In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘health’

A Teachable Moment: Have A Heart

Posted by Dr. Susan on February 3, 2012

February is the ‘heart’ month. It’s the home of Valentine’s Day, and it’s National Heart Health Month. But, having a healthy heart is so much more than cute cards and physical fitness. It is also about ‘having heart’, which means feeling and expressing love for others and for oneself.  As we travel through our hectic lives, it can be easy to forget the importance of love, but the truth is that during these uncertain times, kids need to be able to feel and express love more than ever before because it will keep them feeling safe and secure. Happily, it’s not too difficult to ensure that your child’s capacity for love continues to grow:

Teach by example. When you openly and frequently express love to your child and to other meaningful people in your life, it teaches your child that this is important and normal. Say the words “I love you”, give hugs and kisses, and snuggle on the couch as often as possible. Children continue to learn from their parents through their teen years and into early adulthood, so don’t stop loving and teaching. Your teenager is not too old to hug and kiss!

Encourage sharing (of feelings). When your child tells you about a friend who stuck up for her, didn’t leave her out, shared her lunch, gave her a hug or was a good friend in any other way, encourage your child to tell her friend how good that made her feel and how much she values the friendship.

Support sibling love. Siblings often spend at least some of their time arguing. However, when you look closely, there are probably also many sweet moments of sharing, helping and allegiance between them. You can encourage siblings to share positive feelings towards each other by pointing out these positive moments and telling them that these expressions of brotherly and sisterly support and love really make you feel proud of them. Then, during less pleasant sibling moments, you can remind them of the positive part of their relationship in order to lessen the momentary anger between them.

Support equal opportunity for boys. In many ways, boys have been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, even though this is no healthier for them than it is for girls. In particular, many boys are afraid to express positive feelings for fear that it may make them seem to ‘girly’. We need to help boys shift from this old-fashioned way of thinking, and teach them that friends, siblings, parents and grandparents will feel good when they share positive feelings and behaviors. What’s more, expressing love, appreciation and other positive feelings will also help your son. He will feel positive knowing that his expressions of love have brought good feelings to his friends and family.

Self-love is most important. In order to have the emotional capacity to love others, you first need to love yourself. Every child, no matter how confident, can benefit from encouragement to be proud of her accomplishments and feel positive about her strengths. Your child may also need to be reminded that loving yourself means accepting that you are not perfect. When necessary, you remind your child that she is still lovable, even if she does not have the exact body, brain or lifestyle she desires. Help her focus on the positive aspects of herself, so that self-love is easy, rather than a burden. Also, remember to love yourself (despite your imperfections) so your child can see that you really mean it!

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Does your child have the mid-winter blues?

Posted by Dr. Susan on January 4, 2012

At this time of year kids and teens may be susceptible to the winter blues, which, in its more serious form, is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD usually occurs during the winter months, when it is colder and there is less sunlight, although, one does not have to live in a freezing, snowy climate to experience seasonal depression. Those living in milder climates may also experience the blues.

It is important to learn the symptoms of depression in children so you can recognize them, and if necessary, address them immediately. All types of depression are more common in older children and teens, but it is possible for a younger child to experience SAD, especially with a family history of depression. Therefore, if your child’s behavior seems to change with the season, it is time to take notice.

Childhood depression often looks different from the adult type. Even very sad kids will appear happy sometimes—during a funny movie, or playing with friends, but it doesn’t mean they are fine. Children typically have mood fluctuations, even if they are depressed.

The most common symptoms of SAD (and childhood depression) include:

  • Feeling sad, overly sensitive or      crying excessively
  • Anger, crankiness, moodiness
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping      more than usual
  • Eating much more or less than      usual (for an extended period of time, not just a day or two)
  • Low energy level, difficulty      concentrating
  • Reduced interest in normal activities      at home, in school and socially
  • Stomachaches, headaches or other      physical complaints that don’t respond to medical treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide      (not as common in young children)

 

Not every depressed or sad child will exhibit every symptom; some may have only two or three. If you think that your child has the winter blues, take these five steps:

  1. Continue to observe. Watch your child’s behavior for a week or so. Then,      if you still see symptoms and feel that he is emotionally under the weather,      move to step #2.
  2. Talk to your child. Ask how she is feeling. Inquire about possible      school and friend stressors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—you won’t “give      your child ideas”  that she doesn’t      already have. If there is no significant stressor, but she still seems      unhappy, move to step #3.
  3. Talk to the teacher. In most cases, when a child has the blues, his      behavior will change everywhere, not just at home, so the teacher is sure      to notice any mood change too. If the teacher (and other significant adults      in your child’s life), confirms your concerns, move to step #4
  4. Meet with your child’s doctor. It is important to rule out      medical factors that may cause a child’s mood to change. For example,      either mononucleosis or hypothyroidism can cause low energy level or      trouble concentrating. After ruling out medical factors, you and the      doctor can decide the next step. If the doctor recommends that you speak      with a mental health professional, do so right away. See step #5.
  5. Seek expert help. If treatment is necessary, it will vary depending on      the severity of your child’s symptoms and her age. No one child is the      same and there are several treatment options, including light therapy,      increased natural light exposure, talk therapy or medication.

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It may be time to find your child’s special talent…or not.

Posted by Dr. Susan on September 4, 2011

The start of the school year brings enthusiasm. A new class, friends and experiences are all exciting. Many kids can’t wait to try every activity introduced by teachers and peers. So, should you let your child try it all or is it better to encourage him to stick with one or two areas he already enjoys, and in which he may already show signs of excelling?

It can be tempting to let your child try every new activity. After all childhood is the best time to explore and grow—and there’s no way for her to discover a passion without trying many things. On the other hand, too much diversification can make it difficult for a child to immerse herself fully in a new experience and it can become confusing and stressful for her.

So, is it possible to encourage exploration and find your child’s passion, without her becoming overwhelmed and distracted?  Yes! Here are four simple steps that will give your child opportunities to explore, yet still build upon current passions, talents and interests:

  1. Nurture passion and interest. If your child shows an interest in, or talent for any given activity, support this by enrolling him in a class, after-school activity or school club that nurtures the interest. Pick one area of passion on which to focus. If an activity is seasonal (like a sport or a school play), you can have a replacement activity once the season is over. The replacement need not be another ‘passion’, but can be a new area that your child wants to explore (see #3 below). Stick to one area of passion at a time, or your child will become overwhelmed and lose interest in everything.
  2. Balance is essential. Kids younger than ten don’t usually need more than two days a week to work at their area of interest. More than this can cause burnout and possibly an eventual rejection of the activity. In addition, make sure there is time for homework, play and exploration of other areas. Older children may become more intensely involved in an activity they love or that requires greater commitment to be competitive. This type of commitment is admirable and should be encouraged—but not at the cost of eating, sleeping, school work or a social life. As the parent, you must make sure your child is physically and emotionally healthy—even if she is an Olympic athlete or superstar in the making!
  3. Encourage participation in a new activity. This can be a sport or creative art that your child has never tried, or even a less structured activity like baking or magic. Ask him to commit at least two or three months to the activity. This is enough time to achieve an initial level of mastery, so that the activity feels more like fun than work. After this period, he can decide whether he wants to continue or move on to something new.
  4. Resist the urge to jump on everyone else’s ‘activity bandwagon’. Your child may come home each week with something new to try. Make a list of these activities and explain that she can try one at a time, giving each one at least a couple of months to see if she likes it. You’ll likely find that she’ll lose interest in many of the ideas on the list after her initial ‘nagging’. If you stick to these four tips, your child is sure to become well-rounded while still discovering her passions and talents.

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A Teachable Moment: Summer Time Skills

Posted by Dr. Susan on July 4, 2011

I love the summer! No homework, no rushing around and everyone seems to be in a better mood. For me, the summer is one big, deep, cleansing breath that continues for two months! That being said, I don’t think kids quite get the idea that summer should represent a change of pace. They don’t bicker less with siblings, they don’t nag any less and they certainly don’t give you any more time alone in the bathroom!

However, the relaxed nature of the summer months and the reduced pressure on kids to perform academically and socially makes it the perfect time for you to teach your child the all importance ‘skills of summer’: patience and perseverance. In fact, these traits will take your child far in life and you can use summer activities to begin instilling them in your child, beginning as young as two or three years.

Building Sand Castles takes a great deal of patience, time and effort. Encourage your child to work on a castle, fort or tunnel for more than a few minutes. Show enthusiasm for your child’s sand creation and, if necessary, teach him some ways to build that he may not yet know. Sand castle building may seem trivial to you, but the time and effort required to be successful is no different from the energy you may exert on an important work project. Mastering the patience, focus and perseverance needed for this activity will benefit your child for years to come.

Learning to swim or mastering a swimming technique can be extremely challenging for any child. The fear of drowning is naturally a hurdle for any beginning swimmer, and may also impact upon a child who needs to master jumping or diving into the pool. For parents, helping a child overcome this fear can seem like a monumental task, especially when a child cries, tantrums or downright refuses to even try. In this situation, it is you that must be patient! Helping your child work through this significant fear is not just about swimming. It will teach her that she has the ability to persevere and achieve success even in those areas of life that may seem insurmountable.

Playing outside is the hallmark of summer as far as parents are concerned. We want our child to appreciate and savor every minute of the beautiful weather. However, perhaps you are one of the many parents met with arguments, by a child who would much rather spend the summer watching TV, or playing video games on the computer. When the nagging for screen time begins, please, please resist the urge to give in simply because it’s the path of least resistance. Encouraging your child to play, without having media as a crutch, will give your child the opportunity to temporarily inhabit a calmer, less frenetic world. He will develop the patience to tap into his inner creativity. She will learn how to persevere and become terrific at any number of skills—bike riding, searching for worms, swinging as high as possible or packing the perfect picnic lunch. And isn’t that what summer is all about!

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If McDonalds retires Ronald, perhaps it shouldn’t stop there…

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 19, 2011

A group of medical professionals is calling for McDonald’s to get rid of Ronald, citing the childhood character’s link to the the childhood obesity epidemic. 

There is something wrong with this on two levels. To begin, if we were to get rid of Ronald, why stop there? It doesn’t seem fair to single out one marketing character. Should we also tell Disney, Nickelodeon and every single cereal company that they’re not allowed to use mascots to sell their products? No–this is not the way a democracy works! I’m all for protecting kids against inappropriate marketing, but this goes too far.

Of course we need to protect our kids, and make sure that big business act in the best interest of the public, BUT we also need to place real responsibility on parents to educate their kids about marketing and product placement. Most importantly, parents need to say NO to their children when they don’t believe eating a particular food isn’t healthy or necessary at that moment.

It is always easy to blame someone else; it’s much more difficult to take responsibility. Ronald has been around for many years prior to the obesity epidemic. It’s only in the past twenty years or so that parents have started to be afraid to say NO to their kids–worried that they may have a tantrum, or their child might feel alienated won’t be their friend anymore.  Parenting is not always easy, in fact sometimes it’s downright difficult, but in the end, your child will be a stronger person if you role-model and teach taking responsiblity for one’s own behavior.

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Online gaming is good for families…really?

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 9, 2011

This new study suggests that when families ‘game’ together, their relationships improve. Ok, I suppose that could be true. If you play online games with your kids, it’s definitely better than NOT playing online with them, and rather just leaving them to online game with total strangers.

But do you really think that parents are playing online games with their kids?? The answer is NO! Either the parents are gaming alone (I see this all the time) and the kids are nagging them to get off the computer to come and throw a ball outside, or the kids/teens are online and would be mortified if their mom or (more likely) dad joined in. And of course, this doesn’t even include all the time kids are online while parents are working, running the home or dealing with the other kids. So the chance that kids and parents are bonding online is…well…let’s just politely say…unlikely!

So, while this study is interesting in theory, it truly holds no really life application. So, instead of making it your goal to game online with your child, the better goal is found in the old and boring traditions…eat a meal together, chat while you’re driving somewhere, clean the car together (pay them if you have to!), or drag out a board game. You’d be surprised how many BIG kids love Apples to Apples!

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Child-Obesity ads gone wild

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 6, 2011

There is a furor about Georgia’s child-obesity campaign which portrays overweight kids, with seriously depressed facial expressions, talking about how bleak their present life is and how bad their future will be, unless they lose weight.

Now, I’m all for shock-value if it gets the job done, but this ad is a problem. To begin, it give ammunition to other kids who bully, or are considering bullying an overweight child. From a kid’s perspective: “If you’re talking about all the negatives that you experience, then why can’t I?” It’s not a taboo subject anymore.

Next, the parents and educators who are not already working on helping overweight children won’t really be impacted by this–they know that this is what the kids look like already–it’s live in front of them! What they really need to see is overweight adults in the ads talking about what it was like to be an overweight kid and still be overweight–and then remind the viewer of the ads to take responsibility for helping the kids.

Using vulnerable kids–those in the ads and the those who will inadvertently become associated with the ads–creates an unfair playing field. The adults need to take responsibility for the problem and of course, the solution.

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The grim reality of spring break

Posted by Dr. Susan on April 3, 2010

It’s too bad that it takes a 17-year old with the prospect for a glowing future to remind us how dangerous spring break can be for high schoolers. When Ohio high school senior Matt James (headed for Notre Dame on a football scholarship), fell from a balcony to his death after drinking too much during spring break in Florida, we all stopped for 5 minutes to shake our heads and those of us with high school students were grateful that it wasn’t our kid.

But the thing is that unless you make the choice to supervise your teen on spring, winter and every other break it could just as easily be your kid! There is no specific type…most kids drink; many get drunk–they just don’t tell their parents. In fact, one national study (conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) found that nearly 75% of high school students have had one or more alcoholic drinks in their life. That’s any kid–your kid or my kid!

Every teen’s life is worth saving, every teen has a glowing future and should have a chance to make better choices when their brain has developed and along with it, their judgment. Until then, it is the job of the adults–parents, teachers, chaperones, even hotel owners, to make sure that teens are well supervised and kept safe: even from themselves.

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The FDA is finally wising up about serving sizes!

Posted by Dr. Susan on February 9, 2010

It’s taken a long time, but maybe, just maybe, the FDA is realizing what I’ve said for years-many food companies are basically con artists when it comes to reporting serving sizes accurately and in a way that truly represents the product. This article explains it: half a muffin is a serving size; six potato chips…really!? They count on consumers looking at the calories and not paying attention to the serving size, and unfortunately, in many cases that’s exactly what happens.

This is not to say that the consumer is without responsibility–we should be more educated and less willing to be duped. But less face it, if we were more disciplined, we wouldn’t be one of the most overweight nations in the world.

Regardless, accurate, realistic packaging should be mandatory! A whole muffin, an entire bottle of juice, a bowl of chips or ice-cream–THIS is a serving size and should be labeled as such, with the calories reflected right on the package. Perhaps when we see what we’re actually eating, not what we wish we were, or would like to pretend we are, we’d stop being one of the most overweight countries on the planet!

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Turn the TV off…seriously, you might die!

Posted by Dr. Susan on January 11, 2010

This study finds that for every hour a day you watch TV, you increase your risk of dying–from any cause–by 11%. For dying from cardiovascular disease, the increased risk was 18%. The study goes on to say that when they compared people who watched less than two hours of TV a day to those who watched more than four, the four-hour watchers had an 80% greater chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.

OK, that’s scary! But the issue is not about TV exactly…it’s about NOT moving your body! The more TV you watch, the more likely you are to be sedentary, the more likely you are to NOT be healthy. You get it, right. So…turn off the TV and take a walk….or some day someone may find you kicked-off in front of the TV, having breathed your last breath. Wouldn’t that be ironic!

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