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Children who are seen as demanding receive less physical activity support from their parents

The Skilled Kids study, conducted at the University of Jyväskylä from 2015 to 2017, found that a child’s temperament defines the level of physical activity parenting. Parents rarely participated together in physical activity and less frequently gave support for their child’s physical activity if a child’s temperament was perceived as being, on the whole, demanding.

A child’s temperament was determined on the basis of parent-reported sociability, emotionality, soothability, attention span persistence, activity and response to food.

“It may be that the parents of children with more demanding temperament characteristics are under pressure to use more controlling parenting practices,” says postdoctoral researcher Arto Laukkanen at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, “and thus they are unable to provide encouragement or other support for physical activity because they must attend to other things. Additionally, if the child is seen to be demanding regarding the wearing of clothes, this may decrease the child’s amount of outdoor time as well as the parents’ co-participation in physical activity with the child.”

This finding is significant in that one’s temperament consists of characteristic and stable features.

“Those children perceived to be demanding may be at a higher risk of inactivity,” concludes Laukkanen, “because one cannot influence the temperament features even though they seem to determine the level of physical activity parenting.”

Partners support their children’s physical activity together – or do not support it

In families with two parents a high congruence between the physical activity parenting practices was found, and consequently, a partner’s physical activity parenting was the most significant individual factor explaining variability in physical activity parenting practices.

“The study indicates that it is relatively common that either both parents support the child’s physical activity or, alternatively, neither parent supports it,” says Laukkanen.

The promotion of physical activity should therefore take families into account as a whole.

“We have not been fully aware of this when actions to promote physical activity have been designed for families,” says Laukkanen. “Daily life in families with children is formed on the basis of common decisions, so physical activity promotion should also take the whole family into account.”

Physical activity parenting consisted of three parenting practices in the present study: being physically activity with the children, having an encouraging atmosphere for physical activity, and supporting children’s physical activity directly or indirectly by, for example, taking children to playgrounds or to physical activity hobbies and paying the costs.

Other factors that explained a higher level of physical activity parenting included a child’s lower age, more time spent outdoors, higher frequency of using outdoor and sports facilities, higher perceived  enjoyment of physical activity by the child, birth order among the siblings and a parent’s own physical activity.

“Previous research has consistently shown that a home environment that provides encouragement, freedom, and stimuli for physical activity explains differences in children’s physical activity,” says Laukkanen.

The original article “Correlates of physical activity parenting: The Skilled Kids study was published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports on 30 August 2018. The research was conducted in cooperation with doctoral student Donna Niemistö, Professor Taija Juutinen, Elisa Korhonen (MSc) and the principal investigator of the Skilled Kids project, Senior Researcher Arja Sääkslahti from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. Other contributors include Assistant Professor Marja Cantell from the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Groningen.

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