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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

9 Ways to Raise a Happy, Independent Child

Photo by Paul L Dineen (Flickr)

It seems like a minute ago when my girls needed me for everything. Now, they're fairly independent. I'm glad for that because I want them to be successful adults. Your kids can also become happy and independent now and in the future when you implement these nine tips.

Encourage Independent Choices

I know it's scary to give our kids control over their own lives, but they're smart. And anyway, what's the big deal if they wear mismatched socks or want to play soccer and not basketball? By encouraging our kids to make their own independent choices in small areas while we can still guide them, we equip them with the decision-making skills they need to make bigger choices as they get older.

Allow Consequences

Most parents don't enjoy watching their children suffer consequences. I know it's hard for me when one of my girls misses a play date because she goofed around instead of doing homework. Consequences are part of life, though. By allowing our kids to experience the good and bad consequences of their decisions, we help them make better decisions.

Allow Reasonably Risky Play

I certainly don't advocate for letting kids play in the street or skateboard without a helmet. However, reasonably risky play does improve independence and development. Challenges build a child's self-esteem and empower them since they know that you trust them enough to explore.

Master One Independent Task at a Time

I remember teaching my girls to brush their teeth. I didn't lead them to the bathroom and tell them to have at it. I first taught them to put the toothpaste on the brush by themselves. Once they perfected that task, they learned to brush by themselves. The same idea applies to teaching independence. Take baby steps and allow your kids to master one independent task at a time so that their confidence and desire for even more independence grows.

Praise Independent Efforts

Kids won't get every task right the first time they try it, and that's OK. Praise your child for at least trying to put their shoes on even if they're on the wrong feet. By resisting the temptation to criticize or nitpick, you encourage your kids to keep trying.

Encourage Debates

I have to confess that I don't like when my kids argue with me. Debate can be healthy, though, as we teach our kids to be independent and critical thinkers. That's why I allow my kids to express their opinions. They know that they're free to share different opinions on rules, plans, and other family life details. As the parent, I get the final say, but I encourage debate along the way.

Nurture Their Unique Talents

Every child has unique talents, abilities, and gifts. We encourage our kids to be happy and independent when we nurture their talents and uniqueness.

Let Them Make Their Own Friends

When my girls were little, I set up play dates and essentially chose their friends. That all changed when they started school. I've got to admit that I don't always like their friendship choices, but I can't micromanage. I do keep the lines of communication open, though, and try to create an open home where everyone's invited, and I'm available when my girls need to talk about friendship stuff.

Encourage Exploration

I kept my girls on a short leash when they were young. Now that they're older, they have more freedom to explore the world, their likes and dislikes, and their interests. They gain independence, grow their competence, and become more secure because I encourage them to explore.

Kids need to learn independence as they grow to become happy and successful adults. These nine tips help me raise happy, independent girls. What tips do you use to raise independent kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, February 22, 2016

9 Ways to Fight Childhood Obesity Starting at Home

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr)

Almost one in three kids is obese. It's an epidemic that breaks my heart because I'm passionate about helping kids to be healthy. We all can do our part when we use these nine methods at home to fight obesity.

1. Start Early

Kids are more likely to develop healthy habits and tastes when they start early, so feed your babies wholesome foods. If your kids are older, it's not too late. I encourage you to implement healthy habits today!

2. Set a Positive Example

I know it's tempting to send your kids outside for exercise while you watch TV, and I used to sneak a few chips but insist that my kids eat carrots. Our children are more likely to embrace healthy habits if they see us modeling a healthy lifestyle, too. Get started when you set small but progressive goals as an entire family and measure progress every week.

3. Make Small Changes

Like any lifestyle change, you improve your chances for success if you start small. Choose to play basketball instead of watch TV after dinner, replace dessert with fruit at least once a week, and switch out white bread for a whole-grain variety. As these small changes become routine, add more healthy habits to your daily life.

4. Encourage Playtime and Exercise

An active lifestyle provides many benefits, such as reducing obesity, preventing diseases, increasing self-esteem, and lowering anxiety and stress. My girls know that we're going to walk, jog, and bike as often as possible. You, too, can jump rope during play time, walk to the park every day, or play active video games with your kids as you encourage playtime and exercise.

5. Drink Water

If your kids drink soda, they're filling up on empty and sugary calories. I challenge you to help your kids drink more water. Staying hydrated helps your kids stay fit and trim.

6. Increase Fruit and Veggie Intake

Do your kids grab sugary snacks when they're hungry? I'd rather see my girls eat fruits and veggies instead, so I stock a basket with fresh fruit on the counter, store small bags of veggies front and center in the fridge, and serve a large salad for dinner. Making healthy options more visible encourages my entire family to eat more fruits and veggies.

7. Make Favorite Dishes Healthier

I know my girls would protest if I suddenly started making their favorite lasagna with zucchini instead of pasta. But I can make healthy substitutions that yield results and don't affect the taste or quality of their favorite foods. I've decided to use low-fat milk and cheese in our mac and cheese, make meatless meals at least once a week, and stock frozen fruit pops instead of ice cream in the freezer. Every month, I add more substitutions as I make our favorite dishes healthier.

8. Eat Less

It's a simple goal, but eating less really does work to fight obesity. I serve reasonable portions, use small plates, and set snack and meal times to limit grazing. These tips all help my kids eat less.

9. Be Consistent

I know it's hard to make long-term dietary and activity changes. The effort is worth it, though, especially when you're consistent. I encourage you to commit to a healthy lifestyle for at least one month. You'll see improvements and be encouraged to make even more healthy changes as you embrace a healthy lifestyle.

Are you ready to reduce obesity? Start at home with these nine tips. I can't wait to hear what changes you make and the results you see!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

9 Tips for More Playful Parenting

Photo by Dana (Flickr)

Play comes naturally to our kids and is necessary for their development, but as parents, it's too easy to be stressed, rushed, and tired. Last month, as I rushed bedtime, my girls sweetly asked, "Mom, why don't you ever play anymore?" I stopped what I was doing and thought about it. I have made and want to make a conscious effort to play more each day, and here are nine steps I implemented that have helped me become a more playful parent.

1. Start the Day with Play

Mornings in our house usually dictate how the rest of our day goes. In addition to adding a few calming morning routines to our schedule, I spend a few minutes playing. Sometimes, we color, build blocks, or dance. This short time connecting fills their love tank and makes getting out the door in the morning - and the rest of our day - smoother, albeit a little slower.

2. Break Up the Routine

Sometimes, we need spontaneity. That's why I bookmarked a few local community websites and mom's groups. When I see fun activities and events, like craft day at the library, park play groups, and special museum exhibits, I reserve our spots.

3. Shake it Out

When my girls can't sit still or start to feel grouchy, I turn on a catchy tune and announce, "Time to shake it out!" They know it's time to stand up and wiggle out any of their antsyness! We usually end up laughing as we wiggle, and that time of play makes all the bad energy disappear.

4. Turn Chores into Play Time

My girls often get cranky when I tell them it's time to clean up the playroom or tackle their laundry. We all hate the fussing, so now we sometimes play instead. We pretend the trash cans are hungry monsters, or we race to pick up the toys in five minutes. By turning chore time into play time, we have fun and accomplish a boring task.

5. Be Silly

Occasionally, my angels decide to fight and bicker. I used to yell, especially when I was tired or stressed, but that reaction only made the situation worse. Now, I use play as a tension diffuser, and it works! We play keep away with a toy my girls are fighting over or go outside for a game of tag. We've even been known to play tug of war, make silly faces at each other, or wrestle as we release tension and restore peace and joy to our attitudes and home.

6. Host a Picnic

Meal times can sometimes be difficult at my house, especially if my girls are feeling picky or tired. Picnics on the play room floor or in the yard work wonders. Whether we eat picnic foods or a traditional dinner, the meal instantly tastes better as we sit on an old blanket. The change of scenery helps us all relax as we chat and eat.

7. Play Active Video Games

When my girls earn video game time, I used to see that hour as a chance to catch up on housework, laundry, or paperwork. Instead, I jump in and join them more often. Playing active video games together burns off extra energy and helps us bond while we dance, bowl, or race. It also allows me to keep better track of the game content and how long they're playing.

8. Indulge in Fantasy

Pretend play grows my girls' creativity and is a fun way to get their attention or work through frustration. I like talking in an accent or using different voices as I mediate arguments or explain why we aren't eating ice cream for dinner. I also find that using a sports narrator's voice to describe the scenery during our carpool or pretending that the grocery store is a dragon's lair can make daily routines more enjoyable for all of us.

9. Schedule Play Time Each Day

It sounds clinical, but the best way for me to make sure I play daily is to schedule it! On our large family calendar in the kitchen, I wrote a different game on every day this week. Whether we jump rope, play cards, or shoot hoops together, my girls and I are committed to play and connect daily!

Becoming a more playful parent is challenging. It's easy to get stuck in a rut with stress, busyness, and tiredness, but my kids need me to play. I need to relax and unwind more often, too. These nine tips help me play more. Which ones will you try today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, February 15, 2016

Growing Giggles: 7 Benefits of Play for Infants

Photo by Geoff Livingston (Flickr)

Don't you love playing with cute, giggly babies? They're entertained by the simplest things, like bubbles or songs, and they have so much curiosity about everything. I recently discovered that babies gain seven unique benefits when they play. Remember these benefits the next time you play games with an infant.

Play Builds Communication Skills

Even though they don't say words until around six months of age, babies do communicate with coos and by crying, giggling, squealing, moving their arms and legs, and making eye contact. Play also develops your baby's verbal and nonverbal communication skills. As you read stories, shake rattles together, and cuddle stuffed animals together, you build your baby's communication skills.

Play Reduces Stress

Did you know that babies feel stress? As infants, my girls always got fussy in new environments or when I left them alone with a sitter. In these situations, a little song or a favorite toy distracted them. Firm touch, sensory objects like balls, and rocking also helps babies relax and reduce stress.

Play Boosts Attention Span and Memory

We all know that babies get distracted easily. That's why I love play. It builds attention spans and helps infants develop essential concentration skills. When your babies become fascinated with a moving mobile or bring you the same book to read over and over, let them. This repetition lays the foundation for them to concentrate and memorize later in life at school and work.

Play Aids Physical Development

When my girls were babies, they had trouble grasping toys. I spent many hours bending over to pick up items they dropped! Playing with toys, though, helps our kiddos develop gross and fine motor skills, improve their coordination, and build muscle strength. As they grasp shapes, jump in a bouncy activity center, and interact with a play gym, babies discover and develop essential physical abilities.

Play Lays the Groundwork for Working Through Emotions

Infants don't understand that they're angry, sad, or lonely. In fact, it sometimes takes a lifetime for people to learn how to handle emotions appropriately. However, infant playtime lays the groundwork for kids to learn how to identify and work through their emotions. Role-playing games, stories, and conversations build emotional awareness. Parents and caregivers can also model appropriate emotional responses. When you empathize with a child's feelings, show your baby how to wait for a turn on the swing, and talk them through disappointment when their block wall falls, you lay the groundwork for your infant to work through their emotions.

Play Develops Impulse Control

I know it's unrealistic to expect an infant to have impulse control. We can encourage the development of this essential skill, though, during play time. When we create a predictable environment with play built into the day's schedule and respond with love to our baby's needs, we teach babies the basics of impulse control. We continue this training when we show babies that they can't steal another child's toy or they will lose any toys they throw. Learning that their actions affect others can begin the important work of developing impulse control.

Play Improves Social Development

I'm a big fan of developing friendships, taking turns, and displaying empathy. Kids aren't born with these social skills, though. They learn them as they play. Most babies are social, and they love being around other kids. Whether your baby plays peek-a-boo with an older sibling or sits beside another baby in a sensory kiddie pool, play time plants social development seeds that grow with your child.

My babies loved to play, and your babies probably do, too. While you enjoy their growing giggles, remember that infant play produces essential benefits. Are you ready to play and help your babies grow?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart