In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Posts Tagged ‘kids’

A Teachable Moment: Summer structure is essential for kids and teens

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 4, 2012

For parents and kids alike, summer is associated with freedom from the hectic school year schedule and with the chance to take a deep breath and relax for a few weeks. Bed times are later, house rules become more flexible, and playtime stretches out into the evening hours. This change, as well as the chance to slow down, are great for everyone’s psychological well-being. That being said, even in the summer, it is important for kids to maintain a routine. In fact, too much ‘relaxing’ isn’t healthy for kids or teens.

To begin, excess screen time (TV, computer, video games, phones), is no better for kids in the summer than it is during the school year. Your child may not have homework, but the opportunity to be active outside, spend time with friends, and take advantage of experiences that are unique to summer, will all be diminished by spending too much time engaged with a screen—whether at home or on the go. Therefore, the summertime rules for screen time should not be very different from the school-year rules. The maximum recommended total screen time should not be more than two hours a day for kids and teens, no matter what time of year it is!

Next, it can be easy to allow your child to have a later bedtime in the summer. The sun sets at a later time, and there is no school the next day (although some kids must get up for summer camp). While it is tempting to allow kids and teens to stay up as late as they choose and then sleep as late as they desire the next morning, this is not in their best interest.  In order to grow healthily, feel happy and behave well, kids and teens need a minimum of eight hours of sleep, and most need nine or ten hours. In addition, the eight hours of sleep that begin earlier in the night, are much better quality than when these hours begin later at night. Finally, when you allow kids—and especially teens—to create their own sleep schedule, they will often stay up well past midnight, and then sleep away a good part of the day. This is not a healthy way to spend the summer, and it becomes more difficult for them to adjust back to a school year routine. Therefore, while it is fine to allow some flexibility in your child or teen’s summer bedtime routine, it is important to enforce a reasonable bedtime, ensuring that your child gets enough, good quality sleep.

Finally, while it is important to slow down in the summer, kids and teens function much more healthily, and are less likely to get in trouble, when they have structured, supervised activity. For example, did you know that the rate of marijuana use amongst teens is much higher in the summer months than at any other time of the year? This is because in the summer so many more teens are allowed to spend every day, for weeks, with little to do and barely any supervision. Even younger kids with little structure are more likely to get into fights and become cranky and hard to manage because they are bored. So, while it may be summertime, parenting must still include organizing a regular schedule of activities for your child, and supervising older kids and teens to ensure that they are doing more than just hanging out and sleeping the summer away.

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Is TWhining the new whining?

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 25, 2012

I thought that once my kids were older I’d be done with having to listen to them whine, but I seem to have entered a new, unfortunate phase…TWHINING… whining via text.

Below, a few examples–my intention is to garner support of other parents experiencing this particular type of torture, and terrify those who are not there yet and were hoping a cell phone would free them of having to endure whining–because after all, preteens and teens don’t really talk to you anymore other than through texting…hah! behold…

“Mommmyyy, I reeeeellllly don’t want to…”

“Ik, ik, ik, oookkkkk I’ll dooo it…i proommiisse”

“Omg, I sooooo do not wnt to, plzzzz dnt make me!”

“I’m begggiiingg u, plzzz l promis, i will”

“heeelp me plzzz”

“noooooooooo”

 

It’s almost impossible to escape twhining because it can find you anywhere and if you ignore it, it simply ramps up, attacking your phone during meetings, lunches, phonecalls and even as you’re falling asleep at night (yes, I keep my phone next to my bed. I use the alarm to wake up…and I’m probably one of those addicted PDA users you keep hearing about–aren’t you!)

But, I digress…I’ve begun to twhine right back at my three teens, I find its the only way to survive!…

“Omg, really…noooooo u can’t stay out til midnight”

“Ik, ik, I’m THE wooorst mother EVER!!!”

I have to admit that twhining is a bit better than whining because I can put it on vibrate…or even, when I’m feeling really brave, on silent…aaahhh!

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A Teachable Moment: Make the most of moving up

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 6, 2012

The month of May is all about graduations, moving up ceremonies and commencements. It is a time to feel a little sad about “how fast they grow up”, and to feel joyous about the wonderful milestones and accomplishments. This year I have, a child graduating from high school, another from middle school, and two nieces leaving elementary school!

Whether your child is facing a significant graduation, or simply moving from one grade to the next, this time of year is filled with mixed feelings, not only for you, but for your child as well. You might be surprised to learn, that not all kids are excited or happy about leaving a school, grade or teacher. Many are sad to leave the classroom in which they have accomplished so much, or the routine to which they have become accustomed. They may miss a teacher with whom they have formed a strong relationship, and they often worry that they won’t have friends in their class next year. Of course, some kids make the transition easily and are excited to move on and up! Never the less, just about every child feels some small worry and ambivalence about transitioning. In order to help your child face the transition in a positive and optimistic manner, it is important to be aware of the feelings that he or she may be experiencing. Here are a few ideas that will help you and your child say goodbye to this school year in a positive and optimistic way:

Focus on facts: Remind your child about all that he learned during this school year, and point out that next year will be just as productive. For example, this year he may have read his first chapter book, but next year, he’ll read a whole series! This year he learned how to play basketball, but next year he’ll be a comfortable part of the team. The more you focus on positive milestones to reach in the upcoming year, the easier it will be for your child to be excited, rather than ambivalent.

Make memories: Saying goodbye to people and places is a natural part of life, and one that your child will confront many, many times over the course of a lifetime. It is important to validate your child’s sad feelings and help her cope with them. Give her a camera and encourage her to take it to school and take pictures and video that will document the building, classroom, teachers and classmates. Help her create an album or scrapbook with the pictures that she can keep as a positive reminder of this school year.

Encourage emotion: Most kids have been socialized (by the media and their peers) to believe that they should be thrilled that school is ending. However, many children and teens enjoy the learning, the structure, and the time with friends, much more than they value a long vacation. However, they keep these feelings hidden because they don’t think it is ‘normal’ or ‘cool’ to feel sad about school ending. You can help your child understand his feelings, but reminding him that all feelings are normal and that it is okay to be upset about school ending. The more opportunities your child has to talk about his feelings, the more easily he will make the transition.

You should not be embarrassed to talk about your feelings as your child grows up. It can be beneficial to talk to other parents in order to share feelings about your child (and you) reaching these milestones. Remember that all feelings are ‘normal’!

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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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Manners count during the holiday season.

Posted by Dr. Susan on November 4, 2011

The excitement of the holiday season can bring out the best in kids, but it often brings out their worst. Nagging, whining and a lack of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are not uncommon during this festive but frenetic time of year.

It can be easy to let these behaviors slide because you want your child to enjoy the holidays without reprimand or punishment. You also may not want to embarrass them at holiday gatherings by pointing out behavior flaws.

However, in truth, this is an excellent opportunity to teach your child about manners. If you emphasize appropriate behavior during the holidays, he will begin to realize that it is important all the time. The key is to teach with patience rather than anger, and use strategies that help him achieve success rather than highlighting failure.

These four techniques will help your child develop manners of which you can be proud:

  1. Quit while you’re ahead. Tired, cranky kids are more likely to be rude and impolite. If you finish shopping or leave a party before reaching this point, you will be able to praise your child for great manners at the end of the activity. Praise reinforces good behavior and motivates your child to want to continue it in the future.
  2. 2.      Pre-teach manners. Before heading out to a gathering or holiday activity remind your child how you expect her to behave. Emphasize that you want to hear ‘please’, and ‘thank you’; that she should look at people when they talk to her and respond to questions; and generally behave in a way that will make you proud. Subtle reminders may be necessary. For example, before leaving a party you could whisper to your child to remind her to thank the host.
  3. 3.      Don’t plead or punish. When your child doesn’t behave politely, respond firmly but not in anger. You don’t want your child to remember this holiday as one when he was embarrassed or punished. Resist the urge to yell in public, threaten, or mete out serious consequences. On the other hand, imploring him to behave, but issuing no consequences—or empty ones—will not change his behavior. If necessary, take him aside and quietly remind him of your expectations. Explain that if he continues to be impolite, there will be a consequence. Explain the consequence and, if necessary, follow through with it. You may not be happy to take your child home from a party, hold a gift for a couple of days, or send him to bed early, but the long-term impact will be worth it. Your child will develop manners, self-control and respectful behavior. This will be your favorite holiday gift!
  4. 4.      Review and reward. After every holiday activity compliment your child for positive behaviors. For example:
  •  “I loved how you held the door open for people in the stores”
  • “You played so patiently with your baby cousin”
  • “Thank you for helping set the table tonight—it saved me time”
  • “You said thank you to grandma for the gift without being reminded”
  • I noticed that even though you didn’t love the gift, you made your uncle feel like you did”

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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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It’s almost school time, but be in the moment right now!

Posted by Dr. Susan on August 4, 2011

As the stores begin stocking back-to-school clothing and notebooks, it’s hard not to start thinking about the end of summer. Before we know it, school will be back in swing, and the barefoot, carefree, sunny days will be long gone…sigh!

Of course, it is important to plan ahead in order to get school supplies at a great sale price! In addition, it’s important to help your child get accustomed to the idea that school, routines, hectic schedules and cooler weather, will all be here soon.

But…before boxing up the bathing suits and taking out the sweaters, let’s not rush into the fall and winter. It’s very important to teach kids the value of living in the moment and appreciating the experience at hand, before rushing ahead to the next thing. So, please, take the time to really enjoy the last weeks of summer together with your child. There are many different ways to live in the moment, right now. and here are just a few tips to help you do it:

  • Resist the urge to unpack and try fall clothing on your child before the first day of school. It may be convenient for you to see if your child has grown a size over the summer, but for kids, it’s a sign to move on to the next thing. Rather, wait until a week or so before school starts. This will give you and your child a little time to plan without rushing the summer along.
  • Limit school supply shopping with your child to one or two specific outings—don’t make it the focus of every day until school starts. If there’s a lot to get done, do some of it without your child so that she can continue to be in the summer mode.
  • Spend even less time than usual watching TV, or watch recorded shows so that you can fast forward through the commercials. TV ads for back-to-school products become overwhelmingly prolific in August. This advertising pressure can be stressful for you and your child, pushing you out of summer mode before you are ready.
  • Encourage your child to stay focused on the summer fun at hand by limiting conversations about school to once a day—at bedtime or first thing in the morning.
  • Regularly ask your child to name activities or experiences that she or he has enjoyed, or is looking forward to enjoying this summer. Discussing these will help you and your child stay focused on the summer “moment” in which you are still living.
  • When your child is in earshot, spend as little time as possible talking about back-to-school with other adults (in person or on the phone). Your child will pick up on the conversation and it will make it more difficult for him to focus on enjoying the rest of the summer.  
  • As the end of summer truly arrives (and teacher assignments arrive in the mail) plan one or two really fun summer activities. Even as you are preparing for the transition into school, remind your child that there are still days left of summer to appreciate; time to run through the sprinkler barefoot and eat that last piece of watermelon.

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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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When parents fight, babies don’t sleep

Posted by Dr. Susan on May 12, 2011

When an infant doesn’t sleep well, it can be easy to blame genetics, fussiness, colic and all sorts of other genetic and child-centered reasons–each one of which might, of course be the reason. However, a new study finds that the relationship between mom and dad may be a primary reason that a baby isn’t sleeping well. Specifically, this research determined that the more parents fight with each other, the more likely it is for babies to have disrupted sleep patterns.

This is powerful and important information for parents, because it lets us know that children are impacted by marital discord in so many ways and beginning at such a young age. Therefore, as parents, it needs to be part of the job description to protect kids from arguing and fighting. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t argue with one another–of course this is just a normal part of any relationship. However, it does mean that we need to exercise self-control as much as possible, saving our arguments for when our kids aren’t anywhere near hearing us–waiting for them to fall asleep isn’t good enough! It’s tough being a good parent, but in the end–when our kids are happy and well-adjusted–it’s worth it a hundred times over!

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