Physical activity helps relieve pressure and stress. When we prevent a child from moving when she needs to, we fuel her disruptive behaviour instead.
Moving helps children calm down
“Physical activity helps relieve pressure and stress,” explains Peggy Gendron, a kinesiologist who leads activities and offers training at daycare centres to get children moving. “So, when we prevent a child from moving when she needs to, we fuel her disruptive behaviour instead.” Frederick, father to Noah, four years old, and Alicia, three years old, tells us: “If the children don’t spend time outside at daycare, they’re more rambunctious when they come home in the evening. They argue more, they’re less attentive and they jump on their beds.”
Conversely, children who are active are much calmer afterwards. “When my daughters use up their physical energy, I don’t need to repeat myself as often, and they listen more,” notes Rachel, mother to Maude, four years old, and Mariloup, 23 months. “They also fall asleep faster at night.” Marie-Andrée, mother of nine-month-old Gabrielle, has also noticed the benefits of exercise. “When my daughter spends time playing on the floor, she’s in a better mood and accepts staying seated with less fuss afterwards.”
Moving helps children learn
Moving predisposes your child to carrying out tasks and activities that require her to apply herself and concentrate, such as listening to a story, working on a puzzle or drawing. Studies even show that physical activity makes it easier to learn language, reading, writing and math, in addition to improving creativity. Being active will also help your child succeed better at school, since it not only develops her ability to concentrate and pay attention but also gives her brain a workout!
How? Moving in a stimulating environment helps your child develop all her motor skills: turning, climbing, sitting down, getting up, walking, grabbing an object, catching, throwing, drawing, sliding, running, cutting paper, going down the stairs, climbing, pedaling, etc. She improves her balance, endurance, coordination and posture.
This motor development coincides with intellectual development. “Each gesture or movement activates a neural impulse,” explains Marie-Claude Lemieux, physical activity consultant at Québec en Forme. “When your toddler wants to go over an obstacle or get up to grab an object, all sorts of reasoning processes take place in her mind to establish the sequence of necessary movements.” Her intellectual abilities are therefore called into action.
Marie-Claude Lemieux, however, has noticed that some parents, motivated by a desire to make things easier for their children, do too many things for them, which prevents them from developing their motor and cognitive skills. It’s better to provide support for your child as she explores. For example: climb the stairs behind her instead of taking her in your arms, place toys in such a way that she’ll need to move to grab them rather than giving them to her, and so on.
Moving helps children socialize and build confidence
Another advantage of physical activity is that it helps your toddler develop her social skills. When she plays active games with other children, she learns to make friends, cooperate, wait her turn, compromise, share, negotiate, and even resolve conflicts. All these skills will serve her throughout her life.
Moving every day also helps keep your child healthy and prevents obesity. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, physical activity strengthens the heart and lungs, helps develop flexibility and strong bones, and reduces the risk of suffering from a variety of diseases. There are even mental health benefits, since moods and self-esteem are improved, as Karine, three-year-old Leo’s mother has noticed: “When my son learned to pedal, he was so proud, he was glowing.”
Finally, the more your child exercises her motor skills, the more confidence she will gain in her physical abilities. “She’ll be more inclined to remain physically active and play sports later in life,” says Monique Dubuc, National Coordinator at Kino-Québec.
Are children more rambunctious than before?
Claude Dugas, author of a study on the physical activity of young Quebecers, says that this perception is false. “If adults think that children move more than before, it may be because they are less tolerant. Children who are excited and run around get on people’s nerves.” This perception is also fuelled by adults’ very sedentary lifestyles. For kinesiologist Peggy Gendron, the need to move in some children comes from an unmet need to release excess energy. “Since there are fewer opportunities to use up their energy, children have a harder time staying calm.”
Are boys rowdier?
Both experts and parents believe that boys have a tendency to move more than girls. But they don’t know if this is because of genes or hormones. What studies do prove, however, is that parents and people in general react differently with boys and girls. We tend to suggest calmer games to girls (e.g.: arts and crafts, drawing) and more physical games to boys (e.g.: ball games). If boys are more active, it may be because they were more encouraged to be that way! Whatever the case, one thing is certain: the need to move is just as necessary for the development of girls as it is for boys.