How Do I Encourage My Two Year Old to Get More Exercise? and When Do I Worry?

Updated on April 15, 2013
L.B. asks from New Rochelle, NY
32 answers

I have a 27 month old son who is very bright but very very unathletic. He has always been clumsy, trips easily, resists going up the stairs without help, etc. I take him to various play gyms and playgrounds to encourage activity, but he will almost invariably choose some quiet activity, like digging in the sand. He won't jump like the other toddlers in gym class, he shows minimal interest in balls. He will run a little bit in his own clumsy way. He goes to a Montessori toddler program, and they expressed concern about his gross motor skills at our last conference. Even the fact that he prefers to play standing up rather than on the floor might indicate some issues with core weakness, they said. They recommended I contact Early Intervention, which I just did (waiting for an appointment) but honestly, I don't think EI will think these issues are serious enough to warrant therapy. I think it's just his personality. But I would love suggestions for how to help him get more real exercise. I am not looking for him to be a varsity athlete, just to be healthy and fit. Dad and I are also pretty unathletic, and we tend towards being overweight, which he looks like he may be headed towards, too. We just bought a house with a big yard, we limit videos to one 30 minute program a day, but he loves reading and quiet activities. What can I do? I don't want to harass or push the poor kid, just get him moving!

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So What Happened?

Oh, I would like to add, in my defense, that dad and I, especially me, are very active adults now. :) It doesn't come as naturally to us as to some others, but we now go to the gym and are obsessed with hiking and the outdoors. But sometimes, I can't get my son to walk across the playground, much less accompany me on a hike.

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answers from Norfolk on

Get a ball and kick it around with him in the back yard.
A Big Wheels and/or a tricycle are great.
If he's not a jumper or a runner, then get him something to climb.
A backyard jungle gym can be a lot of fun.
In the fall, if you have leaves, he can help you rake them into a pile - and then he can jump into it or roll in them.
If you have a hill, show him how to roll down it (and that would be great for a little back yard sledding in the winter).
In the summer he can run through the sprinkler (we loved that when we were kids).
Walk around the yard (or around the block) with him a lot.
When you work on the garden beds, have him help you carry tools.
In fact - get him a wagon and he can help pull it round the yard (and you can pull him when he's tired).
Any moving is good - it doesn't have to be aerobic and it all helps with muscle tone.
Don't expect him to do it on his own.
You have to get out there with him.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You have contacted Early Intervention and that is a step in the right direction. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. You said you just bought a house. Little Tykes has great outdoor toys. They have a slide that he could maneuver. Step 2 also has great outdoor things and cheaper than Little Tikes. Once Upon. A Child in Somers (about 45 minutes from you) has great second hand outdoor toys. Start with things like that. Now that the nice weather is here, he might start to enjoy running around. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

What about a ride on toy or trike or something similar? It sounds like he may just be a less "athletic" type, but try to find something new, and fun to get him enticed. What about decking the yard out with a play set, toys to get him moving, etc.?

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

School personnel, who are trained and experienced, have noticed something that might indicate core weakness. This is an important observation and needs to be assessed. The Early Intervention people are also trained professionals, not just the school as one mom suggested. Good that you've made an appointment.

Core weakness can be an indication of more serious issues that will negatively affect his life and ability to have success in school. That is why Early Intervention is mandated by Federal law.

Based on the hundreds of 2 yos that I've seen and interacted with, I, too, think that there may be some serious issue with your son. Two yos have inexhaustible energy. Yes, they like to do quiet things, some more than others, but for the most part they are running everywhere, are proud to be able to walk up and down the stairs, roll all over the floor in play. Not being willing to walk across the playground is not normal, even if he's not been exposed to activity.

Smile. Based on your previous posts about tiredness and not wanting to move the crib springs, I suggest that all of you will benefit from more activity. We need to be physically active to have energy. Just sitting and being sedentary is a recipe for fatigue.

Once you've had the evaluation you'll know if there is a need for professional involvement. It may be that you just need to spend more time doing physical activity with him. Go for walks. Take him to the playground. If you're not already doing that, it would be helpful to start now and see what his reaction is. He may not be able to do those things or he may just need more encouragement.

Above all, tho, get the evaluation to see if there is a reason, beyond lack of exposure causing this behavior.

After your SWH. Sounds like you're trying to walk with him, taking him to the playground and he's not able to walk even with your encouragement. Please go through with the evaluation.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Please don't think that Early Intervention won't take this seriously. His school noticed the issues and they're concerned. It's also something that you've noticed. There's a difference in the type of clumsiness you're describing and "not being the athletic type."

The fact that at two he needs to be encouraged to perform physical feats and appears more clumsy than might be typical for a two year old is a concern. Most two year olds I've ever known, except for my special needs daughter, have been highly active children that have been curious about what physical feats they could accomplish next.

Your son could have balance issues, sensory issues, proprioreceptive issues, or other concerns relating to spacial relationships with vision. Definitely allow Early Intervention to do the evaluation, which will likely be a neuro-psych evaluation. You should also have one done independently with a pediatric neurologist or a behavioral-developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist. Any or all can perform the neuro-psych test.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

In my opinion (which is not based on any medical knowledge, of course) this is not just being "unathletic." Nor, is it being clumsy. There seems to truly be something larger going on. I think you might be surprised that early intervention WILL take this very seriously. My advice is to take any suggestions or further action from early intervention seriously. I have been around many 2 year olds in my lifetime, and have NEVER met one that does nor run or like to be active in some way. I have meant plenty that will often prefer more quiet activities, but never one that does not take the opportunity for activity when outside. This does not seem normal, and I think you might start getting serious about seeking medical attention. I don't think this is a problem only the school should evaluate, and they very well might tell you the same.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Congrats on scheduling the EI appointment. And the poster who suggested a hearing evaluation (for fluid) is also making a great suggestion.

As a very sedentary child and adult, I understand preferring quiet activities to movement. However, your accurate descriptions seem to indicate more than a preference, but rather he is doing what he is capable of doing right now. So I'd like to suggest that you not think of him as unwilling, but rather as not yet able. So, for example, it's not that he is unwilling to jump, but rather that, he can't jump without falling, so he's smartly choosing not to do it! And stop thinking you are doing something wrong, in fact, you are getting him the help he needs to develop these skills. EI will point you in the right direction of a home plan of activities or therapy. All my best.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I think it's the possibility of a core body issue that they want you to address. Not anything about his personality. If it hurts him to move or feels odd or tires him out that may be why he's not so active...I think the team that evaluates him will be able to give you some great suggestions.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Bloomington on

I know you asked specifically about exercise but your son sounds a lot mine. We discovered my son, had constant fluid in ears & was really throwing his balance off & keeping him from doing higher function gross motor tasks. The day he got his tubes, was the 1st day he was able to climb , kick a ball , & spin in a circle without falling.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

You will not know anything for sure, until you get an overall assessment for him, through Early Intervention.
GOOD, you have made that step to contact them.
Now just follow through, with it.
Your son's school, did alert you to their concerns, so that is good, better than them not, doing so.
But with any feedback or recommendations you get, you need to be realistic about it and do something about if, it is recommended for your son.
Because, getting this handled while he is still young, is important. And up until 3 years old, services are free.
When my son was younger, we got him speech therapy through our local Early Childhood Intervention program. They came, to our home, and it was free. And my son LOVED it and his Speech Therapist. It was, invaluable and even I, gained much knowledge from it. And even though, I personally do have, degrees in behavioral sciences.

Be open to, any feedback you get from the child professionals.
Don't look at it as something is "wrong" with my son. Look at it as, this is a GREAT opportunity for he AND you... to learn from and to help, him. Now, when he is still real young. And being the services are free, you are lucky.

I used to babysit a girl, what was very similar to your son. BUT... even if I alerted her parent's to my concerns and observations (which they did know about), they did NOTHING about it. And to this day, their daughter is developmentally... behind. And she is about 8 years old now. They too would say "its just her personality...." but this was, them being in denial.
AND, per their well-child check-ups, they did NOT tell, the Pediatrician about any concerns. They, avoided it. And that is pretty sad.
I would point blank ASK them, if they told their Pediatrician... and they said "no, she's fine...."

Also though, though children are typically very active, especially boys... instead of waiting for them to engage in something and waiting for them to play or do things... some kids need... to have someone initiate it. Not all kids are good at self-reliance and play. But also, he seems to avoid, running around. Again, so your son's school alerted you to this.

So again, follow through with the Early Intervention organization. Make an appointment. Your son does need to be there, and at least per my son's developmental assessment... it is NOT intimidating, it is NOT hard, and it is very child friendly and not "clinical" at all. The child just thinks they are playing. But my son got an overall... developmental assessment per motor skills and cognition, and coordination etc., even if it was primarily for his speech delay. And they give you the report on it. And discuss it with you.

With a young child... playing is, "exercise."
It is not about doing P.E. type classes or things.
It is just about being active. And if your son needs more of that, they will tell you and work with him, and you, on it.
And if your son needs services.... "therapy" is NOT like how it is with adults. With a young child, it is like "play."
And, being "athletic" or not... is not a requirement for children. Many kids and adults are not, athletic. So what. But the main thing is they are doing some physical activity... which is FUN... for them.
A kid, does not have to be, an "Athlete."
Kids do not have to do the soccer thing like all the other kids.
Main thing is, they do an activity, or play and run around with their parents.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I would also take him to get his eyes checked and possibly to an ENT for his ears. He might not be able to see well so jumping around scares him everything could be really blurry. or his ears could be throwing off his equilibrium.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

It sounds like he has low muscle tone. Occupational therapy could be helpful.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Ditto Marda, no need to repeat.

Do follow through on the E/I assessment, then you will know for sure and he will get the help and you'll get the advice you need, can't stress that enough. He will get the help he needs, regardless of what the situation is, don't underestimate E/I. The playing standing up alerted a friend's parents through her daycare to the possibility she could have core weakness, and they've found she does. All the signs they saw and thought were "just her" now make sense.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

PLEASE take my advice here, mom. Your son needs an OT/PT evaluation. This is NOT normal for a child your son's age. It will only get worse when he gets bigger.

It's amazing how they can help a child.

If he had a speech problem, you would take him to a speech therapist. This is like that.

Good luck.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Play with him! If you took him out to the backyard and taught him out to play Mother May I, Simon Says, Red Light, Green Light and then played with him, I think he' love it! And it doesn't sound like a bit of exercise would hurt you or daddy either.

Your son takes his cues from his parents. If you guys are not active, then he's not going to be active. Do as I say, not as I do doesn't work! Get out there with him and have fun!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Since the preschool mentioned it, and they are used to seeing A LOT of kids, I would consider their views to be somewhat accurate. I'm sure they have seen quiet kids before and notice a difference between them and your son. Doesn't sound like he has a major problem, but he probably would benefit from therapy, and the sooner the better.

However, there are certainly ways to get him more active now. Start by taking walks around your neighborhood to look at the flowers blooming in the spring, people walking their dogs, etc. Even if he's walking slowly, the movement is better for him than playing at home.

Try to find a park without a sandbox, so that he's encouraged to use the slide, the swings, and climb more.

Also, make sure you are engaging with him at the park. Don't just stand and watch him climb - climb with him. Make a game out of it - race him to the top of the climbing structure or, in an open area, race him to the farthest tree. Bring a ball and kick it back and forth. I know he's not interested in balls, but maybe the fun of playing with mommy & daddy will be enough to get him to play for 5-10 minutes.

If you can, sign up for a class at a local children's gym. We have My Gym, The Little Gym, and Gymboree as the main chains here. That will get him climbing and playing at least once a week.

Another great option is swimming lessons. It's very physical but in a totally different way than anything else. It is a great way to strengthen muscles.

I'm glad you made the appointment with EI. Please be open to what they say. Your son might not have a true problem and may, as you say, just be a quieter kid. But, be open to the possibility that he CAN benefit from some therapy so that he catches up to the others by kindergarten.

Start with walks around the neighborhood. It's fun and it's active, without the option of choosing a quieter activity.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Please do address this with EI.

I had one child in preschool who was unable to do some of the simple physical things most kids their age did. What cued me was that this child was 3.5 years old and seemed very sedentary, couldn't get in and out of the sandbox (6" edge) without help, always wanted to be carried everywhere.

The parents got their child into EI, began working with a therapist, and this child has made GREAT strides! Within about 8 months or so, the child was running, taking a little-kid soccer course, dance, and both the gross motor skills and endurance improved. After a year, you would have hardly known the child had previously experienced these sorts of challenges.

My son does also tend to being more sedentary (we discovered he has some vision disabilities which were diagnosed last year-- since then, we've introduced eye therapy AND are seeing his improvement in gross motor/coordination). I strongly suggest making sure you get out for little walks to the grocery store, around the block-- at the very least, three or four blocks each way. We made it a game for a long time, bringing a piece of chalk and marking our X's as we go, then following them back to the house. We just make walking part of our lives. (We chose to be a one-car family, so we have to walk, period. Even if it's just to the bus stop!)

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answers from New York on

From what I've seen, at 2 years old, how parents act is not such an influence on how a child is. I"ve seen very sedentary parents with their hyper kids and athlectic parents with the opposite. My youngest was always kind of sedentary while my oldest active but a heavy built girl so not flitting around like some kids. She has totally grown into her body now and is a beautiful runner. My youngest is also getting there. So things can change. 2 seems early to worry yet if his teachers are expressing concern - that's different. They're used to all sorts of kids so have a better idea what's in the realm of normal. My youngest's teacher never mentioned a potential problem even though I was a bit worried. So good you're having him tested. Other than that, I think you're pregnant so not easy to run around, right? One game my kids loved was keep up a balloon... And then make him walk places... Does he ever want to go up and down the slide a lot? My kids were into that. Push toys when you go for a walk... Music and dancing? My kids would dance on our big bed for a long time.

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answers from Springfield on

All kids are different, but it is much more common for 2 year olds to want to be active (whether Mom and Dad are or not). I tend to hate the month of February when it's cold outside and the kids are bored with playing in cold weather. My kids will climb on the kitchen table just to have a place to climb. Drives me bananas.

I just don't want you to think you are necesarily doing anything wrong. Could you be more active with him? Possibly. But I would tend to agree with the school that this is something that needs to be checked out. Most kids that age LOVE being active, so it is a bit concerning.

My SIL used to work for Early Intervention, and they will take your concerns seriously! This is an organization that strongly believes in catching anything and everything as early as possible to give each child a better future.

So glad you called them. They will be a great resource for you.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I read your post and your SWH. In addition to contacting EI, I think you need to play with your child if you want him to be active. No, he's not going to want to go on a hike. No, he's not going to want to go to the gym. Even at the playground, it sounds like you are expecting him to go play by himself or with kids he doesn't know, and not with you. You need to play kid games with him, not try to get him to do adult things.

My 3 year old likes me to play "basketball" with him (we have one of those 3 ft high hoops), which basically means I chase him around and he run away and stuffs the ball in the hoop when he runs by. He likes to play "soccer" - similar to basketball where he kicks the ball, I chase him, and when he gets to the end of the yard with the ball he yells SCORE. Then we turn around and go the other direction. At the playground, we both climb up the play thing and then he goes down the slide on my lap. And maybe he doesn't want to walk across the playground, but will he play red light green light across the playground if you are doing it with him?

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answers from Cleveland on

he might be a little young and will need to hold your hand and take it slow but it is great for kids to learn to walk up and down stairs left foot step up, right foot, step up. the way adults do. not left foot, step up,left foot step up. infact even crawling is good because they are using both sides of their body.
let us know how it goes.

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answers from San Francisco on

Go for walks! Don't call it exercise, call it a hike, a bug hunt, whatever. Walk whenever and wherever you can. Ditch the stroller if you haven't already. Park far away from the store or school and walk in whenever possible.
Hang a wiffle ball on a string outside and give him a plastic bat.
Set up stepping stones in the back yard (kind of far apart) and encourage him to leap across them without falling into the "hot lava."
If you have the money get a good swing set with swings and monkey bars for climbing and balancing.
When summer comes go to the public pool and sign him up for swim lessons :-)

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answers from Chicago on

What if all three of you went outside, but only you and dad played kicking the ball back and forth between the two of you - having lots of fun? Might that spark his interest more? To see how much fun you and daddy are having and can I join in! I've noticed with my kids that if I put the focus on them, they will shy away. But if we're just having a good time, they want to be part of it.

That being said - definitely pursue early intervention.

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answers from Rochester on

Both of my children were avid readers, loved quiet play, etc, but they like nothing more than being outdoors, running around, going to the park, etc. If you and your husband are overweight, and live a more sedentary life, it's likely that he is mirroring the lifestyle that he's being raised with.

I do think you ought to have him a doctor, not a school...but barring some sort of physical condition, you need to - as a family - start moving more. Go for walks, that's a nice easy start. Take a ball to the park and chase it around. Get a children's dance video and participate. Sign him up for tumbling class. Children WANT to have fun in a physical way, but they have to know that it's okay to do it!!! If he never sees you or Dad doing anything truly physical, he's probably not going to do it either.

And a huge will feel so much better when you get moving. No one has to be an athlete to love being in motion.

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answers from Austin on

He is 2. Of course he is clumsy.. His head is probably a large percentage of his body..

As long as you giving him time to be outside, running, climbing, hopping, peddling.. scooting.. throwing, .. etc.. He is going to be fine.. This means at LEAST 2 hours a day..

If the weather is bad, make sure you have ways for him to climb, run, crawl, etc inside your home also..

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answers from New York on

Dear Book Worm-

Once the medical issues are ruled out, could you consider getting/ fostering an active/ friendly dog? A dog kind of forces your hand into exercise in that it needs to be walked at least twice daily.

Choose the dog carefully though-

My kid leans towards very active, and is a real mover and a shaker. He'll walk in place, stomp his feet, dance, do obstacle course relays in the living room (on the ottoman, onto the armchair, over the arm of the sofa, jumping onto the floor, and back again).

He's really fond of my parents older lab mutt. He pushes on her haunches to get her on her feet so he can chase her around the house. She's rather retiring by nature, and an absolute pushover.

On the flip side, he's strangely wary of any dog which shows interest in him. If the dog comes towards him, noses him, sniffs him, or is high energy, my boy takes to hugging my leg.

Point being, even high energy kids (like mine), might select against a high energy dog.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You can exercise and get more active.

It's not a coincidence that you and Dad tend toward a certain body type - and so does your son.

He's copying you. He's learning from you. All he'll learn if you make him do stuff is that he needs to make his children do stuff. He won't learn a new way, because he sees that his parents haven't learned a new way.

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answers from Yakima on

Okay, so first off...I would ask your family doctor if he thinks anything physically wrong could be with him, like is he in pain when moving etc or maybe something isn't quite right with hips etc. Once you get a clear from him then I would just include him in your activities as much as you can. At this age they chose what they like to do most. I wouldn't worry unless there is something physically wrong with him! Every kid develops so differently. I would just keep up trying to kick a ball and run around, playground etc. Just keep up your routine and eventually he will get it. We have a friend whos child is the same age as my girl (going to be 4 soon) and he physically not even close to my daughter, has trouble with stairs and running, but there isn't anything developmentally wrong at all! :) Good Luck!

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answers from Las Vegas on

At that age, I think it's best that you move with him. IF he sees you moving and having fun, he ll do it too.. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, this includes exercise. Try walking more. My son and I walk all the time together, we've been doing it since he was really young. It's not uncommon for us to walk for a couple of hours. Granted, your son is younger, however, if you start him walking places now, he'll become used to it. Just try and have fun with it and make it a family practice, not just your son's..

good luck



answers from New York on

When my daughter was that age she preferred to read a good book over anything. We used to sing the song head and shoulders knees and toes to her about fifteen times a day to try to get her to have some activity. As she got older she began to like to dance and that is now her activity of choice. My advice is just to try to make it fun for him. And as hard as it might be get active with him.



answers from New York on

2 is a little young for worrying about being athletic; however, you do need to instill healthy values about eating right and excerise at a young age. You're already doing it by example. A 2 yro will not be able to hike very long, so you'll need to have plans for when he gets tired. 2yros are naturally clumsy, so don't worry. You can do other things like gently help your 2yro to stretch out. Maybe a little Yoga. Teach him a simple rythmic dance. Get one of those really big balls and roll it back and forth. Have your 2yro imitate animals like have him hop like a rabbit, crawl like a cat, etc. Grace and athleticism takes time and patience. Don't forget that fine motor control is even more important in preparing him for school. Just keep having fun and make life look like a great adventure.



answers from Kalamazoo on

Does he like to dance? We live in MI, where a majority of the year its cold and snowy or raining. So we do a lot of indoor dancing. When Im cleaning the house we put on music and dance, the kids seem to like it. Or you guys could get a mommy and baby workout video, or even just go to the mall and dont bring the stroller. When you go to the groc store, have him walk instead of riding in the cart. Thats all I can think of. I dont think it has anything to do with you and your husband. I am overweight and my husband has a bad back, so we are not the most active people obviously, and my kids are bouncing off the walls 24/7.

*we also have a little scooter my dd rides around the house, very annoying but it is good exercise. Its the kind you sit on and push with your feet or put your feet up and wiggle the handle to move it.

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