Filed under: Children
Everyone has feelings—and by the time people become adults, most have a vocabulary for talking about them. Children, however, often don’t yet have this skill and are more likely to act out how they feel. A great way to strengthen your family is to help your child(ren) learn how to talk about feelings in an age-appropriate way. The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program for enhancing family resilience has created a “Feeling Thermometer” that you can use with your child so he or she can show you where his/her feelings fall. This is a great way to understand what your child is feeling and to start talking about emotions such as anger when a child gets too “hot,” so he or she can learn how to control such feelings and make that anger temperature go down.
For more ideas to strengthen your family, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
Previously HPRC reported on how much physical activity healthy adults need. This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:
- Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes. Most days can include either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding), but at least three days a week it should include at least some vigorous-intensity exercise. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active as a family.
- Muscle-strengthening activities such as playing tug of war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least three times a week. For safety guidelines on strength training for children and teens, check out this article from HPRC.
- Bone-strengthening (impact) activities such running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities strengthen bones and promote healthy growth and also should be done at least three times a week.
For more ideas on moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activities, check out the table in Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents of the Physical Activity Guidelines. For more ideas on getting fit as a family check out Let’s Move, a comprehensive initiative by the First Lady. For military-specific resources, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
Energy drinks have been in the news lately, mostly due to media reporting on a group (doctors, researchers, scientists, and politicians) writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to express concern over the use of these drinks by adolescents. Much of the concern has to do with the amounts of caffeine in these drinks, among other issues. Energy drinks also may contain large amounts of other stimulants, including guarana, yohimbe, yerba mate, kola nut, methylsynephrine, Citrus aurantium (Bitter Orange), and Ma Huang (ephedra). Although listing the total amount of caffeine on the label would help, consumers should be aware that there are often other stimulants in energy drinks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has written several articles over the last year about the potential risks associated with the adolescent population using energy drinks. One very recent article outlines the harmful effects of energy drinks on adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and dehydration. The withdrawal effects after habitually consuming energy drinks is also an issue, as it can lead to headaches and attention problems. Also, the ingestion of energy drinks by adolescents who take prescription drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have eating disorders or diabetes is another topic of concern.
The amount of caffeine contained in energy drinks is not regulated, as the FDA does not regulate caffeine in foods or beverages, except that the maximum concentration for caffeine in cola beverages is 71 mg per 12 oz. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains about 100 mg of caffeine (or more), and the most popular caffeine-containing sodas contain around 30 to 55 mg in a 12 oz. can. Not knowing how much caffeine and other stimulants are contained in energy drinks is a potential health threat.
Furthermore, the caffeine and other stimulants contained in the energy drinks, when combined with alcohol, can mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, potentially leading to risky behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and doctors to talk to children about the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on the potential risks.
Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals need to focus on educating adolescents about potential problems associated with consuming these high-stimulant products. Companies are heavily marketing their products by featuring athletic superstars, which causes children and adolescents to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Generally speaking, adolescents don’t need energy drinks, and they should be made aware of the potential dangers. It’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”
Visit HPRC’s Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) to access resources on the informed use of dietary supplements.
Do you see physical education classes decreasing in your children’s schools compared to the PE you had when you were younger? Do you want to help your children be active and eat healthier, but you don’t know where to start? Tell your children’s school about the American Council on Exercise (ACE) program called Operation Fit Kids, which consists of two curricula for educators (free to download after completing a survey): one for 3rd to 5th graders and another for 6th to 8th graders. They provide seven lessons with lesson plans, worksheets, and activities a group can do to learn and practice being healthy. After all, practice makes perfect!
If you are interested in additional tips for promoting family fitness, check out HPRC’s Family domain for more ideas. And for even more exercises to try with your family, visit ACE’s online Exercise Library.
Hearing is usually one of those abilities we take for granted—until we lose it. Make sure your children know the importance of hearing, and help them by encouraging healthy hearing habits. Just like helping them make healthy food choices or exercise, you can help your kids learn healthy hearing habits. The Department of Defense has a Hearing Center of Excellence that does research and provides educational information on the importance of hearing for optimal performance. Last month they wrote a blog on nurturing healthy hearing habits in your children that offers the following three tips:
- Talk to children about the importance of protecting their hearing in their everyday lives. Awareness of noise pollution is the first step towards a lifetime of healthy hearing.
- Make it fun. HCE has links to online tools such as an interactive sound ruler, games, and videos. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a fun “Noise Meter.”)
- Make it a family affair; discuss how you deal with noise and demonstrate what you do to protect your own hearing, such as turning down the sound on video games and MP3 players. Your children will follow your example.
If you instill good hearing habits in your children now, they will be ready as adults to cope with the kinds of noise pollution that have been leading to hearing loss among Warfighters.
Do you know how much sleep you and your loved ones are getting—and supposed to be getting? Keep in mind the recommendations differ by age group. According to a report from Canadian Sport for Life on optimal sleep for athletic performance at all life stages:
- Children under the age of six need 13–16 hours of sleep daily, including longer nighttime sleep and fewer daytime naps as they get older.
- As girls reach the ages of 6–8 and boys reach 6–9, their sleep needs drop to 10–11 hours of sleep a night.
- Girls 8–11 and boys 9–12 need 9 ½ to 10 hours of sleep a night.
- Girls 11–15 and boys 12–16 need around nine hours of sleep a night.
- In addition to their nightly sleep, girls 6-15 and boys 6-16 need a 30-minute-plus nap between 2–4 pm every day.
For young children, meals—particularly breakfast—are an important part of establishing a reliable sleep routine, and as children age they should start developing a 15–30 minute routine before bedtime to get ready physically for sleep. This is also a great opportunity for some quality time between parents and children that you can all look forward to each night.
To make this goal easier, be sure your kids avoid computers and TVs (anything with electronic stimulation) for one to two hours before bedtime. Allow an hour to unwind before bed—try soothing music, reading, and dim lighting.
As children become teenagers, make sure they don’t start incurring a sleep debt by sleeping less than needed. Encourage them to keep regular sleep hours, get early morning light exposure, and carefully gauge their caffeine consumption close to bedtime.
The report mentioned above suggests using a sleep log (and provides a sample log) to get an idea of your and your child’s sleep patterns. Remember that the warrior athletes of tomorrow need to develop good sleep habits today!
Preventing obesity should begin at an early age, because children who are overweight often become obese as adults. And while many of us know that we need to eat right and exercise, there are also risk factors that we are born with that we can’t change. Now you can calculate your child’s risk of developing obesity with an online calculator.
The calculator was developed by a team of researchers who looked at a number of well-known biological and social risk factors for developing obesity. They were able to boil down their findings to six simple factors that provide a reasonably accurate probability of whether a child will develop obesity:
1) The body mass indexes (BMIs) of both parents. (HPRC has a link to a calculator you can use to calculate BMI.)
2) The number of people who live in the house.
3) What kind of work the child’s mother does.
4) Whether the mother smoked during her pregnancy.
5) The birth weight of the child (in kilograms). (To convert pounds [lb] to kilograms [kg], multiply pounds by 0.45359237.)
Living a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, but tools like this can help you determine whether your child is particularly at risk for becoming an obese adult, so that you can make important health changes early in life. For ideas to help your family be physically active and healthy, check out this HPRC Healthy Tip as well as the family physical fitness and family nutrition sections of HPRC’s website.
At some point or another, your child or teen might pick up those dumbbells you have lying around the house. They’ve seen you lift weights as part of your regular exercise routine and decided they want to get stronger too. But you might wonder if strength training is safe for your kids.
Lifting the size weights you use might be too much for kids and teens, but in general strength training (also referred to as resistance training) can be a safe and healthy way to improve muscular fitness for children and teens, starting as early as seven or eight years old, when their coordination skills have developed enough. The goal should be improving muscular fitness while having fun and learning effective training methods.
As a parent you need to make sure your kids are supervised and receiving age-appropriate and skilled instructions in order to reduce the risk of injury. With proper technique and safe practices, strength training is not dangerous for growing bodies. However, light weights, exercise bands, or your child’s own body weight should be used to build his or her strength. Currently, there are no specific guidelines for exactly how much lifting they should do. However, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) one to three sets of six to 15 repetitions, two to three times per week is considered reasonable.
Resistance training is not the same as bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting, which are associated with competition, high intensity, and maximum weights. The American Academy of Pediatrics and ACSM are opposed to children using these methods or the use of "one-rep-max" (a method sometimes used to assess strength) due to the increased risk for injury.
While a medical examination is not mandatory, it is recommended for children who want to begin a strength-training program. And remember that strength training is something you can do with your children. Family fitness is a great way to keep you and your child healthy and active while you spend quality time together.