Staying active is important for your health and mental wellbeing. We all know it, and yet in the mad scramble to juggle working from home and child care—not to mention all of the existential worries of living through a pandemic—fitness is one of those habits that is all too easy easy to let slide. This is doubly true if you are caring for a toddler.
Sure, those wee ones have lots of energy, but it’s a nonstop job simply keeping them alive and in one piece, let alone carving out a little time for your own fitness along the way.
Staying active and caring for a toddler need not be mutually exclusive activities. Given how active toddlers are and how much they love imitating others, working out together can be a source of fun for parents and toddlers, while also setting an example about the importance of exercise.
“You need to just get in the mindset that your workout is going to include your kiddo,” says Amanda Garza, a former professional boxer and owner of Counter Punch Training. Garza knows the struggle is real: She is currently isolating at home with her partner and four kids. “I may not get in the exact workout I want, but I know that I am getting in movement. And best of all, the kiddos are having fun quality time.”
Here are a few strategies for working out alongside young children:
Play can be its own exercise
Now is not the time to be picky about what play equipment you have in your house. Toddlers have a lot of energy. They like running around, exploring areas and trying out new moves. Adding your child to your workout routine could be as simple as trying out some fun yoga poses, running alongside her, or letting him watch and imitate you as you try out different stretches and movements. Toddler delight is inimitable and when channeled in a healthy way, offers a priceless bonding experience.
Imitating a toddler’s movement is harder than you think
If you’ve seen that ridiculously adorable video of a toddler leading a dance class while the adults mimic her movements, you’ll realize that just being a toddler is its own type of workout. They constantly bounce up and down, run in zig-zags all over the place and constantly perform the equivalent of squats, bends and army crawls. Add in some music, incorporate some play, and you’ll both be getting a little bit of exercise, without your kid being any the wiser.
Let your kids follow along
In a reversal of adults following a toddler’s movements, kids are natural imitators. If they see you doing jumping jacks, squats, lunges or burpees, there’s a good chance they’ll want to follow along. It’s also a really good idea to let them—even if that means your workout takes longer than normal, or isn’t quite what you were planning.
In addition to exhausting your toddler and giving you a workout, this method also helps establish healthy habits.
Toddlers make good weights
Instead of using barbells, use your kid as a weight by letting them ride piggyback. You can do weighted lunges, squats, push-ups and planks this way. Plus, as time goes by, your kid’s weight will increase; the necessary added resistance is built right in.
When all else fails, don’t be afraid to distract them
If your toddler just doesn’t want to follow along, there are a number of strategies for keeping kids occupied while you fit in a workout. This could include having toys available nearby or simply showing them their own dance/yoga video to bop along to while you fit in your own workout in the next room.
Everything is really hard right now, but adding a bit of physical activity into the daily routine can help both parents and toddlers, offering them a productive outlet for channeling stress and anxiety.
“It really is two birds, one stone, with parents getting in a workout and kids getting their wiggles out,” Garza says. If nothing else, it will help set your toddler up for a good, solid nap.