can help them make it a part of their routine, rather than telling them what the routine is. That said, some families work better with flexibility than routine. As long as exercise is happening regularly, go with whatever works for your family.

  • Inform them about the importance of movement breaks. Everyone in the house should try to take breaks from long bouts of sitting to get stretching and walk breaks in.

  • Encourage kids and teens to do household chores. This helps them to get movement in during the day, and also helps parents. This could mean anything from cleaning their room, sorting the cupboards, setting up the dining table, or helping with preparing a meal. All these activities will keep the child busy and will help them improve their planning, organising and thinking skills and fine motor skills. Even for kids with special needs we can engage them in these activities which will help them be regulated and calm, we just have to provide them with clear and simple instructions.

  • Make it fun! For the younger ones, you might make a treasure hunt with objects they need to find across the house. Or maybe you could create an obstacle course for them to get through, using pillows and chairs and other household items. Imaginary play can also help. You could guide your child through yoga poses while pretending to be cats. Yoga and breathing are great exercises for any child to learn for managing anxiety.

Image from "Mindfulness and Coloring for Cats", by Rus Hudda
  • Motivating reluctant teens can be tricky. But encouraging exercise is crucial for their well-being. All and any movement is good. Running around to have some fun or putting the radio on to have a dance as long as you do something. Any exercise that gets heart pumping and gets you sweating is probably ticking the right boxes. Asking them to do an hour-long online class probably won't work, nor will getting them to go for a run or walk if that’s not where their interests already lie.

  • Try 30 minutes of something they find fun. There are a lot of good workouts on Youtube and TikTok. Pop dance workouts can be good. You could set them a challenge like daily push-ups. If you record them, they can send this on to their friends and start a competition, and just like that they have socialising and working out tied together. If you have a dog, get your teens to take it for a walk. Going for family walks together or getting games that encourage physical activity are all good ideas that may motivate teens. Otherwise, ask them what their favourite celebrities are doing to keep fit during isolation.

Supporting tamariki and rangatahi to enjoy active lives helps build physical and mental wellbeing, as well as a sense of thriving. These are just a few ideas - there are many other things parents can do to get their kids and teens off the couch and moving.


References

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-around-the-world-dont-get-enough-exercise

https://patient.info/news-and-features/covid-19-how-to-keep-kids-active-during-coronavirus-lockdown

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/motivating-kids-to-stay-active-during-the-lockdown-20200429-p54o4h.html

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