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Thursday, March 29, 2018

7 Ways to Help A Child Who is Overweight

Photo by USAG - Humphreys (Flickr)

Childhood obesity affects almost one in five kids and can cause a variety of physical and emotional problems. I talk to dozens of parents each week, and many of them express concern about their child's weight but don't know how to help. As parents, we can implement seven strategies as we address our children's weight challenges and prevent obesity.

Know the Dangers of Child Obesity

Before we can help our kids get healthy, we need to know the dangers of childhood obesity. Kids who are overweight may develop health problems like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, joint problems, breathing problems, and depression, and overweight kids may also experience bullying and low self-esteem. After we understand these dangers, we're better equipped to encourage our kids to maintain a healthy weight.

Be a Good Role Model

Kids often model what they see, so we parents must practice healthy habits. We must choose healthy foods, stay active, and develop a healthy perspective on our own weight as we model healthy behavior.

Limit Screen Time

The average kid spends two hours a day looking at a screen. I'm all for occasional screen time, but let's encourage our kids to get offline, stand up, and stay moving. Active hobbies, sports, and games help our kids fight obesity and stay healthy.

Promote Good Sleep Hygiene

While there are no definitive studies that prove that a lack of sleep causes obesity in kids, there may be a connection between sleep hygiene and weight gain. Sleep reduces stress, increases our ability to make healthy choices, and gives us energy to stay active. Let's help our kids get enough sleep and establish a healthy lifestyle when we promote good sleep hygiene habits.

  • Relax with a warm bath, meditation, or story time before bed.
  • Cut screen time at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Hang blackout curtains and turn down the thermostat in the bedroom.
  • Maintain the same sleep schedule every day.

Prepare Healthy Meals Together

The foods our kids eat can affect their weight. To fight obesity, I limit sweets in the house and provide fresh fruits and veggies for snacks. My girls also help me shop for groceries and prep meals. As we perform these tasks together, we often can talk about how healthy food choices fuel our bodies, the importance of limiting portions, and ways we can continue making healthy food choices every day.

Talk About Weight

We owe it to our kids to discuss challenging issues, including weight, but these conversations can be difficult. I found several tips that can help parents talk to kids about weight in an honest, non-confrontational way.

  • Ask kids how they feel about their weight instead of telling them they're fat.
  • Discuss ways your kids want to get healthier.
  • Talk about weight in everyday conversations rather than having one big talk.
  • Promote health rather than weight.
  • Avoid judging other people based on their appearance.

Involve the Pros

Sometimes, we need additional help, and that's when we can reach out to professionals our kids trust. A pediatrician, dietitian, therapist, or sports coach can chat with our kids about their weight, healthy habits, and feelings. This conversation can prompt kids to make positive lifestyle changes.

We owe it to our kids to equip them with the tools they need to maintain a healthy weight, so try out these seven strategies to help your overweight child. What other strategies do you use to prompt your kids to get and stay healthy?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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

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