Physical Activity

Motivating Children with Cerebral Palsy to Participate in Physical Exercise

Staying physically active is important to maintaining optimal health and wellbeing. Yet, for parents of children with cerebral palsy, getting their child safely and sufficiently involved in physical activity can be a challenge. Individuals with cerebral palsy often have low levels of physical activity as staying physically active and involved is not always easy – it can be exhausting and uncomfortable at times.  Further, finding opportunities for engaging in physical activities is time consuming and can be expensive. Yet, everyone agrees that it is important – not only for physical health, but also for ones mental health.

This study involves a qualitative analysis of the perspectives of the child and the parent around participation in physical activities, in order to gain insights on how parents can optimally support their child.  The study describes insightful perspectives surrounding the child and parent’s experiences. Examples include:

Child’s perspective

  • “I would be trying my hardest. Me enjoying myself. Even if I’m struggling. Just doing it carefree.”
  • I’m clumsing [sic] about, like swinging side to side not actually doing it. I’d be like phewwwww [sic] if I’m really tired, I just can’t help myself but not concentrate.”
  • It makes me exhausted and that kind of annoys me sometimes. Usually, I’m annoyed at the start [be]’cause I know that I get really tired but then at the end it’s not as tiring as I thought”.

 Parent’s perspective

  • He’s almost got a look of concentration on his face so he’s actually thinking about what he’s doing. He can physically probably hold himself better too.”
  • “I feel a bit, concerned …, I’m not sure that sad is the right word for it either. It feels painful that you know that he’s not involved, for his sake. I don’t like it either.” 
  • “I probably don’t give him enough credit for probably how tired he is after school. He tries really hard to be normal and to be involved. We just keep pushing him.”

The authors of the study provide useful word maps to summarize their findings, one of which summarises the personal motivators and strategies of “What works for me” from teens with cerebral palsy and their parents’ perspective”, as follows:



These comments reveal both the benefits and challenges associated with engaging in physical activity.

From our perspective, the essential takeaway is that in order to inspire your child to participate in physical activities, it’s crucial to attentively listen and observe what drives your child – what lights them up? Is it the desire for social connections, the thrill of competition, the satisfaction of achievement, or the joy of being outdoors or close to animals?


Once you have a better understanding of these motivators, the key is to identify activities that offer these rewards as much as possible. Offering encouragement and support while also being mindful of your child’s physical and emotional well-being on any given day will promotes their engagement in physical activities in a way that maximizes both their physical and emotional well-being.

One of the primary difficulties frequently described by parents is discovering the ideal activity that best suits their child’s uniques interests and abilities, and sometimes, securing the financial resources needed to enable their participation. In recognition of these potential obstacles and the importance of physical activity and inclusion in the lives of children living with cerebral palsy, CP Support Canada offers a bursary program known as the CP Smile Project, designed to facilitate and support a child’s inclusion in fun recreational activities.

Learn more about the CP Smile Project

Parent resources

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CP Smile Project

The CP Smile Project is a community project that helps ensure children with cerebral palsy have access to recreational opportunities that allow them to engage in play and community involvement. We give monthly bursaries to families to help them provide the support needed for their child to engage in play and have fun.