How can you help your child succeed later in life? Start early.

Physical literacy is the new buzz phrase for keeping kids active, but putting the terms “physical” and “literacy” together has a funny ring. Parents usually connect literacy to language skills such as reading and writing, a contradiction to what comes to mind at the word “physical.”

However, the phrase “physical literacy” is derived from the original context of the term “literacy,” which is defined as a person’s knowledge of a subject or field.

Physically literate people are knowledgeable and interested in different types of movement. They move confidently in diverse ways and do physical activities that benefit the development of the person as a whole.

Physically literate people are more likely to have happy, healthy lifestyles – the kind of lives parents want their children to have.

In order for parents to support their children in being physically literate, there are three keys to success:

  1. Children must start as early as possible.
  2. Children must be taught to respect themselves and others.
  3. Parents must foster a love for physical activities. Engagement and passion for physical activity will lead to healthier lifestyles for children as they move through adolescence and early teen years.

The first key seems obvious; however, if routines are not established in the first three years of life, it is more difficult to teach physical literacy to your child.

There are programs you can place your child at a young age that can get them off to the right start, some beginning as early as 16 months. At that age, children absorb much more and as a result the time put into physical literacy is worth exponentially what it is in later years; putting a child into a physically active environment sets the tone for the rest of their lives.

Exposing your child to a combination of structured and unstructured movement will greatly benefit him. From the unstructured movement, the toddler will develop creativity, a sense of discovery and deep-rooted enjoyment for physical activity. In structured physical activity at a young age, children begin to form vocabulary, self-esteem and the ability to take direction from a coach or mentor. This skill set is tough to nurture: since having success in many aspects of life is dependent on these skills, it is worth exposing your youngster early on.

When children learn to move in a physical environment at an early age, they learn to respect their bodies, each other, and the environment around them. When activity comes with positive reinforcement, she quickly learns the value of moving confidently, as it makes her feel better about herself and others. She learns how good she feels when she performs physical tasks with accuracy and agility.

This is the foundation that motivates children to want to make healthy choices. She begins to desire that feeling of accomplishment and pride that occurs when achievements are made. This desire, combined with the reinforcement of other healthy choices such as diet and hygiene, ultimately lead to self-respect.

In learning the rules and respecting the coach and equipment, the child begins to develop a deep respect for the environment and the people in it. The development of respect plays a role in the child becoming more physically proficient; when children understand what makes them feel good, they also start to understand what they can do to make others feel good.

A great example of this is when my two boys play soccer in our backyard. My older boy has been exposed to sports and positive reinforcement throughout his whole life. This has transferred to him encouraging and assisting my younger boy to kick differently so he has more control of his passes. The ability for my son to do this respectfully comes from practice and mentoring in the programs where he has been taught how to communicate positively.

This does not always happen naturally; it is easy for children to communicate with each other in a disrespectful way, pointing out what someone is doing wrong, instead of showing them the desired behaviour. When respectful communication starts early in a sport environment, children seem to pick it up with ease.

The ability to respect others is fostered from this type of communication and when children start young, they understand the benefits of positive respectful communication in their lives. Positive feelings and communication in a physically active environment helps children have respect for themselves and others.

As children become more proficient and comfortable with physical activity, they enjoy it more. Eventually, through repetition, the feeling of success and enjoyment turns into a passion for physical activity.

This passion can be nurtured simply by supporting your child’s development in activities. Teaching your son about commitment and perseverance will help to drive his passion. As he gets older, the lessons become tougher, the commitment becomes more trying, and the parent role becomes larger in supporting him through these two areas.

When it comes to such things as winning and losing, being cut from a team, or not getting to play on a competitive team, these learning experiences will influence children throughout their lifetime. Even though my nine-year-old is sometimes distracted and not overly enthusiastic about going to his sports classes or events, I still take him. As he gets older, the frequency of his reluctance to go has decreased. It sometimes is tough as a parent to make him stop enjoying another activity at home in order to go to his sports activity. The conversations we have are usually around commitment to his team and to the activities he has chosen to be part of.

In the case of swimming lessons, he has not chosen to go, but I have decided that it is important for him to know how to swim as our family enjoys water sports; in order for him and I to be comfortable around the water together, he needs to know how to swim. As the years of swimming lessons go by, I am finding that even though it was a battle in the beginning, it is now something he enjoys – when he has an opportunity to pick a family activity, his first choice is swimming.

Without even knowing it, I have helped foster a love for swimming.

My intention was to make sure he had that life skill, but it has grown into a passion for him. The real parenting lesson here is that your child does not always know what is best for them and as a parent, it is your job to make decisions that will help your child develop a passion for physical activity.

A child’s interest in an activity should be nurtured at a young age, as most parents want their children to be well-rounded and successful individuals. Ensuring that children respect themselves and others, starts by putting children in situations where they can learn at an early age. When young children start to build confidence and gain respect for themselves and others, they also begin to build a passion for physical activity because they are comfortable and confident in that environment. The sooner a child is exposed and starts working on these skills and attributes the better, as it is harder to develop at an older age.

Ultimately, a child will only benefit from taking these steps at an early age, it will make the adolescent and early teen years easier as the child will be interested and engaged in physical activity instead of other distractions in life.

A parent’s role is to foster the passion, help create opportunities to learn self-respect, and start the child in both structured and unstructured physical activity at an early age.

Ultimately, this will lead to the development of a physically literate child.

7 December 2012 by