Filed under: Children
Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.
Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:
5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.
2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.
1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.
0 – Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!
For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!
The condition known as “dental caries” is the most common and chronic childhood illness, but you can help your child avoid it. Bacteria that build up on your children’s teeth and produce acid can destroy enamel and dentin, leading to decay, infection, and cavities. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to prevent this.
- If your young child uses bottles, make sure you put your child to sleep without a bottle.
- Avoid continual use of a bottle or sippy cup, especially with fluids other than water.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks, and the latter should include only 100% juice.
- Allow less than 4–6 oz. of 100% fruit juice per day.
- Start brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as their teeth are visible.
- Use no more than a pea size dot of fluoride toothpaste for children 3 and up and a dab the size of a grain of rice for younger children.
- Take your child to a dentist before the age of one.
- Parents and caregivers can spread bacteria to babies and children accidentally, so take care of your own teeth! And it’s a good idea not to put food or other items into your child’s mouth after they’ve been in your mouth, especially if you have a history of cavities.
If you use these simple tips, you can strengthen your child’s teeth throughout childhood. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics article “Brushing up on oral health: never too early to start.”
Helping your kids limit their screen time can be difficult, but it could be the key to keeping your kids healthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the total amount of entertainment screen time to only 1–2 hours a day, with no screen time for kids under the age of two. Yet the average 8-year-old spends 8 hours a day in front of a screen, and teenagers can even exceed 11 hours a day. That’s a lot of sitting around! The more time kids sit in front of a screen, the less time they spend being active, and the more likely they are to become overweight.
Here are some tips to help reduce screen time and, in turn, promote fitness:
- Keep the TV and Internet-enabled devices out of bedrooms.
- Stay informed: Monitor what media your kids are using, such as websites or social media applications.
- Watch movies and shows with your children. As a bonus you can use the entertainment as a way of discussing important family values and finding out what they think about certain scenarios.
- Make a family home-use plan for your media. For example, set a mealtime and bedtime curfew for cell phones and other devices. Establish some reasonable but firm rules.
- Be a role model. Encourage and join your kids in different outdoor activities.
Children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. This can lead to lower academic performance once school begins again. Poor nutrition also makes kids more prone to illness and other health issues.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap by providing summer meals for children up to age 18. What’s more, it’s free, and children don’t have to enroll to be eligible. They just have to show up and enjoy a healthy meal. (In fact, more than one meal may be available.)
Summer meal sites are located in many communities across the country at places such as schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. To find a summer meal site in your community, check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.
Want to see your children equipped to persevere in the face of challenges? To instill “grit” in your kids, the trick is challenging with care, not just pushing harder.
Here are some tips to help your children develop grit:
- Praise your children for working hard and using their talents, not for already having talent. Calling them “gifted” or “talented” doesn’t help if these labels become an excuse not to work hard.
- Reward commitment by giving your children more chances to develop their interests. For example, if your child is always painting, try to encourage it by sending him or her to art camp.
- Big goals usually require a lot of sustained effort for a child—more like a marathon than a sprint. Encourage persistence with words such as “Hang in there!” or “You can do it!” But remember that children have a much shorter attention span than adults.
- Teach your children that failures and setbacks are an essential part of learning. Remind them that excellence comes from both triumphs and mistakes.
- Give your children some space to become independent, so they can be self-reliant and self-motivated and learn from their own choices.
Grit doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time. But remember that children are children and need lots of free time and play time to develop optimally. For more insight into specific parenting styles, check out HPRC’s article about how to be a warm leader, not a drill sergeant.
Instead of being a “perfect” parent, strive to be “good enough.” As a parent, you want the best for your children. At a minimum, you know you shouldn’t neglect or abuse your children. Ideally you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for their safe development. But some parents overdo their involvement.
The problem with working too hard to meet your child’s every need is that your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure out solutions for themselves.
Read HPRC’s “Need to update your parenting style?” to learn more ways to be “good enough.”
Most military children will at some point experience stress related to being part of a military family. Fortunately, there are numerous online resources to help military kids and their parents learn important coping skills, especially for when a parent returns from a deployment. A parent can load apps such as the following on their phone and then hand it to their child:
- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (for Apple and Android) teaches children coping skills through breathing and more,
- The Big Moving Adventure (for Apple and Android) teaches children about moving (how to pack up their toys, say goodbye to friends, etc.).
- Focus on the Go (for Apple and Android) teaches children how to manage their feelings in helpful ways.
Military Kids Connect (MKC) is a Department of Defense program aimed at improving quality of life for military children of various ages. The site helps parents, caregivers, children, and the child’s peer community to talk about issues and learn coping skills through a variety of apps (Apple, Android, and Kindle) and online tools.
HPRC’s Family Resilience “Tools, Apps, & Videos” section includes links to more programs (such as FOCUS World and Sesame Street) and apps. But don’t forget: As with any online activities, monitor your children and be vigilant against cyber threats.
Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!
Roughly one in five teens is bullied at some point. It often involves hitting, pushing, or teasing, but gossip (both verbal and text) and being excluded are also forms of bullying.
The reasons for teen aggression are complex, but some school and home factors raise the chance of a teen being aggressive: rejection by peers, situations where aggression is socially acceptable, marital conflict and violence at home, feeling rejected by a parent, physical punishment by a parent, and/or parents who let their teens get away with any kind of behavior.
Since teens are still learning how to manage their emotions, aggressive behavior is a clue that they need more skills in this arena. Aggressive teens also are more likely to have problems at school that can follow them to adulthood, so it’s important to find solutions early. And of course, the victims of bullying suffer too.
Parents, schools, and communities can help stop aggressive behavior. Parents can reduce their teens’ exposure to aggression at home by controlling their own anger and outside the home by knowing where their teens are, who they’re with, and setting clear expectations for how to act when parents aren’t around. Teachers can learn to recognize aggression, communicate that it is unacceptable, and seek help/intervene. Schools can monitor areas where aggression is most likely to occur, such as playgrounds, restrooms, and hallways.
Stopbullying.gov (a website developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers lots of ideas for how to respond to bullying: Respond quickly and immediately to bullying behavior, find out what happened, and support the kids involved (both the bullies and those being bullied). In essence, don’t be a bystander. To learn more, visit this interactive page. The bottom line is that bullying is not acceptable, but it won’t stop unless you do something about it.
As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).
During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.
Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.
Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:
- Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
- Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
- Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
- Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
- Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.
If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.