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Intrinsic motivation is something that develops over time. Kids don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to grasp the concept that, “exercising is good for physical and mental health.” The understanding that by “doing something good for your body now, your future self will thank you,” is far too abstract. Kids don’t live for the future, they live for the here and now.

By the time children are in high school and/or go through puberty, those high order thinking cognitive processes begin to develop. However, social obligations and a sense of figuring out one’s own identify often trump the desire to be consistently active for one’s own physical and/or mental health purposes.

Sports certainly help, as they play a role in encouraging healthy competitiveness within oneself and others, as well as promotes team building and social opportunities that child and young adults actively seek out. However, not every kid plays a sport or has the health opportunities to actively participate in one. So, how do we encourage motivating?

 

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Some will say, intrinsic motivation is ideal because it creates long lasting effects on one’s drive and purpose to reach a goal. The definition of intrinsic motivation is, “behavior that is driven by internal rewards.” Extrinsic motivation is the opposite. Extrinsic motivation is defined as, “behavior that is motivated to perform an activity to receive an award or avoid punishment.”

 

When starting to increase your child’s motivation to exercise, extrinsic motivation is the “easiest” way to go. When young, a child/teen is beginning to develop his/her own sense of motivation and enjoyment from exercising, something that is not going to happen overnight. Fortunately, exercising regularly will naturally contribute to developing intrinsic motivation, as it increases the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins). But, habits do take time, so here are three tips to increase your child’s motivation to exercise!

  1. Reward System

There are often mixed reactions to implementing a reward system. However, a reward system is not something to frown about when working on establishing a foundation for positive behaviors. Research has shown that children respond better to positive reinforcements than they do to negative reinforcements.

How to begin a behavior reinforcement plan:

  • For children ages 7-12: Make a personalized goal tracker with your child. For example, if want your kid to do something physically active 3x a week, create a page with three boxes per week to check off after each workout (e.g., can use stickers, a drawing, a penny, etc.)
  • For children 13 and older: they can often keep rack on their own, and independence is key for teenagers and young adults.
    • Each workout = 1 point.
      • It is up to you to decide how often a reward occurs and what the reward will be.
      • Reward types: with your child’s help, create a list of 5 items/things that might be motivating to earn. For example, 30 minutes of a favorite show, a new toy or “surprise box,” staying up later one night a week, choice of a favorite meal for dinner, a new book, etc. The possibilities are endless!
  1. Social Opportunity

As an adult, performing 15 reps, 4x on one exercise is manageable. Our attention is longer. We enjoy isolation more. We have intrinsic motivation or tangible goals set for ourselves, like losing weight. However, children and young adults are heavily socially dependent with shorter attention spans. Their worlds thrive around social opportunities, So, make physical exercise a social experience. Workout with your child, put on a YouTube video and together and complete 30 minutes. Put on your child’s favorite music on in the background and encourage your child to work out for 20 minutes (set a timer). One time a week (or more) invite a friend or sibling, make it an event that can be done inside or outside, and make it fun.

  1. Bring back Play

Which brings us to our third tip: Bring back play! Even if you have a teenager or young adult, play is important to developing a positive attitude towards physical exercise. Play can consist of hiking with friends or family, trying a new activity in your community, and generally, reducing the strict structure around exercise that children and young adults often try to escape as they build independence and autonomy. A majority of the time, exercising can consist of structured exercises catered around a specific goal, however, a few times a month it’s important to switch it up and encourage exploring of physical exercise through unstructured (play) opportunities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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