Improve Your Child’s Self-Esteem With Exercise

by Cheryl Spath, Director of Youth Services

We all know about the benefits of exercise for adults. Physically, it helps to reduce or maintain body weight, tone muscles, prevent medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and increase the likelihood we will live a long, enjoyable life. We have been made aware of the mental benefits as well. Exercise releases endorphins that energize us, improve our mood and reduce stress. When we like the way we look and feel, we have more confidence. So, how does exercise benefit children? Exercise, in fact, does all the same things for children as it does for adults. The difference is that we should not necessarily call physical activity “exercise” when we are speaking to children. Exercise implies work, which is the antithesis of what children want to hear or do.  We simply need to encourage children to be active!

For children, the physical and emotional benefits of exercise are interrelated. Children who take part in some form of exercise on a regular basis tend to have higher self-esteem. This is a term frequently used by educators, the media and parents, but what exactly is self-esteem? Self-esteem describes a person’s overall evaluation of his or her own worth. It is an individual’s belief about their abilities, accomplishments and interpersonal character. Children as young as six are capable of – and do – self-evaluate themselves. There are four components children use to determine their self-esteem: competence (or how good they are at things), social acceptance (which is how liked children are by their peers), feelings of control over their own life and actions, and moral self-worth (which is related to perceptions about one’s goodness or virtue as defined by cultural or societal norms).  

Numerous studies and media reports make us aware of the obesity epidemic among children. Because of the level of access children have to TV, internet and social media, they are very aware from a young age of what it means to be overweight. They know there is negativity associated with being overweight and if a child is overweight, it does indeed impact his or her self-esteem. As adults, we need to encourage children to be active. Organized team sports are not right for every child, but that is only one venue available to families. Riding bikes, swimming, dance, skating, hiking or simply playing in the neighborhood are all good forms of exercise. Include these as part of your child’s lifestyle to provide them with the same benefits of exercise as adults.