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Monday, March 12, 2018

Why Play is a Crucial Part Finland's Academic Success

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr)

I met a family from Finland this past week, and our conversation naturally turned to play. While kids in Finland and the United States play similar games, I discovered a key difference. Finnish classrooms incorporate playtime and recess throughout the school day. All of this play is crucial to Finland's academic success, and students benefit in several ways.

Promote Health and Well-Being

Ninety-eight percent of Finnish students attend preschool, but the classes don't prioritize academics. Instead, preschool classes and teachers promote a child's health and well-being. Kids play and engage in fun activities that are designed to nurture their natural curiosity, creativity, and imagination. I know that these skills aren't primarily academic, but they do prepare children for academic success when they enter school at age seven.

Develop Good Social Habits

Early education in Finland encourages kids to develop social competence as they play. While having fun, kids learn how to make friends, communicate, respect others, cooperate, and compromise. As parents, we know that these essential social skills help kids succeed academically and in life.

Foster a Joy of Learning

Playful school environments, particularly for young Finnish students, focus on the joy of learning. Children have fun as they develop skills like perseverance, communication, and curiosity while they enjoy childhood. I appreciate the fact that the children learn without realizing that they are learning, which helps their formal education stick once they do begin academic studies.

Encourage Play Breaks

Finnish students receive a 15-minute play break between classes, and some teachers allow students to play an educational game after they complete their lessons. After these breaks, students return to class refreshed, ready to learn, and able to sit still and focus on the lesson during instructional time. Their comprehension improves, and they learn more in less time because they play often.

Allow Free Play

I'm a big fan of free play, which allows kids to choose the activities they enjoy as they play. Finnish teachers agree. While teachers observe and assess the students to ensure that they're learning skills they need for academic and life success, the children can typically choose which activities they will enjoy. Because the students have a say in their play activities, they gain some control over their day and handle teacher-led classroom instruction better. Plus, children develop talents, build their strengths, and improve relational skills as they play.

Incorporate Fun Alongside Academics

In each grade, Finnish students have fun as they learn. Starting in preschool, Finnish students take some academic classes, but they primarily play to learn. By first grade, students attend math and science classes plus art, music, sports, textile handcrafts, and religion or ethics classes. Core curriculum subjects for older grades include entrepreneurship, digital skills, and crafts. Teachers also have the freedom to conduct classes outdoors where students can participate in relay races, explore a nearby forest, and enjoy other fun exercises that reinforce their academic lessons. Classes incorporate play alongside academics so that students receive a well-rounded education and develop a lifelong love of learning.

If you're like me, you know that children benefit from play. Let's take a lesson from Finland's schools and advocate for more play and recess in our children's school day. Then, our kids can improve their academic success and enjoy play time.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Positively Playful! 10 Ways to Promote Positive Thinking in Children

Photo by Steven Depolo (Flickr)

Soccer season starts soon for my girls, and they each will move up a level, which means they need to master more challenging skills. My older daughter feels excited about the opportunity, but my younger daughter is convinced that she'll have a terrible season. To encourage her to embrace a positive mindset about this and all of life's challenges, I'm trying ten positively playful strategies that can help her and your kids or students develop a more positive attitude.

Try New Activities

Although my daughter resists learning new soccer skills, her confidence, outlook, and attitude will improve as she tries new activities and succeeds. If your child can't get over their negative outlook and embrace new opportunities, learn a new game, take a cooking class, or tackle a new hiking trail together.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

One of my daughter's biggest complaints about the new season is her fear of failure, so I started playfully reminding her to say "I will do my best" instead of "I will fail." Reframing her negative thoughts will boost her confidence, give her a more positive outlook on the challenge, and prepare her for success.

Validate Emotions

As adults, we want our kids to be happy all of the time. However, it's normal for kids to feel afraid, angry, or negative. Instead of pushing our kids to feel happy, I want to validate my girls' thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When kids understand that emotions are not bad, they can begin to accept and process all of their emotions in a positive manner.

Set and Achieve Goals

My daughter will struggle to master her new soccer challenges, but we're using the WOOP strategy, with a wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan, to help her reach her goal. This effective strategy will help her succeed and give her confidence to keep trying and remain positive in the future.

Practice Gratitude

Despite the dread my daughter feels about soccer now, she will be grateful when she can run faster and play better. That's why we focus on the good things that happen each day. At dinner, we share positive moments, like a beautiful sunset, good test outcome, or surprise visit from Grandma. This exercise reminds both of my girls that despite challenges, they have much to be thankful for each day.

Help Others

Volunteering and helping others ultimately improves our self-esteem, well-being, and positivity. Choose a service project that's fun for the entire family, like babysitting for a single parent or cleaning up the park. By helping others, our kids begin to think more positively about themselves and life.

Repeat Positive Affirmations

The words our kids say to themselves can change their negative self-talk and promote positive thinking. I created a song for my daughter that repeats statements like, "I do my best, I achieve my goals, I am a strong kicker." Do the same for your kids. In time, they will internalize these affirmations and begin to think more positively.

Focus on Solutions

Every challenge, no matter how difficult, has a solution. I remind my daughter to look for ways she can overcome her fears and view the soccer season in a positive way. So far, she has decided to try her best and start training now, and I'm proud of her for moving past the problem and seeking a positive outcome.

Think Loving and Kind Thoughts

Thinking kindly about others can give our kids a more positive outlook on life. Here's an example mantra we say to our family members, friends, and classmates: "May you feel happy, healthy, safe, and at ease." I've already seen my daughter begin to think more positively about her challenges as she repeats this mantra.

Model Positivity

As parents and teachers, we play a powerful role in our children's lives and can accept and process our emotions properly, reframe our thoughts, remain grateful, and see the good in ourselves and others. We can also share experiences, joy, and laughter with our kids, which helps them feel secure and more positive about themselves and their lives.

Since we started practicing these positively playful tips, my daughter has slowly begun to see her new soccer season and other areas of life in a positive way. What other strategies do you use to promote positive thinking in your children or students?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, March 2, 2018

5 Ways That Children Can Keep Their Heart Healthy

Photo by ErstwhileHuman (Flickr)

At a recent well-child checkup, our pediatrician ordered a cholesterol test for my daughter. I was a little surprised, but he told me that up to 20 percent of children have high lipid levels, a heart disease risk factor. By checking her heart health now, he can help to reduce her risk of developing heart disease later in life. While we wait for the test results, he also suggested five things my daughter and all kids can do to keep their hearts healthy now and into the future.

Engage in Physical Activity Daily

Kids should move their bodies for at least 60 minutes each day. Physical activity keeps their hearts healthy, and exercise builds bones and muscles while improving self-esteem, mood, and sleep.

My girls love to run, jump, and climb at our local park and engage in free play every day. Additionally, the doctor suggested family walks, strength training, and aerobic activities like jumping rope to help my girls meet their daily physical activity goal.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

The right diet supports a healthy heart. Ideally, our children need a balanced diet that includes a variety of colorful foods that are low in salt, sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats.

With dietary suggestions from our doctor, my girls decided to check their diet and see what changes they can make to improve their heart health. First, they will start reading nutrition fact labels. This can help them avoid foods with added sodium and sugar. Then, they plan to follow the recommended serving sizes and limit portions. Finally, they want to load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all foods that support heart health.

Stay Hydrated

Adequate hydration improves almost all of the body's functions, including the heart's ability to pump blood properly. While kids often prefer to drink soda or juice, the pediatrician recommends water as the healthiest way to stay hydrated.

Every day, kids should drink at least eight ounces of water per year of age and up to 64 ounces after age eight. For example, your 3-year-old should drink 24 ounces of water. To stay hydrated, my girls will carry a water bottle everywhere they go, we plan to drink water with each meal, and they decided to consume soda or juice only on special occasions like birthday parties.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Gaining or losing weight affects how hard the heart works. That's why it's important to equip our kids with tools they can use to maintain a healthy weight and protect their hearts now and for the rest of their lives.

One clue to whether your child is underweight or overweight is their body mass index (BMI). Create a diet and exercise routine that supports a healthy weight gain or weight loss. For example, we plan to prepare healthy meals and have fun moving together each day as my girls achieve and maintain a heart-healthy weight.

Reduce Tobacco Exposure

Exposure to tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, regular cigarettes, and electronic cigarettes, and secondhand smoke damages almost every organ in the body, including the heart. In addition to harmful and dangerous toxins and chemicals, tobacco products contain nicotine, a substance that's highly addictive.

We must reduce our kids' exposure to tobacco products and avoid smoking around our kids and require grandparents, friends, and other caregivers to do the same. Our pediatrician also suggested that I talk to my girls about the dangers of smoking and using tobacco products. As parents and caregivers, we can equip our kids with the confidence they need to say no to peer pressure and not start smoking.

Heart health is important for kids. I'm grateful our doctor recommended these five ways that my girls can keep their hearts healthy now and into the future. What other heart-health tips do you and your kids recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

10 Simple Ways to Get More Steps Daily

Photo by JustyCinMD (Flickr)

To celebrate American Heart Month this month, my girls and I decided to walk more. We're already fairly active, but we want to increase our physical activity because sitting too much can increase our risk of developing high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and depression. Fitbit recommends that we walk 10,000 steps each day, the equivalent of five miles or 30 minutes, and we're going to try to meet this goal in 10 simple ways.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

The type of shoes I wear definitely affects my activity level during the day. If I grab cute but uncomfortable shoes, I tend to walk less, but watch out world if I wear sneakers! The right walking shoes have the power to keep me moving, so I will commit to wearing comfortable shoes as often as possible.

Park Far Away

I confess that I sometimes drive around the parking lot until I find a close parking spot, but I'm going to start parking at least a few blocks away on purpose. My girls agreed that we need to park farther away from stores when we do errands, too, so we can improve our step total.

Use the Stairs

The elevator quickly carries me to my office, but I plan to use the stairs from now on. I can also take the stairs to use the restroom on a different floor to I boost my step count.

Schedule Walk Breaks

I usually spend my lunch break checking social media or reading a magazine, but I want to use that time to walk instead. Even better, I plan to set hourly alarms on my phone to remind myself to get up and walk around.

Fire People Who Walk for You

Your housekeeper, lawn-mower, and dog-walker essentially walk for you as they work around your home. If you hire people to take on these chores, consider doing these tasks yourself so you can add more steps to your daily routine.

Walk to Relieve Stress

Eating chocolate, binge-watching TV, and hanging out online often help me cope with stress, but these habits don't improve my health. Instead, I want to walk and enjoy the quiet time, fresh air, and scenery as I relieve stress and meet my daily step goal.


As I make dinner, watch TV, or talk on the phone, I typically stand or sit still. I can add dozens of steps into my day, though, if I multitask by walking while I do these things.

Embrace Inefficiency

If you're like me, you carry all of the grocery bags at once so you only have to make one trip from the car to the house. You may also cart a huge laundry basket upstairs all at once or email colleagues when you have a question because it's faster than walking to their desk. Inefficiency helps me walk more, though, so I will make multiple trips while unloading the car, walk over to see colleagues when I need to talk, and start using a smaller laundry basket. Being inefficient will take more time but is an easy investment in my health that I'm definitely willing to make!

Take a Buddy

Solo walks get boring fast, so my girls suggested that we each bring a friend. While we walk with our buddies, we have so much fun chatting that we forget to feel bored or tired. Plus, our friends keep us accountable and encourage us to walk each day.

Walk a Dog

While we don't have a dog, my girls suggested that we walk our neighbor's pooch before and after school or volunteer to walk our local shelter dogs. This task only takes about 15 minutes, but it's a great way to accumulate steps and do a good deed.

This month, my girls and I plan to celebrate American Heart Month by walking 10,000 steps a day. We'll use these simple ideas to reach our goal. What other tips could we try?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Thursday, February 15, 2018

9 Ways That Play Cultivates Compassion and Empathy

Photo by Caitlin Regan (Flickr)

Compassion and empathy improve our ability to interact positively with others. I reflected on these two character traits this week as I watched my girls play with our new neighbors, and I realized that they have both developed more compassion and empathy because of play. Consider these nine ways that play cultivates these two important traits in our kids.

Exposes Kids to the Emotions of Peers

Any time two or more children play together, our kids will see emotional expressions like happiness, anger, jealousy, or disappointment. Through this exposure, our kids can begin to understand the normalcy of feelings and identify the emotions they and their peers experience.

Fosters Emotional Regulation

Kids may understand that they have emotions, but it takes time to learn emotional regulation. Play helps. We parents, caregivers, and teachers can provide play opportunities and guidance as we role-play different scenarios, talk through situations during pretend play, and process emotions and feelings. These play activities equip our kids with self-control and self-regulation skills as they recognize appropriate and inappropriate ways to both express emotions and support peers in a variety of situations.

Puts Kids in Someone Else's Shoes

Pretend play and role-playing encourage children to transform into someone else's persona, character, or role. When my girls pretend to be a teacher, cashier, or astronaut, they discover what it's like to live in someone else's shoes, and they begin to develop empathy, which gives them a better perspective when they spend time with family members and peers in real life.

Develops a Cooperative Spirit

While playing soccer, riding bikes, or modeling clay together, kids begin to understand concepts like sharing, communication, and teamwork. They need this cooperative spirit to understand and appreciate others.

Builds Social Skills

Waiting in line, constructive play, and sports help our kids develop social skills. They learn how to be patient, wait their turn, share, negotiate, and recognize and read body language. With these social skills, our kids better understand how to relate to others and enjoy improved real-life relationships.

Improves Conflict Resolution

Conflict remains part of life, so encourage kids to play and improve their problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Now that my girls are older, I often let them work through disagreements about which game to play or who gets the ball first because I want them to understand how to respect others and remain calm and kind as they resolve differences.

Addresses Trauma

One of our new neighbors doesn't talk much because of trauma from a recent accident, but I've already seen her open up a bit to my younger daughter as they draw, play with dolls, and run around the house. Play provides a safe haven for kids, allows them to be themselves, and provides a space where they can begin to address trauma and work through deep emotions. Eventually, this hard work equips kids to be more compassionate and empathetic to others.

Stimulates Creativity

When one of our new friends tripped during hopscotch, my older daughter tried to help, but he pushed her away. I watched her regroup, find a ball, and invite him to play. Her creative approach opened the door to a deeper relationship, and I feel grateful that kids develop this skill through play. As children explore different outcomes during constructive play, experiment with colors while painting, and brainstorm ideas during free play, they stimulate their creativity and imagination, skills they use to build relationships and meet the needs of the people around them.

Teaches Inclusion

Kids receive opportunities to include everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or ability as they play. We can help our kids learn to wait for a slower runner to catch up as they play tag, choose to play inclusive games with their disabled friends, and see beyond skin color as they take turns on the slide. Through play, our kids learn to respect differences, include everyone, and value all life.

Thanks to play, I've watched my girls cultivate compassion and empathy, two essential skills for life success. How have you seen play help your kids become more compassionate and empathetic?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

15 Ways to Stay Healthy, Active, and Safe During the Winter

Photo by anjanettew (Flickr)

My girls and I typically play and stay active all year, but we recently experienced a huge winter storm that forced us to hibernate for several days. We ended up having so much fun together that I wasn't quite ready for life to return to normal! Our experience prompted me to research some ways that individuals, parents, and families can stay healthy, active, and safe during the winter, especially on lazy days when you end up stuck inside the house.

Get a Flu Shot

With this one immunization, you can cut your chances of getting the flu by 60 percent. Visit your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Wash Your Hands

When you get home from work or school, before eating, and after using the bathroom, wash your hands. Frequent handwashing decreases your chances of contracting respiratory and other illnesses.

Use Hand Sanitizer

Fight germs on the go with hand sanitizer. Buy hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol or make your own DIY hand sanitizer like my girls do, and carry a bottle in your purse, briefcase, and car.

Clean the House

Get rid of germs in your home and get some extra exercise when you disinfect all of the surfaces, including electronic devices, doorknobs, and trash cans. Change linens and your toothbrush often, too.

Enjoy a Massage

Lower your stress level, boost your energy, and improve your immunity with a relaxing massage. If you're like me and don't want to leave the house, trade back rubs with your kids.

Take Zinc

If you come in contact with someone who has a cold, take zinc twice a day for a week. Zinc lozenges can combat cold germs, boost your metabolism, and help you stay healthy.

Experiment in the Kitchen

My girls told me last week that they're bored with our dinner menu. I encouraged them to find new recipes that contain veggies and spices to boost our immunity and protein and fiber that help us feel full longer. We're excited about experimenting in the kitchen as we try new foods and eat a balanced and healthy diet this winter.

Stay Hydrated

I enjoy a daily cup of hot tea in the winter, and I try to drink several glasses of water each day. Staying hydrated reduces toxins and helps our bodies function properly.

Move More

Moderate exercise boosts your immunity, so if you're stuck inside, get moving with an exercise video, your stationary bike, or an active video game.

Shovel Snow

After a snowstorm, bundle up and grab your shovels. You'll get a cardio workout as you clear your property.

Enter a Fitness Challenge

We signed up for a 5K in the spring, which will help us stay active, motivated, and committed to training this winter despite the cold weather.

Play Games

During our recent hibernation, we played board and card games together. We had a ton of fun, and I appreciate that playing games exercises our minds and encourages us to spend quality time together.

Let There Be Light

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and/or a lack of vitamin D might affect you or one of your family members, so do your best to get some sunlight in your day. Go outside for at least 10 minutes daily, or purchase a light box to improve your mood.

Go to Bed Early

Double your body's ability to fight the flu when you get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Join a Club

Hibernating during a storm may be fun, but socialization improves your mood and boosts your immunity. Find a hobby group or club at your local library, YMCA, or school and cultivate new friendships.

This winter, you and your family can stay healthy, active, and safe in these 15 ways, even if you spend the majority of your time indoors. What other tips do you and your family recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, January 29, 2018

7 Ways That Children Benefit From Growing Up With a Dog

Photo by Virginia State Parks (Flickr)

Every few weeks, my girls and I visit our local dog park to hang out with our neighbors and play with their dogs. We also come home relaxed after these fun excursions! While we don't have a dog at home, I definitely see the benefits that some kids can receive when they grow up with a dog (assuming that nobody in the family is allergic to them).

Relieve Stress

For some people, the simple act of petting a dog can raise serotonin and dopamine levels, the chemicals that are responsible for helping kids feel positive, peaceful, and calm. Pet ownership can also lower blood pressure and ward off depression. Any time your kids feel emotionally escalated, worried, or upset, they can pet or play with the dog and feel their bodies and minds relax.

Learn Responsibility

In addition to daily and weekly chores, your kids can help take care of the family dog. As your kids walk, feed, and groom their dog, they learn to fulfill obligations each day, be responsible, and stay accountable. These skills ensure that their pet is cared for and help your kids succeed in other areas of life, too.

Boost Self-Esteem

Kids with a dog can feel a sense of accomplishment and pride as they perform age-appropriate pet care tasks and ensure that their dog stays happy and healthy. For instance, maybe your four-year-old son can't walk the dog by himself, but he can give it fresh water each day and join you during vet check-ups. Your child's face will shine with pride when he tells everyone he meets that he helps to care for his dog.

Develop Empathy

When kids must care for an animal, they learn to read nonverbal cues, nurture a living being, and put their pet's needs before their own. All of these skills help them develop empathy and compassion for other living beings, including family members and friends.

Improve Learning

Our library hosts "read with a dog" events, and my girls regularly participated when they were younger. They always appreciated reading to the attentive dogs, sharing pictures, and talking about the story without worrying that they would be judged or ridiculed for mispronouncing a word. Studies show that kids relax and have fun when they read to pets, so consider giving your kids a leg up on their learning by letting them study with the family dog.

Receive Comfort

When kids face emotional, scary, or frustrating situations, they don't always have the words to talk about the situation with an adult. A pet offers a sympathetic, listening ear, though, and won't judge, criticize, or counsel our kids. While we don't have a dog at home, my girls often turn to their stuffed animal friends for comfort when they're frustrated, and they always emerge from their snuggle time feeling more positive and peaceful.

Stay Moving

Most dog breeds need plenty of exercise and give your kids the perfect excuse to keep moving. As your kids walk the dog, take it outside to use the bathroom, or play fetch, they get exercise and ensure that the dog receives the stimulation and exercise it needs for better health. Both your kids and your dog will be happier and healthier as they spend time together.

When you add a dog or another type of pet to your family, your kids can gain these seven benefits, and you'll have fun as a family caring for and bonding with your pet and each other. Are there other benefits of growing up with a dog that you've noticed?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Saturday, January 20, 2018

10 Year-Long Tips to Boost Health and Relieve Stress for the Whole Family

Photo by jepoycamboy (Flickr)

Like many, my family always strives to be healthier, but we don't always know how to start. After talking with a few friends and my girls, I created a list of 10 tips families can implement as they boost health and relieve stress together all year.

1. Cook and Eat Healthy Meals

To encourage my girls to try a variety of healthy foods and learn to cook, we'll prepare dinner together at least once a week and try to eat together at least four times a week. Eventually, I want my girls to pick out recipes and shop for groceries, too, as we make healthy meals and share quality time in the kitchen and around the table.

2. Cut Soda

The average can of soda contains 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes! Plus, drink one soda a day, and you could gain five pounds this year, and soda adversely affects dental health. Try drinking one less soda per day, watering down your soda, and replacing soda with fruit-infused water as you cut soda from your diet this year.

3. Go to the Gym

When you exercise together as a family, you all get healthier, and my girls agree that they stay motivated to move and have more fun when we work out together. Find an affordable family fitness plan at your local YMCA, and commit to weekly family workouts. You can also take a water aerobics, cycling, or other family class as your schedule allows.

4. Explore the Outdoors

Spend time in nature, and you'll feel your body and mind relax. Hiking, playing in the park, and other outdoor exploration also helps you reach fitness goals. As a family, you could plan 52 hikes (one for each weekend!), spend long weekends camping, or participate in a litter cleanup crew as you explore the outdoors.

5. Walk and Bike More

While it's easy to jump in the car and drive everywhere, walking and biking can reduce obesity, heart disease, and anxiety. My girls decided to walk or bike to the library, grocery store, and school as much as possible this year as we enjoy the health and wellness benefits active transportation provides.

6. Play More Games

If you don't plan a family game night each week, consider starting one this year. Play active video games or board games together, and you'll teach your kids valuable skills like taking turns and sharing. Game night also helps you relax, unwind, and bond as a family.

7. Implement Better Sleep Hygiene

Lately, I've noticed that my older daughter feels exhausted after school because she stays up late doing homework and talking to friends. If you can relate, join us in improving sleep hygiene. We decided to turn off our screens at least an hour before bed and read, meditate, or take a warm bath. These sleep hygiene strategies will improve our rest and well-being.

8. Prioritize Social Interactions

My girls and I always feel more relaxed after we hang out with friends, so we're prioritizing social interactions this year. I've scheduled a few coffee dates with friends, and my girls planned several playdates and sleepovers so we can recharge and improve our mental health.

9. Improve Self-Care

Many adults I know put their physical and mental health on the back burner. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to improve our self-care, though. Personally, I'm committed to setting better boundaries at work, visiting the doctor for regular checkups, and prioritizing time for hobbies this year, and I'm encouraging my kids to take similar steps. With self-care, we reduce stress and improve our health every day.

10. Turn off the Screens

I love technology, but screens distract me from being present with my girls. Together, my girls and I have agreed to turn off our phones and the TV during meals, and we plan to work up to screen-free weekends as we strive to be present and enjoy life this year.

To boost health and relieve stress this year, I'm following these 10 tips with my family. I encourage you to join us and share other wellness tips could we try!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, January 12, 2018

8 Ways to Help Children Make Healthy and Sustainable New Year's Resolutions

Photo by Carol VanHook (Flickr)

Every year, my girls and I choose goals that will improve our health. Last year, we resolved to drink more water, and our energy levels and moods definitely improved as we stayed hydrated. I plan to encourage my girls to make healthy New Year's resolutions this year, too, and will work with them to plan and work toward sustainable goals.

Ask Your Kids What They Want to Change

I usually have ideas about what health changes I'd like my girls to make, but I've learned that I need to listen to them and hear what's important to them. I might think they need to exercise more, but they may want to learn how to cook healthier meals. Ultimately, I want them to create goals that meet their needs.

Let Kids Choose Their Resolutions

As parents and caregivers, we want our kids to eat more veggies and exercise more, and these resolutions are good. However, we have to give our kids freedom to choose their resolutions, which allows them to take responsibility for their actions and improves the chances that they'll follow through.

Offer Guidance

Sometimes, my girls struggle to choose a resolution or pick one that's age-appropriate. I ask questions like, "What are you willing to do this year to get healthier?" and "What would you like to do differently this year?" These questions help my girls start to think about realistic goals they can work on throughout the year.

Prioritize Resolutions

My older daughter made a long list of resolutions last year. She wanted to run a faster mile, eat five servings of fruit and veggies each day, learn how to cook a different meal each week, eat breakfast every day, and lose 10 pounds. Her goals were admirable, but I encouraged her to prioritize them so she could focus on accomplishing the resolutions that were most important to her.

Encourage Small Steps

Our resolution to "drink more water" was vague, so we decided to drink at least four bottles of water each day, use rubber bands to track our progress, and check off each successful day on a calendar. Breaking our big resolution into concrete and specific steps with a plan to remain consistent helped us stay on track, and I'll encourage my girls to take small steps with their resolutions this year, too.

Be a Resolution Role Model

If we want our kids to choose and keep their resolutions, we can model how to make and keep resolutions. Let's show them how to set realistic goals with manageable steps and give them permission to ask us about our progress.

Schedule Periodic Check-Ins

Nagging never helps kids achieve their goals, and we don't want to bribe them to get healthy. We can check in periodically, though, and provide accountability. I usually ask my girls weekly if they're happy with their progress or if something's getting in their way. Then we can talk about possible adjustments that will help them keep progressing.

Stay Positive

Making resolutions is easy, but keeping them is hard. I praise my girls often as they achieve their health goals. We also talk about their successes during the past year as I help my kids succeed in making and reaching their health goals.

As you and your kids consider New Year's resolutions, encourage your children to make healthy and sustainable goals. These eight tips can help them succeed. What other suggestions do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

10 Tips for Encouraging Children to Set Manageable Goals

Photo by The Global Orphan Project (Flickr)

As a family, we decided to run a 5K together this spring. My girls are super-excited, but I had to remind them to set reasonable goals as they train for our big race. Your kids might have big goals, too, in the classroom, on the sports field, or in other areas of life. We can use these tips to help our kids set and achieve manageable goals.

Let Kids Choose

I totally support my girls' decision to live a healthier lifestyle this year, and they decided to run a 5K so we could bond and because they wanted a challenge. Because they picked a goal that matters to them instead of going with my agenda, they're more likely to follow through and succeed.

Stretch a Bit

While running a marathon would be too challenging for my girls right now, walking a 5K would be a goal they could master with ease. The right goal stretches them a bit but is attainable and bolsters their confidence to try hard things in the future.

Be Realistic

My older daughter wants to run at least one mile every day before and after school. I love her enthusiasm, but I reminded her that she'll get burned out and potentially injure herself if she pushes herself too hard. More realistic goals, like running around the block the first week and gradually adding more time and length, will actually build her stamina as she strives to achieve her goal.

Set Bite-Sized Goals

The thought of running a 5K overwhelmed my younger daughter at first because she doesn't like running. Then, she decided to alternate running, walking, and strength training, similar to a sofa to 5K training program. Now, she's on board because she knows she can master the daily bite-sized goals as she prepares for our race.

Choose Measurable Parameters

It's one thing to say that we'll run a 5K and another to be ready for that race. My girls need to set training goals they can measure. As an example, instead of saying they'll run more each day, they plan to run five minutes longer.

Add Details

It's easy to make a goal and then not reach it. I challenged my girls to specify when, where, and for how long they'll train each week, and we've already signed up for a local 5K so we know when we have to be ready. These details improve our chances for success.

Chart Progress

Every worthwhile goal includes a progress chart that allows us to see how far we've come and how far we still have to go. A whiteboard, spreadsheet, or pie chart helps us track progress, celebrate the goals we meet, and stay motivated.

Agree on Checkpoints

I definitely don't want to nag my girls about training, but they know that I'll check in regularly to see how they're doing. We will talk about their triumphs and areas in which they want to do better.

Prepare to Readjust Goals

I totally believe that my girls can succeed in training for the 5K, and I also know that life could interfere with their best intentions. For instance, how will they handle busy weeks when they don't have time to train, and what happens if an injury prevents them from running? Without discouraging them, I remind my girls that it's OK to be flexible and readjust their goals as needed.

Model Realistic Goal-Setting

As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we influence the kids in our life, so it makes sense that we model how to set realistic goals. In the spirit of transparency, I give my girls permission to ask about my training progress as I act as a goal-setting role model for my girls.

These tips can help my family train for our first 5K, and they're adaptable to all areas of life. Whether our kids want to get healthy, earn better grades in school, or make more friends, we can use these tips as we encourage our kids to set manageable goals. What other goal-setting tips do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart