Tuesday, September 2, 2008

10 Ways to De-Sissify Your Kid (and maybe yourself in the process)

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.

6. Danger Jumping!
One of the basic human fears is that of falling, which is also referred to as ground engagement. Most young kids are fearless and later fears are conditioned into them via the parent. This begins at a young age from constant admonishments to ...be careful or you might get hurt! Falling down is natural for small children, their bodies are pliable, resilient, and for the most part they bounce back up with no lasting damage. I often observe parents over-reacting to their child's fall, making a big fuss based upon their own fears, which leads to the kid believing something much worse happened than actually occurred. Way back when, I read about the Gracie jiujitsu family (and later some Russian articles) which described a system of "baby-tossing". In my former gym, I have a photo of Helio Gracie tossing one of his infant sons to his brother, Carlos. It's claimed this practice builds not only fearlessness but tremendous courage in a child and I believe this to be true. From the time he was able to sit up by himself, I tossed Zak high in the air, by myself or to others. I also held him upside-down by the feet and swung him around my body or between my legs in his baby seat, like a kettlebell swing. The fear of falling seriously holds kids back in contact sports. As a coach, I saw kids everyday
holding themselves back, tentative and afraid of getting hurt. Ironically, these fearful children were usually the first to get hurt, despite their tentativeness.

One way of building confidence and fearlessness into a child is a practice I call Danger Jumping! Kids who haven't yet been negatively programmed LOVE to jump off stuff. The way I worked it with my kids in our bi-level living room was I'd have the kids jumping off the dining room railing ten feet down onto the couch, which I'd covered with extra pillows to break their falls. Sometimes we'd take all the cushions off the couch, along with all the throw pillows in the house, form a big pile, and they'd jump right into that. My kids became so fearless they trained themselves to jump down nearly a complete flight of stairs...without injury. One game we'd play was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death! where I'd grab a large stability ball (so big it barely fit into the stair well) and rolled it down from the top step just behind the kid tearing down the stairs. The goal was getting to the bottom before getting hit by the ball and their minds, the ball was a gigantic granite boulder, just like in the movie, on the verge of crushing them. You've got to move quickly to get down a flight of stairs before a stability ball!

7. Encourage your kid to self-locomote
Don't be so quick to give them rides! Make them walk, ride their bikes or even run to the store. Too many parents mollycoddle and provide taxi service when the best thing is for their kids to move themselves.

8. Teach your kid to swim
Fear of water is another basic human fear. Newborn babies instinctively know to hold their breath and paddle and bob in water. They are unafraid and even comfortable in a liquid medium. Very soon, they lose that comfort, becoming more scared as young children. There are so many needless drownings, so easily prevented by teaching kids the rudiments of swimming. There are limitless fun, fitness games you can play in the pool, including diving for coins, lap swimming under water and towing things around the pool.

9. Get your city kids out in the woods
My son was a genuine city kid and had never been out in the wilderness. When he was in 3rd grade, I took him on an extended canoe trip, camping out on the river banks each night. The first night or two he was terrified of the unfamiliar noises. I realized then just how good it was for him to get out of the city and experience some of the natural world. By the trip's end he was inured to the sounds of the forest and its creatures and I know he was better for it. Take your sons and daughters canoing, camping, hiking and fishing. Teach them how to build fires, make shelters and locate water. By the same token, if you live in a rural area, get your kid into the big city and let him see and hear what life is like in the concrete jungle. As a youthful rube from Carlisle PA, I was at once attracted but intimidated by the big city life and strange ways of Philadelphia. I got street-wise the hard way...it would have been so much easier if I'd had a parent or mentor help me with street smarts.

10. Create good health habits
Nothing will make your kid into a simpering, whiny little brat like a steady diet of sugar, denatured foods and soft drinks. You'll never prevent your kid from eating crap, so don't bother trying. By totally restricting them, you'll make treats the forbidden fruit and they'll sneak them absolutely every chance they get. Better to dole them out in limited amounts. I believe the best thing is to provide plenty of healthy foods, giving them ample opportunity to eat good stuff. This means regular mealtimes where they sit down to a table and good food is provided. And if they're not hungry, don't make them eat--but don't give them anything else. I guarantee they'll eat the next meal. So many parents are afraid to let their kid get a little hungry, instilling a fear of, and intolerance for, hunger in the child. Parents over-feed their kids and may get emotional managing their own hunger, so that the kid can grow up feeling panicky about the issue. At some of my friends' homes, so many options are provided to the kids regarding what to eat, it sounds like a restaurant and the mother plays short-order cook. I say,
"This is what's for dinner and you don't have to eat it if you don't want to but their ain't anything else."

Kids end up respecting meal time more and feeling more gratitude for it. I'm not going to expound on dietetics, but I encourage plenty of protein and fat for growing children and keeping simple carbohydrates to a minimum. Kids need plenty of saturated fat for their developing brains, nervous and immune systems. This means lots of cream, eggs, milk, meat and cheese. Get their little asses off the couch. One of my standard rules was that for every 30-minutes of physical activity, they would buy one hour of television or video games. If they wanted more time, they had to get more active. For kids playing on sports teams, this doesn't apply. They're already so active with their school sports, the extra t.v. doesn't seem to hurt them.

I don't claim to be the best parent or know everything (and much of what I know was learned by trial-and-error) but anyone who knows my son, Zak, can attest that he is truly a physical specimen and world-class athlete. What I've described worked well for him and will for you as well.


Any tips and/or modifications to improve the deck squat? I can't seem to get up from the roll yet and I'm guessing it's simply a lack of flexibility at this point OR not generating enough momentum to pull me up. What would be something to perform to help me get to the level of doing a deck squat...?

A: Try doing deck squats on something elevated: use a treadmill or some cushions, foam or a mattress, or, if outside, use the curb. That will give you a little boost to get back up.
Using a KB generates enough momentum to get back up, throw it forward and let the body follow it. Despite the name, there is a some momentum involved.

Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in your comments and updates.
Yours in strength & health,


Anonymous said...

does your son eat the same low carb diet that you recommend?

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Steve.

I don't have kids yet, but when we do, I hope they will emulate my own lifestyle of fitness and adventure. Good habits definitely begin at an early age. I'm not perfect and I have a LOT of adjustments to make in my own life, but I have come a long, long way.

It seems in this electronic age, most kids are glued to the XBOX, computer and TV. In turn this, coupled with bad eating habits will lay the foundation for an unhealthy life. I definitely want to avoid that.

I don't want to deprive them of the childhood (and adult) treats I relished, and still do in moderation such as ice cream and burgers, but also want to stress the importance of healthy and clean eating into their diet. In fact, I want them to enjoy the things most kids do, but balance is the key.

In the end, though, I want my children to grow into respectful individuals with a strong sense of confidence, pride and well-being. What better way to begin on that path than with an early introduction to fitness.


Scott R said...

I couldn't believe the other day when I went to the grocery store and saw mini exercise equipment (treadmills, exercisebikes, etc.) for kids. I mean are they really supposed to go to their room and "exercise" on a miniature version of the same equipment mom and dad use to hang their shirts on.
Kids love to be active and have fun if parents just get off their butts and engage them instead of encouraging them to seek out less active indoor entertainment. My children aged 9, 4 and 2 love to run races across the front lawn, as long as I'm racing with them (and when the younger ones tire I keep them in the game by carrying them, they have a blast and I get a great work out). The other day I set up an obstacle course on the lawn, you should have seen the cars slowing down to watch. The kids flipped one of our winter tires, jumped over a hurdle, crawled through a box tunnel, stepped through an old bunk bed ladder then finished up by lifting stones into the wagon (the tires on ours can be switched out with sleds) then dragging it with a rope around their waist up the driveway. My children respond to all the same types of things as did yours they love when I bring out the stop watch or tape measure and they love to wrestle on the bed. I remember wrestling my dad as a kid, he would always trap us in leg scissors and we would try and escape, after watching the first UFC I laughed and told him he had invented Irish Jiu Jitsu.
Can it really be as easy as this to create healthy active kids who will become strong active adults? Is all that's required getting out and having some fun? I'm glad to hear it is.

Clint said...

Thanks for posting your experiences, Steve!

I have a 15 month old daughter, and I am constantly thinking ahead on how to nurture her to be a healthy, happy and fit human being. As I continue my path towards optimum health, she will be there by my side.

You have many great ideas, and I especially like what you have to say about encouraging kids to be more confident and courageous, and not reinforce fears. Safety is important, but like you said, kids are resilient little beasts and they thrive off of challenges and fun activities.

Encouraging grappling as self-defense to mitigate aggression is also great advice.

Thanks again, and see you in November at the Portland seminar!


Courage said...

Hi, i have almost 4 years taking care of what i am eating, almost 2 years doing in a regular base some kind of exercise, almost a year training BJJ, some months reading your blog and less than a month being a father, and all this things has become a big ones in my life, of course one more than the others, so all these just to say thanks for this post, i really enjoy it and learn a lot from it.

Peter said...

Another awesome post...didn't know I was looking for it, 'till I read it.

Ever since your earlier post on Georges Hebert, I've been trying to work his 10 activities (the "H10") into what I put my kids through. Thanks to some progressions, they're doing pushups that they couldn't even try before, and my 6 y.o. son left me slack-jawed the other day doing gladiator pushups. I think he saw me do them *one time* and now they're his lookit me of choice.

They love a crawl-inducing game: if I'm working at home and inattentive and they successfully sneak up or otherwise startle me, I have to do pushups with them on my back (together they weigh about 120 lbs, sometimes they'll take pity and let me take just one of them for 5-6 reps); if I catch them mid spook, they have to do 3-5 reps of their pushup of choice. Making it a game is definitely the way to go; it so works.

Will be considering BJJ for them, as well as myself. Really love the Indiana Jones reference; struggling a bit with where to put the rope, though.

Peter said...

BTW, how small do kettlebells come in -- and what size would you suggest -- for ~ 60 lb children to parallel daddy's workouts with?

Rannoch Donald RKC said...

Fantastic Stuff. My boys have been though a similar upbrining and they are all the better for it. Interestingly, all that play seems to make for better students. The confidence that they can apply themselves physically has bled into the way they apply themselves with there school work.

Steve Maxwell said...

He does not. At his age and level of sport there is the matter of simply getting enough calories. Several other BJJ players at Maxercise eat low carb and look and perform top-level. - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

Here's a link to some soft, sandbag kettlebells in 2, 4, 6 & 8# sizes.

Scott Kustes said...

Love, love, love this post Steve. If only most kids weren't coddled so much. Great advice, especially about learning to swim. Nothing less manly than being afraid to jump in the ocean with your girlfriend.

Scott Kustes
Modern Forager

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that your post is very true. I do not have a son but I have a four year old brother and when I work out I give him exercises to follow along. It is really great to see him improve in his balance and strength. Too bad more parents are not active with their children.

Anonymous said...

Steve....as I told you via e-mail when I posted my workout log for the week...EXCELLENT POST...I appreciate the time you take to guide us into health and well being.
Isabela (now 12 months old) has follow those guidelines from the time she started to wean out of the breast milk....she has eggyolks, cream, butter, even fatty ribeye steaks (just like her mommy) and lots of outdoor fun everyday.

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks, Hela! Isabela is lucky to have such a beautiful mother. - Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve! What a great article on the kids. We brought the rings to Barbados for us and the boys to play with, palm trees are also very useful and fun to climb, we are finding out.

Me and Vala just finished a great outside, sundown, workout using our rings, a jungle gym, one sandbag, a powerwheel, our bodyweight and a jump rope. 30 min total body strength endurance workout - and a cold shower after. I feel great! I am so glad that we brought this training stuff with us, a very good "back up" for the kettlebells, and nothing beats training outside - although it is very warm here we have been training outside every or every other day, using the beach, the trees, the sea and the light equipment that no one should leave home when travelling. Looking forward to seeing you here in Barbados, hopefully soon. All the best from your Icelandic, and now half tanned friends :)

Steve Maxwell said...

Gudjon! That is awesome! I'm so excited to hear from you, I understand 100% what you're talking about and I cannot WAIT to get to Barbados. Thanks for writing. - Steve

zevenesh said...

steve, my friend, mentor and inspiration, what an awesome post.

first time we met in person you told me about this climbing rope for zak, i just cleaned out the garage and got my daughter a high bar, tumbling mat, cartwheel mat and balance beam...she turned 2 only 2 weeks ago, and can do 1 pull up in the l seat posiiton, no joke, it's hilarious!

thanks for being an inspiration brother, talk to you soon!


PS: shawn is finishing dvd's from gladiator seminar as we speak.

Steve Maxwell said...

Great to hear from you, Zach! Your daughter is lucky to have you for a dad. I can't wait to see our new DVD and whoever buys it is getting a tremendous value. You and I taught our hearts out at the Gladiator Seminar. Talk to you soon. Your friend, Steve

Biomass said...

Awesome Steve! I really think this should be published in a major magazine.

JitzMama said...

I totally agree with this post! Kids don't have to LEARN that physical activity is fun - they know this from birth! We just have to keep them from thinking it's NOT fun by filling up their days with senseless garbage (ie television/video games/laziness)!!!!