Helping My Daughter Make Space for Sports and Exercise in Her Life
Published on: September 10, 2021
Concerned with her daughter’s lack of interest in sports and physical activity, Sanam decided to lead by example to encourage her family to adopt a more active lifestyle.
By Sanam Raisa Rahman
When my elder daughter started going to school, I noticed she was not as keen on sports and physical activities as she was about art, reading, and solving puzzles. While she enjoyed spending time outdoors, she usually preferred exploratory nature walks, building sandcastles, or partaking in less strenuous activities like riding on the swing or the seesaw. With more physically challenging activities like climbing up the rope net, swinging across the monkey bars, or ball games, she would start, but soon stop or ask to do something different, even with an adult’s help.
It did not bother me at first as I associated it with her gentle and cautious nature and thought with more time and confidence, she would gradually try more challenging activities. But then, during her school sports event, while all the other children excitedly completed the simple obstacle course set up by their teacher, my daughter did not seem enthused. This made me wonder, what if she never enjoys sports?
The thought worried me as I saw sports and exercise as the gateway to a healthier life for her. I also thought that a budding interest in these activities at an early age could pave the way for serious participation in organized sports later in life, and help teach her about teamwork, leadership, and self-confidence. I decided to look for ways to establish sports and exercise as a continual part of her life. I did not expect that I would first have to come to terms with the absence of exercise in my own life. I realized this when she informed me that sports and exercise are “…alright, but sometimes I get too hot and sweaty and tired, or I feel scared that I’m going to fall or get a cut…but you also don’t do them, Mama. Why?”
It was a fair observation, and it made me take stock of myself as a role model for her.
Growing up, I played a fair amount of sports. To this day, I fondly remember cricket games with my cousins on sunny summer afternoons and volleyball games at school with my teammates. I was not the most skilled player, but I loved the thrill of the competition and the collective cheer that came after hitting a ‘six’ or spiking a ball over the net. My mother taught me how to ride a bike and play badminton; my banker father, usually busy on weekdays, always accompanied me to sports events on weekends.
As I grew older though, getting good grades became my top priority as it seemed to be the key to securing a place in top universities, and I discovered other interests that were easier to maintain. Also, like many young Bangladeshi girls back then, I did not think of sports as a viable career option. There were hardly any female athletes or role models in the country who actively advocated for sports in the lives of young girls, and our mothers were raised conservatively with even fewer opportunities than us. So, we grew up thinking sports was something you did for fun, but not to pursue seriously into adulthood. There was also little awareness of the impact of exercise on mental health. The last time I played sports was in high school, and the day I stopped playing was when I officially started becoming physically inactive.
Continued engagement in sports is difficult for most adults due to competing priorities and so little time, and I was no exception. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, physical activity became very easy to push down my to-do list. Even a simple daily exercise routine that can work wonders for the mind and body was hard to maintain beyond a week.
Thus, when faced with my daughter’s question, I realized I wasn’t being the best role model that I could be. While physical discomfort and her natural aversion to risk were also at play, at the heart of the matter, my daughter was not ‘learning’ to actively engage in sports and exercise because her main caregiver was not displaying any need or want to be active herself. I could simply state that sports and exercise were important for her health and wellbeing, but physically demonstrating their positive impact would be more of a game-changer in motivating her to incorporate them into her own life. After all, children learn best when you lead by example, and it isn’t right to preach what you don’t practice.
With this in mind, I came up with a simple strategy for both of us. I scheduled time to be physically active and roped her in, too. I explained that we would both have to keep each other in check and honour this commitment for the sake of our health and wellbeing, just like we would a doctor’s appointment. Some days it is difficult to find the motivation or time to persevere, but we focus on celebrating every minute that we are active—even if it is just ten minutes. People often think if we do not spend at least half an hour burning calories, the exercise does not count. However, I think frequent, short sessions of exercise are better than no exercise, and every minute of physical activity should be treated as a great achievement. This not only builds your child’s sense of achievement and self-confidence, but also encourages them to ‘keep up the good work’.
We also started talking about how exercise ties in with our mental health, emotions, and how our bodies feel and change after each session. I believe that with children, the more you talk about something, the deeper it is etched into their minds, and the more likely they are to apply it in their lives, consciously or subconsciously. So we keep talking and making linkages between feeling energised after a swim, for example, or being able to concentrate on homework better after some quick yoga stretches.
Most important though, is to make sure you always have fun—jumping jacks sessions, dancing, and playing tag. I want my daughter to look back at her memories of playing and exercising with happiness and pride. I tell her stories from my childhood—of shattering windows during cricket games, winning set points in volleyball matches, skinning my knees, spraining my ankle and wearing a jersey for the first time. I tell her that one day the monkey bars will stop looking scary and she, too, will love feeling the wind on her sweaty face as she kicks a ball across the field.
About the Author
Sanam is from Bangladesh and has been living in Bangkok with her husband and two little girls since 2012. Previously a UN employee, she is currently on a career break to raise her kids who are 5 and 2 years old. Having always been passionate about writing, she joined the BAMBI magazine team to do something she enjoys from home at her own pace while also experiencing all the precious moments that motherhood has to offer.
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