It’s important to keep kids physically active — whether it’s sending them to burn off some energy on the playground or tasking them with hunting down more Pokémon (nobody gets credit for just catching some). But for a many kids around the country, the day begins and ends on the couch.
Christian Bizzotto is the founder of Miami’s Focused Movement Academy and father of Milla Bizzotto. You may recall that she’s the badass 9-year-old girl who was not only the first kid to complete the 24-hour BattleFrog Xtreme Challenge, an intense obstacle race designed by Navy SEALS, but did 6 laps of it. Not every kid has to be as determined (or jacked) as Milla, but Bizzotto has some tips on why and how parents can help their kids embrace the fitness lifestyle and use workouts as motivation to overcome life’s challenges: Like getting off the couch.
Your Kid Doesn’t Have To Be Xtreme
Bizzotto knows that your kid isn’t going to spend their after school hours in a CrossFit box, and that’s perfectly ok. The important thing is that they get motivated. “Most of our kids at Focused Movement Academy — with the exception of Milla or 2 or 3 others — have no interest in running actual obstacle course races,” says Bizzotto. “They show up with a fire to one-up themselves and their friends. When they achieve these things there’s a paradigm shift that happens with these kids. When they hit their own goals or goals they might not have even thought were impossible, something transforms inside them and the kids want to keep coming back and pushing their own limits every day.” And everyone’s goal is different: One kid’s 20 sit-ups is another’s 10-foot climbing wall over a mud pit.
“Kids will always try to push the limit. They don’t understand a safety net as much as we do, so it’s important for us as parents or as coaches that we pump the breaks on kids.”
Help Them Learn Their Limits
No matter what fitness level your kid is at, remember, safety first. “In the middle of a training session I know what my daughter is capable of, but I don’t ever push her to do anything and I think that’s super important, especially at home when a kid doesn’t have another kid to gauge their abilities against,” says Bizzotto. “Kids will always try to push the limit. They don’t understand a safety net as much as we do, so it’s important for us as parents or as coaches that we pump the breaks on kids. It’s very important to know their abilities, and tailor to each individual kid.”
And beyond the training or practice time, it’s just as important to let them know you’re 100 percent behind them if it gets too tough. With Milla, Bizzotto says it was important to say, “Listen, things might get tough, and if you have to stop, it’s OK. We’re not going out there to prove anything to anybody, we’re just going out there for you to prove something to yourself.”
The Goal is Grit
Bizzotto also believes an active lifestyle and setting fitness goals is important because it teaches kids lessons about resilience. “A lot of our programming is written to just embrace things that are tough mentally,” says Bizzotto. “It’s about the mindset. Everything in life is an obstacle, not just on the course or in the gym. An obstacle could be the way we deal with things at home, or a homework assignment, or a sibling, or anything like that.” Of course he means metaphorically. You shouldn’t encourage your kid to just jump over their younger brother.
More Sleep, Less Sugar
“One of the things even more important than being active is getting kids to go to sleep on time, and getting kids to drink water instead of juice, which is just sugar,” says Bizzotto. “Those are the things to me that are game changers. The movement is very important, but we’re doing our kids a disservice if we don’t know about nutrition and overlook the basics like kids needing to go to bed on time and drinking water.” Say bye bye, Lunchables.
Exercise Changes Behavior (In A Good Way)
One of the side benefits of exercise is that is can change your kid’s attitude. “A few of our little warriors actually came here because they had disciplinary and attention problems. One little boy was on Lithium and Ritalin and his mom was like, ‘I don’t know what to do with him.’ Maybe you’re overthinking it. Medication and iPads are not a solution for parenting,” says Bizzotto. “They come in here and the way they deal with things at home changes.They want to go to bed on time. They read a food label so they don’t eat things with sugar in them.” Ironically, if you catch your kid reading a food label you may think they’re on drugs.