What are Healthy Sleep Habits for Children?

Now that school has begun, it is important to ensure that our children are getting to bed at a decent time to have the rest they need.  Their performance and learning ability in school depends on it.  But, just how much sleep do our children need each night?

There is an excellent article online about our children’s sleep habits at healthychildren.org.  It may be surprising to you to find out that children from 3 to 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day and children from 6 to 12 years old need 9 to 12 hours of sleep a day. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours.

Some recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are:

1.    Have a daily family routine for sleeping.  Include nap times as well during the day.  Children will understand and be ready to go to sleep when there has been a regular routine established at night and bedtime is set. 

2.    Be sure to keep all sorts of electronic screens out of your children’s bedrooms at night as they have been known to cause sleep disruption.  In fact, it is recommended that all electronics be turned off at least 1 hour before bedtime.

3.    Prepare your children for going to sleep.  For example, you may want to incorporate a bedtime story just before tucking them into bed and turning off the light.  Children love being read to and I can’t think of a more perfect way for children to wind down and get ready for sleep than having a story read to them.

4.    Be sure to monitor your children’s sleep patterns.  Are they going to sleep easily? Are they having problems waking up in the middle of the night? If you have any concerns, speak with your family’s pediatrician about them.

To learn more, please visit the following website: CLICK HERE

Fighting Childhood Obesity One Bite at a Time

Healthy eating and exercise should be an important part of your children’s everyday lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents affected with obesity has tripled since the 1970s and it is now estimated that 1 in 5 school age children and young people between the ages of 6 to 19 are obese in the United States.  These are shocking statistics! 

Experts agree that obesity begins when there is excessive daily caloric intake in relation to daily caloric expenditure.  Poor food choices are at the root of this excessive intake, as usually choices involve fast food rather than healthy food.  For example, children love to eat pizza, but what type of pizza do they consume?  Typically, it is the pizza with double or triple extra cheese.  And, what about the types of drinks that are consumed with a meal?  Again, these are typically carbonated sodas with considerable sugar and calories. 

The key then is for a parent to introduce healthy food and drinks into their children’s diet.  Have food and snacks available that are nutritious and low in processed sugar.   Encourage them to drink more water as it is recommended that children drink 5 to 10 glasses of water a day, depending on their age.  As options for fast food or food and drink high in sugar and calories are diminished, your children will slowly be weaned from them and toward more healthy eating habits.  Please understand that this process will not be easy.  Sugar is an addiction and your children will be craving it.  However, offering them fruits with natural sugar as an alternative is very helpful.

In addition to changing what your children eat and drink, parents must encourage them to exercise.  Experts lament over the fact that children have become very inactive, opting to sit and play video games or watch tv for hours rather than go outside and play.   It is estimated that children now spend four hours a day watching tv. 

Instead of telling your children to exercise more, try joining them and encouraging them to exercise.  Take some time out of your day to exercise with them, if even for 15 minutes. Jog around the block, play a sport, or even join a dance class! The opportunities are endless and choosing an activity that your children will enjoy is the best way to ensure that they will keep up with it.

What our children eat every day fuels their bodies and ultimately their lives.  Choose to provide good, nutritious food and drinks for them to help them build lifelong good habits.

Finding the Balance between Your Children’s Activities and Their Well-being

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the importance of having your children participate in a variety of after-school activities and the benefits that doing so provide.  Today, I would like to extend a cautionary note that those activities should enhance their childhood experiences, not inhibit them.  Children who are overexposed to activities can suffer from headaches; feel tired, anxious or depressed; and suffer a drop in their grades.  Here are a few tips on how to have your children involved in extracurriculars, while still giving them the chance to be children:

  1. Time: According to most experts, children should not spend more than 10 to 20 hours a week participating in out of school activities. If they spend any more time than this, they will not have enough time to do their homework, adequately prepare for tests, and be with their families. Choosing activities that meet bi-weekly or monthly could be healthier options for children, rather than those that meet once or several times a week.
     
  2. Request: Before enrolling your children in an extracurricular activity, it is best to ask if they want to join in it. This way, it will be an activity that they want to do, not an activity that they are being forced to do. Also, try not to pressure your children to outdo themselves or anyone else in their respective activities. Never compare what they are doing or not doing with other children.
     
  3. Your schedule: Ask yourself whether you or your spouse have the time to drive them to and from each activity.  Adding too many activities can wreak havoc on your schedule too and cause a lot of stress. 

The balance between school, homework, play, and family time can be difficult.  The important issue is that you try to balance all four, with an emphasis on what works for the family unit as a whole.   No activity should take the place of spending quality time together as a family or put too much stress on family life.

Are Your Children Consuming Too Much Digital Media?

We have all seen it.  Parents are busy so they give their children some form of digital media to occupy their time while the parents get things done.  Often, it is a cell phone with games.  Other times, it is a laptop or other small device with games or a movie.  Have you ever stopped and thought about how much digital media your children consume each day and whether it is good for them?

In October, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics held a national  conference and discussed new health regulations for children for 2017.  One of the main topics was children and digital media.  The Academy had previously recommended limiting the amount of television viewing to children who are 2 years or older and no more than two hours a day.  However, since we have become saturated with all sorts of digital media, the Academy reviewed its recommendations and issued some new ones.

According to Dr. Jenny Radesky, “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep.”  The Academy stresses the fact that problems begin when digital media takes the place of what children need to be doing in the real world and can negatively affect their health.

Some of the new recommendations are:

1.    For children 18-24 months, do not allow them to use a screen except for video chatting.

2.    For children 2 to 5 years old, limit screen use to 1 hour of high quality media a day.

3.    For children 6 and older, parents should place consistent limits so that their children do not lose sleep and miss out on all the many fun things that children need to do. 

Next time, when you want to keep your children occupied, get them a good book to read.  They will learn new words and improve their comprehension skills.  Nothing can or should replace a good book!

To read more about the Academy’s recommendations, CLICK HERE.

Children Playing Video Games – The Pros & Cons

I’m certain that many parents purchased or friends and relatives purchased video games for their children or other young relatives as gifts this past Christmas.  As the mother of two sons, I know well the desires that children have to play video games, especially boys.   

Many parents ask – can playing too many video games really hurt my child?  According to developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile, the answer to that question is “Yes”.  He gives the following reasons why:

  • Kids who spend too much time at the computer are missing out on other activities fundamental to their physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Time spent in front of the computer or game console is time taken away from playing with friends, reading or doing a project with you, and other activities.
  • Kids usually play video games alone, and too much time spent alone can foster social isolation.
  • Children who watch more than ten hours of TV a week don't do as well in school as kids their age who watch less. When setting limits, it's important to consider the total amount of time your child spends in front of all electronic screens — TVs, computers, movie screens, etc.
  • Bad habits can become ingrained and are more difficult to change as children get older. (According to research, the average American 4th-grade boy spends 9.5 hours each week playing video and computer games, in addition to other screen time.)
  • If your child regularly plays games with plots based on violence and aggression, research shows he is at risk for increased aggressive behavior.

There are pros to video games, though.  He recommends quality games that give children the opportunity to practice problem solving and logic skills. They help the development of fine motor and coordination skills and also help children become familiar with information technology.  He strongly suggests playing these games with your children as special bonding time. 

An Active Parent Makes All the Difference

As parents, we have learned about the many negative effects that watching too much television can have on our children.  The important question is - what we can do about it?  According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), parents must be actively involved.  The key word is “active”.

Here are some of the ways that the organization recommends for parents to become active by:

•    Viewing programs with your children 
•    Selecting developmentally appropriate shows 
•    Placing limits on the amount of television viewing (per day and per week) 
•    Turning off the TV during family meals and study time 
•    Turning off shows you don't feel are appropriate for your child 

AACAP also recommends that parents select specific shows for their children to watch rather than just allow their children to sit in front of the tv for hours and watch random shows.  
There are many things that we can do as parents.  Let’s make a commitment to be more active this summer to ensure that our children are healthier and happier.

If you would like more information, visit AACAP by clicking here.

Author Soraya Diase Coffelt

 

Watching too much Television Has Negative Effects on Children

Sometimes, as a parent, I used the television set as a substitute babysitter.  Yes, I confess -it is too easy to do.  I would rationalize it by saying to myself that it was only for a short period of time and that I really needed to get something else done without my sons being under my feet. However, I have learned that doing this was not good for my children or me. 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), there are confirmed negative effects on our children from watching TV.  For example, children who watch a lot of TV have these characteristics in common: they exercise less and tend to be overweight; they read less; and they have lower grades.  Also, they learn about such things as junk food, smoking, drinking alcohol, and sex.  Since they are so young and impressionable, parents should be introducing and talking to them about these subjects rather than having them learn from what they have watched on TV.

Author Soraya Diase Coffelt

 

How much Television will Your Children be Watching this Summer?

Now that school is over and summertime is here, what will your children be doing this summer?  I hope it’s not a lot of television watching!  The famous comedian Groucho Marx once said “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”  Does your child like to pick up a book rather than watch TV? 

For very young children under 2 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends that they do not watch any TV.  During these early years, children develop interaction skills with people and love to explore and play.  Watching TV deprives them of this critical development.   For preschoolers, watching TV can help with their learning the letters in the alphabet and other educational information, but TV should be limited.   Playing and reading should be important parts of their day with watching TV (or DVDs) as just a minimal pastime.

Author Soraya Diase Coffelt