Encouraging Physical Activity with Toddlers

You might be thinking, “but wait, my toddler has energy 24/7, why would I encourage MORE of that?” And to that we say, “yes, mama, we feel you.” But here’s what some moms may not realize: we pay close attention to social and intellectual milestones and not so much to physical development. Vigorous physical activity can help your child develop muscle strength and self-confidence. What mom wouldn’t want to support that? Here’s how you can encourage physical activity with toddlers, and the developmental milestones to watch for!


Why physical activity is important with toddlers

It’s normal for parents to be wowed when their baby starts crawling or walking. And then you transition to noticing your child’s social and intellectual milestones. But after walking, most parents stop noticing any physical development milestones. Which is not only unfortunate, but can also be harmful. Vigorous physical activity for a 3-year-old can build muscle function and strength, enhance cardiovascular and respiratory systems, release tension and stress and boost self-confidence. Not encouraging gross motor development can lead to poor physical fitness and coordination later on.


Normal Developmental Milestones for Toddlers

So, what’s normal for a 3- to 4-years-old in this realm? You don’t want to push a child beyond his limits or physical capabilities. Here are the normal developmental milestones for toddlers:

  • Walking in a straight line with head up, toes forward, arms swinging at his sides
  • Running without difficulty, including turning corners and stopping quickly
  • Climbing stairs by alternating feet while holding onto a bannister or adult’s hand; climbing playground ladders with ease
  • Jump off an 8-inch-high step and land on two feet without falling, jump into the air and forward without tumbling
  • Balance or hop on one foot
  • Gallop and skip
  • Do a somersault
  • Kick a large ball forward
  • Throw a small ball a distance of about four to six feet
  • Catch a large, well-aimed ball with arms extended forward

Remember, no two kids develop at the same exact pace. If your toddler hasn’t mastered all of these don’t panic. Don’t expect too much too soon, praise him when he does master certain skills and provide plenty of opportunities to practice. Another way you can continue to encourage physical activity with toddlers is to look for playgrounds where he can enjoy swings, slides, sandboxes, wading pools, playhouses, ride-on toys or toddler bikes, tricycles, jungle gyms, balls and other fitness-oriented play equipment. Lead by example and include your kids in your own fitness goals or suggest family outings that involve physical activity and fun.

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