Tough Choices With Wiggle Room

Hopefully, all parents want their children to have the best recreational opportunities. For a number of reasons — personal, financial, societal, medical, etc. — the adults in charge of childcare sometimes have to function within less than optimal circumstances. We mentioned Julie Pearson Anderson and Melissa Fuller, who are interested in alleviating or, better yet, preventing the emotional damage that children can experience from confinement and limited social interaction.

They quote a study conducted by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health:

As well as improving symptoms of poor mental health during adolescence, there is also evidence that exercise exerts a protective effect and may reduce the incidence of mental illnesses such as depression and psychosis in the future.

The authors quote associate professor of general pediatrics Rebecca Dudovitz, M.D., as saying,

Exercise is a key component for recovering from and preventing obesity, and it’s a key part of coping with and preventing mental health problems.

They make the point that any kind of active play is not only helpful but crucial to the maintenance of both physical and mental health. Exercise does not have to mean specialized equipment or strenuous effort.

And “sports” doesn’t have to mean organized sports… With rising costs and families struggling financially these days, finding low- and no-cost ways of keeping kids active can be key. Getting them moving is what’s important… Walking the dog, biking the trails, running in the sprinklers, playing hoops in the driveway, gardening and yard work…

Yes, kids can be induced to do yard work, at different levels depending on age. Little ones: If pieces of gravel are where they don’t belong, offer a penny or a nickel for each stone returned to the gravel bed, and let the child practice addition to keep track of them. Or just use a point system, with a prize that is not food. (Maybe a small privilege you would have granted anyway, heh-heh.)

At any rate, the object retrieval activity has other uses. Does a tree shed berries whose juice you don’t want to be tracked indoors? Have the little nuisances picked up. If the child goes off-task, who cares? As long as they are moving around and nobody is being hurt, no problem.

Older kids

Shun power tools. Forget about efficiency, or saving time. The whole point here is to encourage and facilitate physical activity. If your family is lucky enough to have grass to take care of, maybe you still have a push lawn mower. And never mind the straight-line, back-and-forth method. Let the kid have fun (see illustration on this page) and then tidy it up the next day.

Teach the kid how to trim a hedge the old-fashioned way, without machinery and with string. Some teens are surprisingly practical. They ask, “When will I use this in life?” No one can say for sure. To learn any skill is an advantage. Some day this person may be an actor, respected for the ability to use hand tools with visual authenticity. They might want to join the Society for Creative Anachronism, or become a professional historical reenactor at a theme park or Renaissance Faire. By identifying secateurs, they might win a respectable amount of money from a quiz show or trivia competition.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Kids and Mental Health: The more they move, the better their mood,”, 06/24/22
Source: “How to Trim a Hedge by Hand,”, 06/30/22
Images by sand_and_sky, Julita B.C., Iain Cameron, Hsing Wei/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources