I can tell school is just around the corner because I can feel its presence seeping into my household. I can see it in my daughter’s face.This morning, my daughter looked just as tired when she woke up as when she went to bed.
And it wasn’t just physical fatigue… it was mental and emotional…
While my daughter’s a bit dismayed about math homework and English essays, that’s not what’s eating at her. That’s pretty straightforward – a high honors student, she knows how to buckle down.
No – it’s anticipating the crazy social pressures of high school that’s getting to her. She had just finished a week of soccer camp and the dose of heavy-duty socializing was getting to her.
She just spent a summer free of the mucky, complicated, often ugly peer atmosphere of high school. She spent two plus blissful months not worrying about clothes or makeup, free of the gossip circles, working hard doing farm chores, mountain biking and swimming. Occasionally she met up with her friend K, she went to a few summer soccer matches. But aside from that she was home, enjoying a mixture of her own space and the challenging but unquestioningly loving family life here.
My son faces other challenges. His impulsive nature gets him in trouble and his too-clever-for-his-own-good mind gets him into the habit of lying (or stretching the truth really long) about his misdeeds. He has to gear himself up to focus despite the distractions of his friends. As a charismatic guy who other children flock to, he has to learn to take that as a responsibility for good leadership. Not an incentive to be the class clown or daredevil.
These challenges are nothing new. My children are now 12 and 15. But they have faced these specific personal issues and others like them since they were tiny.
And this is why I advocate family fitness so much. I’ve watched both my children thrive on the amount of family time we spend together. And I’ve seen the especially heady mix of family time and physical activity work wonders for helping my children learn confidence, discipline, self-awareness and resilience.
It’s easier to fit family activity in when the weather’s nice and school’s out. It gets a lot harder once we swing back into the dense scheduling of school.
But activity together is so essential during the school year – perhaps even more so because our children face so many more challenges while in school. They have to face off with peer pressure to stand their ground about who they are and what they believe in. They have to take on tasks they’d rather feed to the family dog. They have to stay focused and resist their impulses for several hours during the day in the midst of a maelstrom of squirmy kids.
Family fitness helps with all this. Not to mention how activity helps kids think better.
So today I’m urging you to make the best of the last days of summer.
In particular because it can lay the groundwork for ensuring exercising together stays part of your life when school begins.
Here’s some ideas for how to do this:
Experiment and Learn What Works
We love biking. Biking as a family is a terrific way to sneak in some activity before dinner or on a weekend morning. But it’s easier when you’ve worked out all the kinks of equipment, routes, reluctant bikers, etc.
So if there’s a family fitness activity you’ve been thinking of trying – now’s the time to try to make it part of your family life.
Plan a Big Adventure or Two
To make family fitness work, we emphasize thinking small. It makes it easier to implement. And small things add up.
But big adventures make for big memories which can encourage your kids (and you) to keep doing active family activities together.
When I say big, it doesn’t have to be trekking off to Nepal. No. I just mean doing something that’s more of a half-day, whole-day or weekend adventure. Last weekend we did our first trip in kayaks and a canoe to explore our nearby lake with a picnic lunch. We spent the whole day discovering the new corners in our backyard we didn’t know about.
Go on a hike. Do a ropes course. Go to the beach for a day with lots of swimming games in stock.
Establish a Routine for the School Year
Just the opposite of the adventure idea, work on developing some fail-safe routines. We’re easing our children back to a normal bedtime and wakeup time. Similarly, we’re starting to get more regular about a short morning workout together. And some pre-dinner soccer practice.
My daughter – the stiffest member of the family – is diligently stretching while watching TV. And my son gets up and does 5 short sprints in the morning.
Remember, better to aim small and experience success than to overcommit and feel frustrated and give up.
Maybe it’s a quiet 10 minutes in the morning mixed stretching… or pre-dinner dance jams. Think about where you can make activity an almost instinctive part of your family’s day.
Use The End of Summer to Savor
This is a big one. Whatever you do, savor the moment. You still have a little more flex time in your schedule so use that time to mull, discuss, engage, reflect and imagine.
Mornings will usually find my husband and I on the kitchen steps talking about kids, politics, the chickens. Soon one sleepy child after another joins us and gets their chores going. But even though I have breakfast to cook and they have hungry animals waiting we still have more time to chat. Similarly, there’s no homework waiting for when we get back from a bike ride. We have more time to giggle over our fears going down a steep rocky mountain trail or how funny Dad looked at the orchard with his bike helmet on picking peaches.
Look at pictures (my daughter’s favorite), put together photo albums, poke fun at each other in a good-humored way, share in the triumphs.
By taking the time to savor these moments you reinforce in your mind and your children’s minds that these activities are important, enjoyable, something worth holding on to tight and doing again.
Challenge Your Children And Prepare For The Year’s Challenges
There’s been a terrible movement in schools to get rid of red markings on test papers and eliminate homework. Most recently our children’s school decided to get rid of fitness testing because it made some children feel bad.
Doesn’t it feel worse when you avoid challenges like the plague and never enjoy real pride that comes with taking them on? As someone who spent decades avoiding the risk of failure by avoiding challenges, I know this all too well. And this snowballs. By the time I was in my mid-twenties I had the self-respect of a walnut having never tasted the sweet taste of real hard-won success.
Family fitness is the place to help your children learn to face fears and challenges. It’s a wonderful tangible way to learn about failing – and then trying again and succeeding. It’s where your children can experience going beyond what they thought they were capable of and learning the returns of determination and hard work.
So don’t coddle your kids in fitness. Take on a longer hike. Use a stopwatch and time their sprints and mark down their progress. Do a stretching Olympics.
And challenge them verbally. Don’t always give the easy, “Great job!” If they can work harder, tell them so. If they can do better, encourage them to do so. It’s can be hard to taken on this more uncomfortable role but it ends in your children truly developing a sense of self-respect as they accomplish things. And they welcome sincere congratulations more than anything.
Here’s a hint: You know your children well so use that familiarity to push them appropriately. Push them beyond what you know is their comfort level. But be alert for how they’re dealing with this. It won’t be pretty at first but over time it can be transformative.
If you haven’t challenged your children much, again, start small. Break things down into smaller goals that they can celebrate when they succeed. And then use these markers as confidence springboards to help them move towards larger goals.
Now’s The Time To Commit
Here’s the final element… Just like you won’t decide to roll over and sleep in on the first day of school, don’t shuffle family fitness to when it’s convenient.
As you well know, most things about parenting aren’t convenient. It’s a question of what you commit to making a part of your family life.
Certainly start small, build up and adjust as necessary.
But make sure that you don’t let the end of summer catch you unawares. Use this time to give your children the best recipe for school success – a regular dose of family fitness.