10 Rules of Kids' Fitness

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Rule #5: Never Reward Kids with Food

It's no wonder childhood obesity is so prevalent: "We tell our children to eat healthy, but then we reward their good behavior with junk food," says Liston. No, there's nothing wrong with an occasional treat. But to consistently reinforce a kid with ice cream and candy for a job well done—such as finishing his homework—delivers the wrong message. In fact, you should use caution in rewarding kids with any kind of food, including healthy fare. "This practice can teach them that it's good to eat even when they're not hungry," explains Liston. Instead, give them another kind of reward—like extra playtime outside.

Rule #6: Instruct by Showing, Not Telling

Forget the phrase "Keep your eye on the ball." Why? Because the first time most a kid hears it, he (or she) has no idea what you're talking about. Instead, show him how to hit a baseball with these 6 steps:

1. Stand a few feet away and tell your kid to look at the ball.

2. Move toward him with the ball in your hand while continually instructing him to keep looking at the ball. (This way, he'll learn to track it.)

3. When you approach the strike zone, tell him to slowly try to hit the ball with the bat.

4. Go back to the starting point, then toss the ball into the strike zone and allow him to swing.

5. Review what he did well and give him instruction for improvement.

6. Repeat.

Rule #7: Know When to Praise

Kids aren't stupid. Say your son whiffs at three pitches in a row. The modern parent often says, "Good try." But that type of hollow praise doesn't console him, or help him the next time he steps up to the plate. "Praise should be specific and authentic, as in, 'Good job juggling the ball 10 times. I see you've been practicing a lot. Your efforts have paid off,' " says Liston. "You should also mix instruction and encouragement when your child makes a mistake." Look for a teaching point, even on a strikeout. For instance, you might say, "Good eye on that second and third pitch. Keep swinging at pitches like those, and the hits will come."

Rule #8: Make a Play Date with Friends

Remember the days of running around with the neighborhood kids from dawn until dusk? Wasn't that fun? Well, it's also an essential way to keep your kid in shape: UK researchers found that children who have an active, neighborhood playmate are 2-3 times more likely to be physically active themselves when compared to kids who don't live near a buddy.

Rule #9: But Don't Compare Your Kids with Others

Kids develop the coordination to run, catch, and throw at different rates, says Liston. The trouble is, they're often expected to perform at certain levels based solely on their ages. As a result, a child whose development is slower than average may never have the opportunity to catch up with his peers. "If a kid tries to catch a baseball on the run before he's able to catch a beach ball while standing still, he won't have the tools he needs to be successful, says Liston. Unfortunately, many parents and coaches think the solution is for the child to try harder, when the real secret is backing up to a simpler task that the kid can improve upon.

Rule #10: Give Them Your Blessing

Encouraging your kids to participate in "vigorous" sports—like basketball and soccer—can cause your children to become more active, according to research in the journal Health Psychology. In the study, kids who received support from their parents were more likely to sign up for team sports (and less likely to spend their time sitting around) than the children who's parents didn't give them a push.

Obvious—and simple, right? Then what are you waiting for?

***

More from Men's Health:

The Fit Family Activity Plan

The Truth About Educational TV

Pack the Perfect School Lunch

Take Your Workout Anywhere

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