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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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why Play Can Help Children with ADHD

Photo by San José Public Library (Flickr)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects up to one in ten children, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and it can cause kids to have trouble controlling their impulses, sitting still, focusing, or staying organized. I've worked with dozens of kids who have ADHD, and play is a tool that can help them manage their symptoms. Through play, children with ADHD learn how to do many important things.

Deal Naturally With Emotional and Energy Fluctuations

Kids with ADHD experience intense emotional and energy highs and lows that hinder their school performance, social interactions, and body control. That's why your child with ADHD might fidget, make inappropriate comments, and lose things. They need opportunities to play, run, jump, and climb, which allows their minds and bodies to relax and prepares them to return to the classroom ready to focus and learn.

Use Excess Energy Productively

Last summer, one of the neighbor kids often kicked a tree or yelled at my girls while they played. She had tons of energy she channeled in an aggressive way. Thankfully, her dad signed her up for the swim team, and I've since noticed a big change in her behavior and self-esteem. Play helps her release energy in a productive way so she can avoid acting out inappropriately.

Rehearse Lifetime Skills

Taking turns, handling frustration and disappointment, and following rules challenge kids with ADHD. I find that play helps kids learn these essential life skills, especially when I use modified game rules and build skills in increments. For example, play the board game Chutes and Ladders with your child, and make all of the chutes and ladders go up. As your child masters taking turns and concentrating on this shortened game, introduce two downward chutes and begin teaching your child how to accept, reframe, and overcome disappointment. Eventually, you can use all of the chutes and add more players while using play to rehearse life skills.

Boost Memory

Because kids with ADHD have trouble paying attention, they also forget things easily, especially homework or what they're supposed to do right now. Learning to play an instrument and playing games like Memory or Simon Says can help your child become more attentive and remember things better.

Improve Focus

Kids with ADHD get distracted easily and struggle to stay on task. Play breaks and free play time encourage them to run off their excess energy, regulate their emotions and bodies, and enjoy activities. Games like Battleship and Memory also give kids practice focusing, concentrating, and paying attention to details. With play breaks, kids return to the classroom or any other gathering or event and are able to focus and concentrate without feeling distracted or distracting others.

Stay Organized

Children with ADHD typically struggle with organization as their brains shift quickly from one thought to another. Building with blocks, art, and other creative activities improve a child's ability to organize and approach life in a methodical manner. As they create, they must first organize their ideas and then assemble the project in a calculated manner, which can translate into greater organization in other areas of life.

Control Impulses

Simple games like mancala, freeze tag, and group sports help kids with ADHD stop, look, listen, and feel. While they could make moves without thinking, they're more likely to win if they practice impulse control and think before they act.

Build Friendships

Sometimes, the fluctuating behavior of a child with ADHD scares other kids who may be annoyed or unsure about playing with a kid who's different. Play time brings kids together as they share a common goal of having fun, and it can build friendships for kids who may otherwise struggle to make and keep healthy and fulfilling relationships. Consider role-playing with puppets, dolls, or figurines, too, as you prompt your child to consider social situations, responses, and anticipated outcomes. Ask questions like, "How would Dolly feel if Teddy took all of her crackers, jumped on her foot, or forgot to bring back the toy he borrowed?" and you give your child valuable tools that can help them build meaningful friendships.

Explore New Experiences in a Safe Environment

Kids with ADHD can't always express how they feel or think. Use action figures, doctor kits, and dress-up play to give your kids a safe outlet where they can practice and develop self-expression skills. With an adult or other kids they trust, they can expand their experiences and skills with limited risk.

I strongly support play for all kids, especially those who struggle with ADHD, because I've observed how play can help them. What other advantages does play provide your child with ADHD?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

9 Ways That Play Helps Children Develop Empathy for Others

Photo by dadblunders (Flickr)

My girls recently discovered a new passion: volunteering at the animal shelter. They love cuddling, feeding, and playing with the animals, and I love watching them show empathy. Empathy, the ability to identify what others think and feel and put yourself in their shoes, improves our kids' understanding of and respect for their peers, adults, and animals. Although our kids aren't born with the ability to empathize, I found nine ways that play helps our kids develop this essential skill and become more compassionate human beings.

Imagine Life as Someone Else

Pretend play and role play introduce kids to someone else's world. As they pretend they're teachers, veterinarians, or a classmate, they step into a different persona and must act, feel, and think like that character. Through play, kids see life from someone else's viewpoint and improve their understanding of the people around them.

Cooperate With Others

On the playground, in the classroom, and on the sports field, our kids must work with others. Teamwork can be challenging, though, particularly when our kids don't understand or agree with their peers or the adult in charge. Fun games and activities like scavenger hunts, relay races, and cooking prompt our kids to listen to others and cooperate, compromise, and share.

Understand That Others Have Feelings and Emotions

As a toddler, my younger daughter often pulled our cat's tail and then wondered why the cat avoided her. I used puppets to act out stories that demonstrated how animals and people have feelings. We also observed people, wildlife, and insects during our daily walks and talked about emotions they may feel. As we played, my daughter realized that others have feelings and emotions, and she learned to respect those feelings and emotions.

Consider What Others Think

I admit that sometimes, I wish I could read minds! Because that will never happen, I encourage my girls to play checkers and chess. These two strategy games challenge our kids to think like their opponent, understand their viewpoint, and become more empathetic to how others think.

Learn a Vocabulary for Feelings

By the time they turn two, most kids use 50 words regularly. They don't yet know words to describe all of the emotions they and others experience, though. That's where play comes in. Play "Simon Says" and ask your kids to show you their happy, angry, and sad faces, talk about what two dolls may feel as they get dressed for a party, and discuss what taking turns feels like during family game night. With these play activities, we equip our kids with the words they need to describe feelings.

Respect Unique Play Choices

One of my daughters prefers to play with trucks, and the other loves dolls. I encourage them both to disregard gender norms and respect the choices others make during play. When kids feel accepted and learn to respect and encourage their peers, they develop and show empathy to others who may make different choices on the playground and in life.

Achieve Common Goals

Some days, my girls fight like cats and dogs, usually because they focus on all of the ways they're different. But when they work together to complete a puzzle, build a blanket fort, or create a musical show for their grandparents, they focus on each other's strengths and talents. Let's provide opportunities for our kids to build block creations, make art, and play other games and activities that encourage them to focus on their similarities and appreciate others as they work together to achieve a common goal.

Expand Their Worldview

A boy in my daughter's class has autism, and he sometimes stims. She didn't really understand him until we read a few children's books that describe autism. Now, she understands him better and plays with him every day. I often use books and stories to expand our kids' worldview and improve their understanding of the people and animals around them.

Recognize Facial Expressions and Body Language

A person's facial expressions and body language often demonstrate how they feel or what they're thinking, but kids don't always identify these signs. My girls and I often make faces in front of a mirror. I call out an emotion like joy, anger, or excitement, and they show a matching face and body language. As they mature, I've added more complicated emotions like shock, anxiety, or discouragement so they can recognize and understand the full range of what others may feel.

I love watching my girls show empathy to their peers, adults, and animals. Through play, we help our kids develop compassion and understanding for others. What additional play activities do you recommend as we help our kids learn empathy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

10 Benefits of Puzzles for Early Child Development

Photo by Abigail Batchelder (Flickr)

In our playroom, we have a table set up just for puzzles. My girls both enjoy complicated jigsaw puzzles now, and I attribute their passion to all of the puzzles they put together as toddlers. Those simple puzzles featured shapes, knobs, or interlocking pieces that were the perfect size for my girls' toddler hands. In addition to providing hours of fun, those puzzles aided my girls' early development and provided 10 benefits.

Develop Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements kids make when they use their arms and legs. With these skills, our kids roll over, crawl, walk, and run. Completing stacking puzzles and manipulating large puzzle pieces improve a child's gross motor skills.

Hone Fine Motor Skills

When kids learn to hold a spoon, fasten buttons, or pick up objects from the floor, they use fine motor skills. These skills require small, precise movements our kids hone as they fiddle with puzzle pieces and put those pieces into their assigned spots.

Establish Cognitive Skills

The brain uses cognitive skills to think, learn, remember, read, pay attention, and solve problems. Let your kids play with puzzles and they will establish these essential skills. With puzzles, they process information, learn about cause and effect, evaluate and organize ideas, apply knowledge, and discover how ideas relate.

Expand Memory

Kids need both short-term, working memory and long-term, semantic memory to remember what happened moments ago and create a basis of their identity. Puzzles are one tool I used to improve my girls' memories. As they remember which pieces they've tried in certain slots and which piece worked last time, they develop working and semantic memory to aid them in all areas of life.

Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

When kids put puzzles together, they use their mind and logic, think critically, and solve problems. Plus, as they look at a piece and guess where it might go, they ask questions, narrow down their options, and eventually make a decision. This same process helps them solve problems they face in real life, such as what to wear on a snowy day or which book to read.

Teach Shape Recognition

My older daughter's first puzzle featured shapes. I'm glad she spent hours learning the difference between circles, triangles, and rectangles. Not only do we see shapes all around us, but our kids use shapes in their math, reading, science, and other academic classes.

Improve Hand-Eye Coordination

To brush their teeth, tie their shoes, and color with crayons, kids use hand-eye coordination. They develop this skill as they turn, flip, place, and remove puzzle pieces. Their eyes see the piece, their hands feel it, and their brain tells their hands where it belongs.

Evolve Goal-Setting and Achievement Skills

When school starts each year, I ask my girls to list the activities, grades, and achievements they wish to enjoy, earn, or gain that year. This discussion prompts them to set goals and work hard to achieve their dreams, and I taught them this skill through puzzles. Kids know they want to finish a puzzle, but first they have to sort the pieces, check the board, and then assemble the puzzle one piece at a time. That's how goal-setting and achievement work, and our kids learn this skill through puzzles.

Encourage Patience, Persistence, and Determination

As a toddler, my younger daughter always tried to complete jigsaw puzzles that were too advanced for her. Sometimes, she grew frustrated, but the patience, persistence, and determination she developed help her succeed in school, with friends, and on the sports field.

Promote World Awareness

One of my older daughter's favorite puzzles included a dozen farm animals. She would make animal noises as she played with each piece, and that puzzle prepared her for her second birthday party at a farmyard petting zoo. Your kids will explore the world, too, as they play with animal, geography, alphabet, and space puzzles.

Thanks to puzzles, our kids have fun and receive 10 important benefits that aid their development. In what ways have puzzles helped your child?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Cultivate Budgeting Skills in Children Early On

Photo by Carissa Rogers (Flickr)

A University of Cambridge study found that kids know how money works and form the basis of their future money habits by age seven. I find this fact fascinating. While I did know that kids must learn about money and budgeting, I didn't realize that we can and should start teaching them when they're young. As parents, caregivers, or teachers, these six tips can help us cultivate budgeting skills in our young kids.

Identify the Purpose of Money

We found a few pretend money bills and coins last week as we cleaned out the toy box. My girls spent hours playing with this money when they were little as they "purchased" toys from each other and learned the names of the coins and how many coins make up a dollar. More importantly, they learned that we use money to buy stuff, a fact that forms the foundation for all of their financial transactions, habits, and values.

Discuss How Much Stuff Costs

Kids sometimes think that food, clothing, and housing are free, but it's important for them to understand that everything around them costs money and that we have to work to make money. From the time my girls were little, I've tried to explain how many hours of work it takes for me to pay for things like their swim lessons, electricity, and ice cream cones. Now that they're older, they help me compare prices of different cereal brands at the grocery store and browse different stores online to find the best deal on their favorite jeans. They understand that certain items cost more than others, which equips them to use their money more wisely.

Explain the Importance of Savings and Show How Money Accumulates

Of course it's easier to spend money than save it, but I want my girls to spend less than they earn and create emergency funds, education accounts, and retirement accounts. To establish their savings habits early, we started a vacation fund. They drop spare change into a clear jar on our kitchen counter and watch their savings accumulate over time. Older kids can learn to save as they make their own deposits into a savings account and keep a ledger. Watching savings grow encourages kids to prioritize saving money instead of spending everything they get.

Distinguish Between Needs and Wants

Every time my younger daughter sees a toy commercial on TV, she asks me to buy her that toy. I know, though, that she doesn't need that particular toy right now. I help her distinguish the difference between needs and wants with a few questions:

  • Do you really need this toy right now?
  • How is it different than the other toys in your playroom?
  • Which two toys in your playroom will you donate to make room for this one?
  • Can we add it to your birthday wish list?
  • What else could we use that money to buy?

Distinguishing the difference between a need and a want is challenging, but we can start early as we help our kids learn this valuable budgeting skill.

Delay Gratification

In my home, we wait 48 hours before making purchases that exceed $25. Waiting gives us time to decide if we really need the item and research better prices online. Understanding the value of delayed gratification also improves a child's school performance and can lead to higher income later in life. Waiting in line for their favorite playground fixture, eating dessert after a healthy dinner, and saving for something they really want instead of buying with credit are all ways we teach our kids this valuable budgeting skill and help them become wise consumers.

Understand Invisible Money

Kids certainly need to understand how cash works, but most of my transactions involve credit or online transactions. Even though no cash changes hands, our kids need to understand how invisible money works. That's why I gave my girls a prepaid card that we load with their allowance each month. They decide what they want to buy and know that once the money's spent, they won't get more. They've learned the value of making a list, comparing prices, and choosing purchases carefully as they work with invisible money.

Budgeting skills help our kids spend money wisely now and into the future. What other strategies and tips have you used to teach kids budgeting skills?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, December 4, 2017

World Hello Day: How Play Can Help Children Overcome Shyness and Build Confidence

Photo by Maessive (Flickr)

At the park this week, we met a family who recently moved into our neighborhood. My younger daughter immediately introduced herself and started playing with the kids, but my older daughter stayed to herself. I was a shy kid, too, and I understand how hard it can be to interact with people you don't know very well. That's one reason why I was excited to celebrate World Hello Day with my girls. On World Hello Day and every day, you can play with kids and help them to build confidence in seven key ways.

Talk to People

Talking to other kids can be excruciating for shy kids. I roleplay social scenarios and conversations as I help my girls learn how to talk to others. We also read social skills books and stories about friendship as I show my girls how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, and be confident while they interact with other kids and adults.

Become Friendlier

I'm amazed almost every day at how a friendly smile and kind word can open professional and personal doors of opportunity. Our kids can learn this essential life skill as they play. Playing games, coloring together, and sharing playground toys with other kids teaches them to share, show kindness, and cooperate. In addition to playing during recess, you can also host one-on-one play dates and help your kids become friendlier human beings.

Reduce Anxiety

Shy kids don't all struggle with anxiety, but this challenge can inhibit our kids' confidence. Playing with other kids and learning new games or trying new activities helps kids can overcome their anxiety. They realize that they can learn and master new skills, and they gain courage to try new activities in the future.

Embrace Change

It's normal for kids to like routine. I know my older daughter in particular feels more secure when things stay the same. However, shy kids can stay stuck in a routine that prevents them from engaging in new activities. Play encourages kids to try new games, introduce themselves to other kids, and embrace change. They can then use these skills to cope better with changes in daily life.

Develop Empathy

I often use roleplaying and pretend or dramatic play to help my girls understand what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. With empathy, kids can understand what others think and feel, and it encourages them to stretch out of their comfort zone and talk to others. After all, we're all humans.

Learn Teamwork

Both of my girls have played team sports. While they have fun, they also learn to communicate better with others, overcome shyness, and develop confidence in their abilities.

Resolve Conflict

One of my daughters hates conflict. She would rather hide in her bedroom than confront an interpersonal challenge. Conflict is part of life, though, so I encourage her to play board and group games. While playing, she learns to express her opinion and compromise in a fun environment, and she gains confidence to use these skills in other areas of life, too.

Through play, shy kids can gain confidence. How do you help your shy kids gain the confidence they need for success in life?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

7 Reasons Why Boredom is Beneficial for Children

Photo by Shinichi Sugiyama (Flickr)

When my girls tell me that they're bored, I smile. I know they want me to entertain them or give them an electronic device, but I usually send them off to play with no direction or assistance. Why don't I solve their boredom? I believe boredom serves an important role in child development and gives kids seven benefits.

Learn to Entertain Themselves

While I love to play with my kids, I also want them to be comfortable, confident, and capable of entertaining themselves. This skill teaches them how to make decisions for themselves. It also develops their self-reliance and shows them that they can find happiness alone, which can help them say no to peer pressure and feel comfortable in a variety of circumstances.

Become More Independent

One of my parenting goals is raising strong, confident, and empowered young women who are prepared to take on the world. As my girls decide what to do during their free time and engage in solo activities they enjoy, they become more confident and independent.

Nurture Creativity and Imagination

Give kids plenty of unstructured time and they can explore, build, and create without feeling rushed. This gift of time opens creative doors in their minds that may otherwise remain locked. Our kids could invent a cure for cancer, end poverty, or become world leaders one day because they experienced boredom and had time to nurture creativity and imagination.

Discover New Passions

After one too many boring car rides, my older daughter decided to learn how to knit. I enjoy watching her discover and develop a new passion that sprang out of boredom. Our kids can use boredom as a springboard to stretch their wings, think outside the norm, and discover new interests and passions.

Work Through Emotions

Our kids can feel stress, anger, grief, or guilt, but they don't always have the ability to process or express these strong emotions and feelings. I've watched too many kids self-destruct because they hid their emotions and feelings behind an activity, screen, or distraction. Let's give our kids unstructured play time: As they relax and unwind, they may acknowledge, address, and work through the emotions and feelings they carry and become healthier and happier kids.

Improve Their Inner Lives

Time alone, without noise, distractions, or people, gives kids space to improve their inner lives. They hear themselves think, embrace their uniqueness, and discover deep truths about their beliefs, values, and interests. Of course, I love play dates and time with friends, but our kids must learn to appreciate solitude, too. It's essential for their sanity, self-esteem, and health.

Learn Gratitude

If your kids are like mine and have a playroom full of toys but still say they're bored, they may need a boredom break. Boredom forces kids to slow down, turn off the volume around them, and realize that they're surrounded by blessings. My girls become more grateful human beings every time they experience boredom.

As parents and caregivers, we often feel obligated to entertain our kids all of the time. I encourage you to help your kids embrace boredom, though. It gives them a lot of benefits and helps them become more well-rounded individuals. What other boredom benefits have you discovered?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 20, 2017

10 Tips and Activities for a Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving Day

Photo by JBLM MWR (Flickr)

Every Thanksgiving, I eagerly prepare a big feast and anticipate chatting, laughing, and eating with our extended family. People can consume up to 4,500 calories during this feast, though, and I don't like that statistic. This year, I rallied my family, and we decided to try out some tips and activities to make our Thanksgiving healthier and happier.

Enter a 5K

My family agreed to participate in our local turkey trot, a 5K race held on Thanksgiving morning. We're excited about the opportunity to exercise and enjoy quality family time together before our big celebration.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

I'm a big breakfast fan because starting the day with a healthy meal can curb cravings and overeating later in the day. This year, I'll prepare an egg casserole and serve fresh fruit as we set the tone for a healthy holiday celebration.

Exercise During Parade Commercials

The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an important tradition in our family. Personally, I love the balloons, performers, and music! While watching the parade this year, we'll also exercise during the commercials as we enjoy this tradition and stay active.

Take a Hike

Because I spend Thanksgiving Day cooking, baking, and entertaining, I usually skip my daily workout and then regret that decision the next day. We're planning to go on a short hike before dinner this year. The exercise will work off a few calories, and we'll get to enjoy family bonding and the great outdoors together.

Snack Smart

Because my family loves munching on snacks while we wait for the turkey to bake, we usually serve hot crab dip, crackers, and candy. These snacks are loaded with extra calories, though. Smart snack alternatives like fresh veggies, fruit, and single-serve bags of nuts will satisfy our hunger and decrease our overall caloric intake. Everyone wins!

Make Heart-Healthy Dishes

Our Thanksgiving meal includes dozen of delicious dishes, but I've got to admit that they're not all heart-healthy. We're changing the menu a bit this year and will prepare our favorite dishes with low-sodium broth, Greek yogurt, and whole grains. Plus, we'll serve mashed cauliflower and add kale to the stuffing. These heart-healthy changes are good for our waistlines and will taste great, too.

Eat Mindfully

I know Thanksgiving dinner only happens once a year, and I typically overindulge. This year, I'm challenging my family to eat mindfully and choose small portions, chew slowly, savor each bite, and stop eating when we start to feel full. Mindful eating is a great tool that prevents overeating and improves our health.

Choose Desserts Wisely

Our dessert table usually overflows with rich, sugar-laden goodies. Rather than fill a plate with desserts, I've already decided to choose small portions of one or two favorites. As I savor their flavor and texture, I'll indulge my sweet tooth without compromising my commitment to health and wellness.

Dance During Cleanup

While discussing ways to add healthy activities to our Thanksgiving festivities, my girls suggested a dance party. They've already created a playlist and anticipate dancing with their grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins as we clear the table, wash dishes, and sweep the floor after our meal.

Play Flag Football

If your family is like mine, you watch football on Thanksgiving. We're giving this tradition a twist this year and playing flag or touch football after dinner. I'm excited to get my family off of the sofa and have fun playing together!

Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays because I love spending time with family around our bountiful dinner table. I also want to make the holiday healthy and happy, though, which is why I'll try out these tips and activities during our upcoming celebration. What other healthy tips and fun activities do you recommend?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, November 13, 2017

9 Tips For Keeping Your Child Safe On the Internet

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro (Flickr)

October 29 is Internet Day, but personally, my girls and I can't imagine life on any day without this technology that gives us access to information, friends, and the world. The Internet can open doors to scary and dangerous things, though, including identity theft, predators, pornography, and fake news. Consider these nine tips as we teach our kids to stay safe and be responsible while using the Internet.

Place Devices in a Common Area

My older daughter often asks for a computer in her bedroom, but I insist that it remains in a common area. This way, I can answer questions, talk about information, and successfully guide my kids as they use the Internet.

Know What They're Looking at

Now that my girls are a bit older, I don't stand over their shoulders as they go online. I do, however, frequently check their devices' browsing histories and monitor their social media and email accounts. With this information, I can initiate conversations about why they visit certain sites and ways they can protect themselves.

Teach Them to Protect Personal Information

An identity thief or sexual predator can use your child's name or photo to find them in real life. I often emphasize that my girls cannot publicly share personal information online, including their name, phone number, address, email, passwords, school, or photos. Also, they may only communicate online with people they know.

Block Explicit Material

While researching the history of her favorite toys for a school project, my daughter typed "legs" instead of "Legos." The results? Several porn sites popped up. That one misspelling prompted me to turn on the computer's parental controls, use Google SafeSearch, and check out the blocking options provided by CyberPatrol and other security sites.

Respond Properly to Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is defined as threatening behavior that occurs online and can include intimidation, name-calling, and body-shaming. I tell my girls not to respond to any cyberbullying messages and to report any bullying incidents to me.

Recognize Unsafe Websites

Unsafe websites can lead your kids to harmful content or install spyware, malware, or viruses on their device. In general, websites that end in .edu, .org, or .gov are the most reputable and safest. Check the color of the address bar, too, since it can turn yellow or red in some browsers if the site is unsafe. Consider bookmarking your children's favorite sites to promote safe browsing.

Learn to Spot Fake News

At dinner the other night, my younger daughter shared that the queen of England had died. She saw the story online and thought it was true. Our conversation opened the door to a discussion about how to spot fake news, and I reminded my girls to ask themselves a few questions as they evaluate what they read online.

  • Are other news sites reporting the same story?
  • Does it link to real news or reputable websites?
  • Is the news current?
  • Is the source itself reputable?
  • Is the writing mostly error-free?
  • Is the article satirical, a joke, or an opinion?

Invite Conversations About Internet Use

My girls know they can talk to me about anything, including their internet usage. If they ever feel uncomfortable online, see a friend being bullied, or wonder about the safety of certain websites, they know I will listen and not immediately overreact or suspend their online privileges.

Sign an Internet Usage Contract

An Internet usage contract gives your kids another layer of protection and shows them how to use the Internet responsibly. It includes details like how much time your kids can spend online, what sites they can use, and consequences for breaking the rules.

The Internet offers our kids nearly limitless access to information. Let's use these nine tips as we teach our kids how to be responsible online and use the Internet safely. In what other ways can we teach online safety?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart