Daniel  J. Green by Daniel J. Green

Many of your clients are undoubtedly struggling not only to stay active themselves during this pandemic, but also to keep their kids movingRest, sleep and mindfulness are vital elements of coping with the stress associated with COVID-19, so sedentary pursuits like watching TV, playing video games or reading a good book can be frequently used default options in our attempts to protect our mental health during this time of isolation.  

But, as all health coaches and exercise professionals know, there must be a balance between rest and physical activity 

There are multiple challenges at play here, especially considering that your clients are busy juggling so many other responsibilities right now, potentially including working from home, homeschooling and managing a busy household. First, how can you be creative in helping clients inspire their children to be physically active? Second, how can parents teach their children to value and respect the fact that their parents need to be active each day? And third, how can parents get their older kids, who might be less inclined to have a dance party with their parents in the living room or run obstacles courses in the backyard, involved in some family activity? 

An exercise toybox may be the answer to all of these questions. 

During a recent ACE webinar entitled “Family Fitness during COVID-19,” the three panelists—Brett Klika, CSCS and CEO of SPIDERfit Kids; Anna Woods, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and founder and owner of sheSTRENGTH; and Kathleen Tullie, MBA, founder and executive director of BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success)—shared suggestions for what should be included in this toybox and how to best use this strategy to keep families active. 

Encourage your clients to be creative and enlist their kids’ help in finding items that go into the toybox. Some suggestions include the following: 

  • Sidewalk chalk can be used for outdoor workouts to draw agility ladders, four square or hopscotch, or to create a “balance beam” or mark a path through an elaborate obstacle course. Painter’s tape can be used to mark hardwood floors in the same way.  
  • Household items can be used as resistance. Remind parents to be careful to ensure the weight is appropriate for the child who is going to use it. Suggestions from the panelists included canned veggies, plastic milk cartons and laundry detergent containers.  
  • Paper or plastic cups can be used in lieu of cones to create obstacle courses or relay races. 
  • Pillows can serve as unstable surfaces to incorporate balance exercise. 
  • Chairs, tables, boxes, blankets and towels can be used to create tunnels and things to climb over and under as part of indoor obstacle courses.  

The exercise toybox becomes a powerful tool when parents empower their kids to take the lead, not only in choosing items to include but in finding new ways to be activeParents can tell their children, “I’m going to work out on my own for the next 30 minutes. You use that time to build the most elaborate, crazy obstacle course you can imagine and we’ll run it together when we’re done.” 

That way, parents get 30 minutes of alone time to exercise, the kids are given a challenge that they must work collaboratively to solve and then the family spends some quality time being silly and staying active together. 

When it comes to older kids, all parents know that some teens and preteens may not be as excited as their younger siblings to hang out and exercise with their families. Some tips to get them involved include asking them to be leaders for their brothers and sisters by helping them set up games and workouts and then acting as their “trainer.” This may even buy parents some more time for their own workouts if they trust their older kids to be safe and responsible role models. Also, let older kids choose music to play during workouts or family dance parties—there are few things teenagers like more than playing DJ. 

Finally, tell parents not to be afraid to use technology to their advantage. This is true for kids of all ages, but especially teenagers. Active video games can be a great tool to buy parents time for exercise. Music videos that teach younger kids to dance along are available for free on the internet. And social networking platforms can be used to organize group workouts or dance parties with friends.  

The possibilities are truly endless. The focus for health coaches and exercise professionals should be to inspire, motivate and empower clients and their families to stay active during these trying times, as the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity are more important than ever.