One of my team kids the other day was telling me how she hated Physical Education . I thought it was interesting because she was a very fit and health conscious kid. She told me that she like the play and activity but didn’t like the showers afterward. I remembered when I was in Middle school (we called it Junior High in those days) and we had to take showers. Everyone was taking clothes off and I just didn’t need to see my friends like THAT! And I was sure they didn’t need to see me that way either. OH MY….NUDITY!
I was reading a recent study that came out of England that confirmed that what was normal adolescent feelings back then are still normal today. In fact the study concluded that many children are so traumatized by physical education that they are turned off of exercise FOR LIFE even though they know it’s essential to their health. Researchers at the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University asked 1,500 students how they felt about Physical Education classes 48% of the girls said that they felt that getting sweaty was not “feminine” and almost 33% of boys thought that getting sweaty was not “appropriate” either. 76% of respondents (1140 kids) said that they feel self-conscious about their bodies (that’s not surprising); but about a quarter of them felt like gym class forced them to put their bodies on display. This continues on into adulthood as most adults have low self-image when it comes to their bodies. Did you every wonder why people work out in baggy clothes or refuse to wear shorts when it’s 95 degrees in the shade? “I’m comfortable this way….” Yeah right.
“We, kids and grown –ups, all know that exercise and activity is not only good for our bodies but affects our mind as well. However for many, exercising can be incredibly intimidating, especially if we already feeling low about our bodies. So what do we do? As far as adults, when we are intimidated by having others see our bodies as we exercise, or shower afterward, it helps to remember what my mom used to say about snakes: “They’re just as afraid of you as you are of them.” No one is even looking at you because they’re afraid that you might look back and judge them in return. So, problem solved for adults. Moving on….kids: how do we get by the awkward feelings kids get when they have to go to gym class or take the inevitable shower? Here are a couple of strategies for you to try if your kid is one of the challenged ones:
- Engage in a conversation and try to share their feelings. If you try the hard-line “tough beans-you got to go to gym class, I did it when I was your age” you will lose your kid on this topic forever. Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist in Philadelphia and the author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness says that a better approach may be to empathize and say phrases like “I hear you, it’s not your thing” or “I don’t think you’re the only one feels that way.” That way the child is more likely to open up and share their discomfort. By doing so, they will also open up to your advising them to try it knowing that everyone feels the same. Feel free to throw in that bit about the snakes if you want to.
- Engage in a discussion and try to find out if there is something else that bothers them about physical education. By asking things like: “What’s the worst part of class?” You might find that there are other factors; maybe they are not good at that particular activity, or maybe they get picked last for teams or maybe there is a bully in the class. There are many reasons why the class may be uncomfortable. Don’t make assumptions that it is one thing when it may be a multitude of things. If so, address one at a time.
- Allow the child to help with developing the solutions: ask them questions that allow them to think of alternatives. Always ask for a plan B, it makes them think deeper. “So is improving your skills in gym class important to you?, How do you think you could do that? Be ready to offer suggestions but lead them to answering your questions to come up with their OWN suggestion. “Do you think playing catch in the yard might help? What about if we went to the park with Riley and Isabelle and played? Then throw in the plan B: “what if those guys can’t make in after dinner, what else could we try?”
Kids tell us all the time that they “hate” something and that’s usually overstated, but it gets us to pay attention. “When a child says they hate something, we see a huge mountain in front of us,” says Dr. Chansky. “We don’t see how we will convince them to climb up that mountain. It helps if we can see our job as walking with them, instead.” And just maybe, your child will walk into his/her next gym class without dragging his/her feet.