Wiggle Room Strategies

From a child-oriented perspective, the greatest cost of the COVID pandemic has been the loss of parents, grandparents, and other adults who are no longer around to pitch in with babysitting and homework help. Another great cost has been the lack of socialization, in some cases quite severe. Also, it is obvious that childhood obesity is gaining by leaps and bounds.

The virus has kept a lot of kids at home, and conditions could return to high levels of restriction. Between the stark necessity of sheltering in place and the actual physical danger of going out, it is hard to say which situation is worse for children and teens. Under very limited circumstances, it is still important that kids move around and do things — even with tight financial and material resources, even with cramped space, and even if the activity does not involve a huge caloric expenditure.

Wiggle room is all about figuring out how, within unavoidable boundaries, to generate some movement. Parents and caregivers need to be creative in introducing ways to put bodies in motion. Motion begets motion. If kids are busy doing physical stuff, it primes their systems to crave more activity. Also, if they are busy doing physical stuff, they are less likely to be eating. Want to be a great parent? Demonstrate that life can be lived to the fullest without food constantly at hand, or drink either. (Unless it’s plain water.)

Imagination counts

In the previous post, one subject was yard work, which can be done at different levels, depending on age. For the family that does not own land, there are other possibilities, like communal farming or volunteer park maintenance. If you do have some grounds to take care of, don’t aim for efficiency. The object is not to get the job done quickly. The object is to keep those youngsters interested in something other than sitting around like inert lumps of protoplasm.

Take chestnut collecting, for instance. Or the aforementioned stray gravel roundup. If a child walks back and forth to replace stones one by one, let them! This is not the time to be all managerial, demanding that they use a tin can to move several little stones at once like experts in logistics. The point is to see those kids burning even a few calories; to keep them from screen-glued immobility, etc.

Think outside the box

Even in a small yard and with no budget, it is possible to knock together a pair of functional stilts, or construct a twine maze (see yesterday’s illustration). Set out three balls and ask the kids to invent a new game. A bit of originality goes a long way. If a driveway is available, or sidewalks, colored chalks are a cheap investment that can pay off admirably in terms of fresh air activity.

Maybe the kids could spend some outdoor time with a chain-link fence. Have you by any chance saved up used holiday gift-wrap ribbons, in hopes of someday finding a use for them? Do you have a rag bag? Cloth can be torn into strips with ease, and used to weave designs on a fence, as seen in today’s illustration. One or more strips can be attached to a stick, for a child to run around with and wave in the air. Or get hold of some bubble-blowing supplies. As in so many other cases, an online search can reveal inexpensive DIY alternatives to commercial products.

Even if a young person is not crazy about a particular activity for its own sake, any motor skills gained from it are transferable. The use of certain muscles and neural pathways could make the difference between acceptance or rejection in a chosen sport, in the not-too-distant future.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Images by Martin Pettitt/CC BY 2.0, RJ/CCC BY-SA 2.0, Quinn Dombrowski/CCC BY-SA 2.0, Twilight Taggers/CC BY 2.0,

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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.

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