Published on Enhanced Fitness and Performance (http://www.enhancedfp.com)

10 Ways To De-Sissyfy Your Kid Part 1

By DMorgan
Created 02/04/2009 - 1:25pm

1. Be a good example
Work out, at home, in front of your child. Better yet, include your kid in your workout. Kids naturally desire to emulate and copy everything you do and there’s no more positive way to model fitness than doing it–living it–yourself.

One way I used to include Zak, my son, into workouts was by making miniature equipment which replicated my own. For example, I made him a little 25# sandbag upon which we drew a smiley face, and he named it “Heavy”. He loved that sandbag so much he used to sleep with it at night, like a stuffed animal. You should have seen this little pre-schooler working every fiber of his being attempting to lug that sandbag up the ladder and into his top bunk, much to my glee. If you lift kettlebells, buy or make your kid a mini-kettlebell. If you lift dumbbells, get tiny ones so your kid can follow along with your next workout. My friend, Joe Egan, includes his kids in his workouts all the time, and even when we made slosh pipes he automatically made a miniature version for his youngest son.

Forget all bunk you hear about damaged growth plates from introducing weight training at a young age. We’re not talking about heavy weight-lifting here, we’re talking about mirroring and playing at weight training. The idea is to make it fun. Insist upon good form, light weights and plenty of body weight movements, like push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and full squats. The objective is developing technique and form, not producing fatigue or a training effect, which will come soon enough.

2. Hang a rope…and teach your kid to climb it
One of the best things I ever did for my kids was hanging a rope in the foyer of our townhouse, which had unusually high vaulted ceilings. I had them both hanging on that rope from the time they could walk. I tied a knot on the bottom so they could sit, swing and twirl on it. Kids LOVE to climb. Unfortunately, you hear everywhere well-meaning but misguided parents admonishing children to:

“Stop that!”
“Be careful!”
“Get down–you might fall!”

This instills fear reactivity, effectively decreasing your child’s confidence while increasing his reluctance to explore and try new things.

Rope climbing develops incredible grip and upper body strength–both sadly lacking in modern-day school kids. As a physical educator, I remember even as far back as the 1970s, the children unable to pass simple P.E. tests, most were unable to perform a single pull-up. By the time Zak and my daughter, Savannah, were in kindergarten they could climb the rope to the top. Zak was able to climb with his legs in the L-Seat and even upside-down. My Viking friend, Gudjon Svannson, hung a rope in his living room for his three boys, as well as a set of rings. His boys were continually climbing, hanging, swinging–and otherwise supporting themselves on rope and rings–throughout the days. All three boys are incredibly fit and respected amongst their peers for their athletic prowess. This is a great example of how you can make exercise into play.

3. Make everything a game
When I used to walk my two kids to the drugstore to get a snack, I made up on-the-spot obstacle courses from anything I could think of. If we walked by the school yard with the ten-foot high chain link fence, it was:

“Hey Zak, let’s see how many times you can climb up and over that fence in a minute!”


“See how fast you can run down to that stop sign–I’ll time you!”


“Oh, you want a candy bar? Ok. Daddy’ll tape this dollar to the top of this pole–now climb up and get it!”

Sometimes I’d put quarters under heavy weights and he’d have to figure out how to get the quarter by learning to leverage his body weight in order to either slide, lift, or tilt the weight to get at the coins beneath. I did this stuff from the very beginning.

Sometimes a nearby fabric store used to throw out large cardboard tubes–which made for awesome javelins! Or impromptu, double-handed sidewalk sword fights.

4. Make everything an obstacle course
Every chance you get, encourage your child to go under, over, around or through. Whenever my wife left the house, all the furniture instantly transformed into giant, indoor, obstacle courses. The kids would jump over couches, crawl under tables and chairs, dash up flights of stairs, evade hurled couch pillows and balance on jury-rigged beams suspended between dining room chairs. Your imagination is the only boundary. Kids will push themselves to their physical limits in games like these, not even realizing they’re “working out”. One of our favorite indoor games seeing if they could get up to the third floor without touching the stairs (hee, hee, hee) by balancing upon the stair railings and wedging along their small bodies, using hands and feet pressed against the stairwell walls.

5. Teach your kid to grapple, not punch
Punching (and kicking) definitely has its place in self-defense, but the surest way for your kid to get suspended from school is punching another kid in the nose. Parents frequently enroll their kids in karate school for self-esteem, fitness and discipline but the techniques taught therein work by physical aggression, e.g., kicking, punching or otherwise striking out. From a very young age, I taught my son jiujitsu, where the emphasis is upon escaping from bigger, stronger foes. I disguised these lessons in play: I’d grab him in various locks, chokes and holds (sometimes pretending to be a robot/monster) and he had to figure out how to escape. We also played Living Room Rodeo and Bucking Bronco Daddy which had me bucking, spinning, twisting and otherwise doing my best to dislodge him from my back. It’s a tremendous workout for Dad, or Mom, too. Other grappling games included trying to keep him on the couch or carpet while he attempted to flee–at the last second, I’d snatch or grab him and he had to wrestle his way free. The rule was if he could get off the floor or couch, he won, but again and again, I’d grab him at the very last second, just when he thought he’d finally pried me off. With these games, and dozens more, he was learning jiujitsu without even knowing anything of it. As soon as a kid thinks you’re trying to teach him something, he’s likely to shut down, so everything was always presented as play. Best to postpone formal lessons until your child has started school.

Most elementary school fights involve hair-pulling, pinching, head locks, choke holds, grabbing clothing and various forms of wrestling. Jiujitsu teaches a child to grapple his way out of such situations, building his confidence while protecting the other kid from a broken nose or lost tooth. If there isn’t a jiujitsu school in your area, enroll your child in the local pee-wee wrestling league. I guarantee your kid will become disciplined, respected, and no one will pick on him while karate will likely as not get your kid kicked out of school.

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