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Although most people adjust in a day or two, the shift to Daylight Saving Time can take some people up to a week to get used to the time change. As you set your clocks forward this weekend, take a few minutes to examine what lifestyle factors are affecting you family’s quality and quantity of sleep.

Benefits of restful sleep

Research has taught us that the benefits of restful sleep are plentiful.  Good sleep promotes brain, heart, lung, muscle and bone health. Better concentration, enhanced attention, better problem-solving skills and improved recall are possible with good sleep habits.  Plus, improved sleep leads to fewer changes in mood.  All good things for children and adults!

Our physical and emotional health is impacted by our ability to get restful, restorative sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep you need each night varies with age and is especially impacted by lifestyle and health. To determine how much sleep you need, it’s important to assess where you fall on the “sleep needs spectrum”.

Adequate sleep is especially important for the growing and developing brain (and body) of our children. In fact, during a good night’s sleep our brain is quite active depositing information into memory and flushing out waste products made by brain cells during the day. These are key steps in developing a healthy brain.

Sleep can be interrupted by many factors such as erratic work and school schedules, disruptive blue lights, stress, caffeine, and travel.

Practice these tips for better sleep
  • Try reading or practice mindful breathing to calm your thoughts
  • Move TV and screen time to at least one hour before bedtime
  • Limit active play or exercise close to bedtime
  • Create a comfortable sleeping room: a cool temperature, cozy bedding and just the right amount of darkness
  • Pause before you eat: going to sleep with a full belly may delay sleep
  • Stick with water: drinking beverages containing sugar and/or caffeine, such as soda, can prevent restful sleep

Learn more about how you can feel better and start improving your sleep today at Sleep.org.

The post Restful, Restorative Sleep for Kids (and Adults) appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is one of those illness that many parents become familiar with during the preschool years. Thee telltale signs can be clear – itchy eyes that are reddish/pinkish in color and maybe even covered with a crust when the child wakes up. What might not be as clear is what, exactly, is pink eye.

There is a thin, clear covering on part of the eye and inside the eyelid called the conjunctiva. This protects the eye and helps keep it moist. When that conjunctiva becomes inflamed, or swollen, the white part of the eye can appear red. There are usually four causes for the inflammation:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Allergens
  • Irritants

Even though there are different causes, the symptoms of pink eye are similar:

  • Redness and/or swelling of the eye and inside the eyelid
  • Itchy or irritated eyes
  • Crusting along the eyelids or lashes, especially after waking
  • Discharge from the eye that is yellow, white or green
  • Teary eyes
  • (For contact lens wearers) Contact lenses may feel uncomfortable or not stay in

Pink eye isn’t just a childhood disease – adults can get it, too, as many parents may know from personal experience.

Viral and bacterial pink eye are the contagious types and spread easily between children or even between children and adults, just like the common cold. Usually, though, the symptoms are mild and go away on their own within 5 to 7 days. If the symptoms get worse instead of better, or if there is eye pain, blurred vision or a sensitivity to light, or if there are any concerns, then it’s time to talk with the doctor. Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial pink eye if it’s not getting better on its own, but it’s important to remember that antibiotics won’t help when the cause is viral.

Irritants, like chlorine from the swimming pool, or allergens like a new pet in the house may trigger pink eye as well. In those cases, removing the irritant or allergen can help clear things up.

Preventing the Spread

Good hygiene can help control the spread of pink eye, including:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Use a clean towel and washcloth
  • Change pillowcases frequently
  • Don’t share towels, washcloths, eye cosmetics or personal eye care items
  • Don’t rub or touch eyes (this can be challenging with infants and toddler)
  • Wipe down surfaces and wash objects that are touched frequently by hands or even faces, such as doorknobs, tables, cell phones/telephones, pillows, cuddle blankets and toys
Care Anywhere

UW Health offers video visits so you don’t have the leave home for care. If you would like to speak with a provider about pink eye, download the Care Anywhere app and have a face-to-face appointment at your convenience.

The post Pink Eye Signs and Symptoms appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week (#NEDAwareness), and this year’s theme is “Come as you are.” This theme sends a message to individuals at all stages of body acceptance and eating disorders recovery that their stories are valid. It also speaks to people with body image issues to “be you,” instead of “being the unattainable version of you that the eating disorder voice is urging.” In patients with eating disorders, these unattainable goals are often not limited to weight or looks; many also aim for flawlessness in grades, sports, and other activities. As many of my patients say, “I need to be perfect.” This blog is dedicated to them.

At some point in our lives we have all had someone give us constructive criticism. Growing up it may seem like you get this from so many people around you that you get sick of hearing it. Maybe a coach has given constructive feedback as they try to teach the correct way to perform a skill. Maybe a teacher makes more red marks on a paper than you would have liked or maybe your parents have said things such as, “I know you can do better.” Usually these comments come from a place and person who is saying them to help you grow. While these criticisms may be received with some hesitancy or even embarrassment, most of the time they are used to help grow and mature into a better student, player, or person. Yet for some there can be a voice that seems louder than the rest. One that says, “What if I am not good enough. Look at all of the mistakes I made. Why can’t I just get it right the first time.” A psychiatrist I knew labeled this voice, “the bad coach voice.” This voice that many young players or students focus on, comes from within and can push aside the other thoughts that say, “Give it your best effort. Or each day I am getting better.”

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.


Harriet Braiker

Perfectionism is defined as “setting an extremely high standard of performance in conjunction with a tendency to make overly critical self-evaluations in the pursuit of these standards.1” Basically, perfectionism is setting tremendously lofty goals and being unreasonably self-critical when these are not met. While it is true that many high achieving individuals often show signs of perfectionism, it can be easy for this to turn into a problem, especially when those qualities lead to a negative voice that says nothing I do is ever quite good enough. This is what is called maladaptive perfectionism. Studies have shown a link between maladaptive perfectionism and depression in adolescence. It is easy to see the link between the two, when you think about how one would feel about oneself if the bad coach voice always won. That is the dangerous side that says that anything less than perfect is not acceptable. This type of perfectionism can lead to decreased self-worth and low self-esteem when goals are not met, continued deliberation about mistakes which can lead to shame and only expecting negative outcomes.

Recognizing one’s own maladaptive perfectionistic thoughts can take time. However, it is important to be aware of the voice in our head that is our own worst critic. During adolescence, while coping mechanisms and sense of identity are developing, it is important to become more aware of the critical voice inside you. Self-compassion is one strategy that has been shown to combat the effect of maladaptive perfectionism on depression risk. Self-compassion is the ‘ability to be open to and moved by one’s own suffering.’ It is working on being kind and caring to oneself and approaching one’s failures with an understanding attitude. An easier way to think of this, is how would you respond to a loved one in your situation? Would you tell them they have failed, or they are not good enough, or would you respond in a more honest way with understanding and compassion. Self-compassion is realizing that every failure is just part of the common human experience that everyone around us is working through.

Perfect is the enemy of good.


Voltaire

With social media it is easy to get caught up in the idea that your peers have perfect relationships, sports records, or lives because people often only post or talk about what is going well. This can lead to feeling as if your life, compared to others, is less than perfect. Don’t let that voice win. Realize that everyone around you struggles and that being human means you can never be perfect. (In fact, elite organizations like United States Navy’s Fighter Weapons School are redefining perfectionism to encourage finding mistakes and correcting them). Becoming more aware of the bad coach voice in your own head and addressing these thoughts with self-kindness instead of self-criticism is one way that has been shown to help combat the maladaptive effects of a perfectionistic attitude. Lastly, remember that anyone who you view as being perfect is far from it; the reality is our humanity makes us beautifully imperfect and we truly are our own worst critic.  

The post We Are Our Own Worst Critics appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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UW Health has seen an increase in serious injuries from vaping devices. In the past year, we treated five patients, up from zero the year before. The majority of the injured were middle and high school aged teens. While fires and explosions from vaping are considered rare, these incidents can be life altering for victims. 

An e-cig device or battery can explode while it is being carried, like in a shirt or jeans pocket. When it explodes, it can start clothing on fire, which makes it difficult to remove the clothes or even put out the fire. As a result, burns occur suddenly and close to sensitive areas such as the face, hands, even the legs and genitals. Several of the patients seen at University Hospital for e-cigarette related injuries required skin grafting because the burns were severe.

The Facts

Note: “e-cigarette” will be used generically to refer to any or all e-cigarettes, e-cigs, Juuls, personal vaporizers (PVs), electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), mods, or similar devices.

  • E-cigarettes reach very high temperatures in order to convert liquid to vapor.
  • E-cigarettes use lithium ion batteries, which are prone to spontaneously overheating.
  • There are no requirements that e-cigarettes be subjected to product safety testing.
  • Many users carry extra batteries to ensure they will be able to vape frequently. The batteries alone can overheat.
  • Explosions are not the only risk associated with e-cigarette use. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has extensive information on the risk of e-cigarette use.

Safety Tips

  • Do not dispose any battery in a fire. There are dangerous chemicals in batteries which can lead to toxic fumes and/or an explosion.
  • Do not carry loose batteries in a pocket or purse. Use a battery carry case.
  • Do not carry or store batteries with coins and house keys or in a metal container. Batteries can short circuit and release high amounts of energy. 
  • Check the outside of the battery to be sure wrappers are fully intact and do not use if they are torn or ripped in any way. The wrappers provide insultation and can help minimize the risk of overheating.

  • Always charge batteries on an appropriate charger.

The post Vaping Injuries appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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Most parents of school-age kids are way too young to recall how prevalent measles was in its heyday. A very serious, highly contagious respiratory disease that affects the lungs and respiratory tract, measles affected 3 to 4 million people in the United States each year before vaccination began in 1963. Back then, measles — which can be passed on through a cough or sneeze — put 48,000 people in the hospital and killed 500 people annually.

With vaccinations routinely given to children for the past 55 years, it’s easy to assume that measles has been totally wiped out. Unfortunately, as more children in school show up without being vaccinated, measles outbreaks have popped up more frequently. Just this year, more than 100 cases have been confirmed in 21 states — especially in Washington and Oregon – with most cases diagnosed in children who have not had the routine MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

Here in Wisconsin, more than 92 percent of students are meeting the minimum state vaccination requirement – a number that sounds impressive but is still lower than ideal. Wisconsin parents who do not allow their child to be immunized may do so for one of three reasons:

  • Medical reasons
  • Religious belief
  • Personal conviction

More students not being vaccinated

By far, “personal conviction” is the most popular reason cited for not vaccinating, and this number is clearly increasing. In 2017-18, 4.9 percent of students were exempt from at least one vaccine, compared with only 1.6 percent 20 years earlier, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“Vaccines are not just about your child. They are about the health of everyone your child encounters at school, at friends’ homes or at family gatherings. That is why vaccines work best when virtually everyone gets them,” says UW Health infectious disease specialist Joseph McBride, MD. “This is what we call ‘herd immunity.’ Looking at it another way, as vaccination compliance falls below 90 to 95 percent, the risk of disease outbreaks increases dramatically.”

Having said that, Dr. McBride says it is important for physicians not to judge parents who are skeptical about vaccination.

“Parents who choose not to vaccinate clearly believe they have their child’s interests at heart,” says Dr. McBride. “As physicians, however, we have a responsibility to point out that the overwhelming weight of science demonstrates that vaccination prevents outbreaks of very serious diseases and has saved countless numbers of lives over several generations.”

From well-known actresses to numerous websites and social media posts, there are many common myths and misconceptions about vaccines that leave parents feeling uncertain and even a bit scared about their safety. Part of the challenge is trying to sort out fact from fiction.  To help, Dr. McBride breaks down some of the more popular myths:

Dr. McBride breaks down popular vaccine myths

Myth #1: Vaccines Cause Autism

This myth has been well debunked, but it is still important to understand where it came from. In 1997, a medical journal article by a British surgeon suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine may have caused autism in some British children.

The article was totally discredited because of serious procedural errors, financial conflicts of interest and ethical violations. The paper was retracted by the medical journal and its author lost his medical license. Several later studies found absolutely no link between vaccines and autism.   

This episode, understandably, created a lot of doubt among parents. By now, very few people – even vaccine skeptics — believe the autism myth.

Myth #2: Vaccines contain unsafe toxins

While it is true that formaldehyde, mercury and aluminum – which are used in FDA-approved vaccines — can be toxic to the body if ingested at certain levels, vaccines contain an extremely low, unharmful amount of these elements.

This is something I get asked about frequently. What I typically tell parents is that these ingredients are used in tiny amounts, but still play a key role in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Myth #3: Infant immune systems can’t handle so many vaccines

One of the most remarkable features of the human body is how many pathogens (things that cause disease) bombard us every moment and are consequently fought off by the immune system. Putting vaccines in this context demonstrates how accepting a baby or child’s body is to immunization.

Myth #4: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity

Natural immunity is wonderful. The problem is that when someone gets an infection, we have no way of knowing if that infection will quietly resolve or become more serious and infect others along the way. Without being able to predict which path an infection will take, vaccines provide a much safer and certain road to immunity.

Myth #5: Vaccines aren’t worth the risk

It’s important to define risk. With the MMR vaccine or the flu vaccine, some people get a sore arm or slight fever for a day or two. For most of us, the risk of a mild side effect is worth the benefit of keeping us free of measles or reducing the chance of getting the flu.

Myth #6: The flu shot can give you the flu

Anyone who gets the flu shot injection is receiving a dead flu virus, which makes it impossible for the shot to give you the flu. (One alternative to the injection is the nasal spray vaccine, which uses a live flu virus. This option, which can result in mild, short-lived flu-like side effects, is only approved for non-pregnant people between the ages of 2 to 49.)

Because the flu shot does not protect you from other respiratory diseases, someone can get a cough, sore throat or flu-like body aches after picking up another virus or infection. Moreover, even if you get the flu during the season, you probably won’t get as sick as someone who did not get vaccinated.”

The post Measles Outbreaks Highlight the Importance of Vaccines appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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It’s National Burn Awareness Week and our Burn Center wants to help you prevent burns. Scalds were the most common injury for children in the Burn Center in 2018. One place where scalds and burns happen is the kitchen. As children grow, they like to try out their independence. And that may mean trying to “help” mom or dad in the kitchen.

Keep kids safe in the kitchen with these tips to avoid accidental burns:

  • Kids can be faster (and stretchier) than grown-ups. You might not think twice about holding a toddler while checking on something cooking on the stove top, but a quick grab or kick will send a hot pot flying.
  • It only takes a second to get a third degree burn from hot coffee! Consider using mugs with lids. Move hot foods and liquids away from table and counter top edges. All it takes is a moment of setting something down for a little one to pull it over. Don’t forget crock pots and their cords.
  • Let food rest for one minute before removing from the microwave.  Use extreme caution when taking things out, especially when you have to reach up to do so. Steam, hot dishes, and overheated food are all dangerous.
  • Use guards or take knobs off the front of the stove; use only the back burners if possible; remember – hot steam can burn too, so be careful when removing lids to check on food.
  • Use a lid or splash guard when cooking with grease. And if a grease fire does start, cover the pan. NEVER use water or try to move it!
  • Make the area around your cook top and oven a “no play zone.” Keep kids, toys and tripping hazards 3 feet or more away from hot surfaces and flames.
  • Arrange the kitchen with safety in mind: keep silverware in a drawer away from the toaster; store the kids’ dishes away from the stove; keep dish washing liquid on a high shelf; etc.
  • Teach kids that appliances often stay hot long after they are turned off.
  • Be a good example and use hot pads for grilling or cooking rather than towels. Make sure kids know that grills and grilling tools are also hot.
  • Almost half of all home fires are caused by cooking—always use timers and never leave the home while cooking.

The post Burn Dangers in the Kitchen appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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After watching the Surviving R Kelly docuseries on Lifetime, I have many questions.  If you haven’t heard about the series, it’s about a successful R&B singer, R. Kelly, and multiple sexual relationships with underage girls.  He even married a teenager (she was 15, he was 27).  How is that legal? It turns out the papers were forged, specifically lying about the teenage girl’s age, but I digress… So even though that marriage was a sham, underage marriage is not new to the music industry (Jerry Lewis married his 13 year old third cousin in 1958) or to Hollywood (remember the heebie-jeebies you felt when you read that 51 year old actor married 16 year old female?).  This caused me to actually look up the marriage laws in the United States and see how common this is. I was shocked.

Internationally, child marriage is common. The vast majority of underage marriages are teenage females married to adult men. According to Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit organization that studies underage marriage and advocates for safety, each year 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 years (23 girls every minute).  While countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi and El Salvador have recently banned child marriage, it remains legal in the US. An estimated 248,000 children as young as 12 (twelve years old?!?!?!) were married here between 2000 and 2010. More than one-third of states have no set minimum age below which you cannot get married. In September of 2018, governor of American Samoa, Lolo Moliga, signed into law a bill changing the marriage age for girls from 14 to 18 (with some exceptions). Thank goodness that law changed. Only two states, Delaware and New Jersey, set minimum age of marriage at 18 years of age with no exceptions. (In case you’re curious, Wisconsin allows you to get married as young as 16 years, with permission of parent/guardian). Some state marriage laws appear to be a way for people to escape statutory rape charges; for example, you can get married under 18 without parent/guardian consent if you are pregnant in some states. I can easily imagine a scenario where an adult man coerces a pregnant minor to marry him to prevent him from being charged with a felony.

Teenage marriage has been romanticized in films and novels (A Walk to Remember comes to mind). However, underage marriage is not all romance. Research shows that children who marry have more mental health issues, are much more likely to live in poverty (and not graduate high school), and that teen girls in particular are extremely vulnerable to physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. In fact, underage brides are 3x more likely to be beaten – and remember, many domestic violence shelters do not accept minors. Youth shelters may warn the parent who married you off.  Women who marry under the age of 18 years also have higher rates of medical problems, including heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke, than women who marry between ages of 19 and 25 years. 70% of marriages where one spouse is a minor end up in divorce.

There are some organizations that are working to change the state of child marriage in the United States.  For more information, check out Unchained at Last, Girls Not Brides, and the Tahirih Justice Center.

The post Child Marriage appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and products made from it, including capsules, sprays, lotions, edibles, and “vapes”, have become immensely popular in just a few years and is now sold and marketed to treat a wide range of diseases. Buying products made from CBD oil became legal in Wisconsin for treatment of seizure disorders in 2014 with Lydia’s Law, which expanded to include any medical condition with note from health provider in 2017, and finally available to general public in 2018. But what exactly is being sold and does it really help?

CBD is the largest non-psychoactive component of marijuana whereas tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the component that causes the “high” feeling. This non-intoxicating marijuana extract was initially utilized as a treatment for seizure disorders; in fact, there is an FDA approved CBD drug for epilepsy treatment. CBD oil is now being marketed as a solution to many more issues.  There is ongoing controversy regarding the effectiveness for the treatment of these various issues.

When it comes to mental health issues, CBD oil is often one of the top contenders in claiming effectiveness. There have been reports of CBD oil consumption alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain, and a variety of other psychiatric conditions. What’s the truth behind these claims?  Some studies and ongoing clinical trials suggest that CBD oil could be effective for depression, anxiety (particularly social anxiety), and posttraumatic stress disorder. However, there is difficulty in regulation of this drug, making it hard to apply these studies to the real world. Much is unknown about CBD oil and its effectiveness in treating psychiatric conditions; more studies are needed to determine effective dosage, treatment duration, side effects, etc.

When considering a drug to treat medical issues in adolescents, we must consider the risks, and the safety profile. One aspect of utilizing a drug that is largely new and unknown to the medical community is limitations in understanding the drug interactions and side effects.  Many teens dealing with comorbidities that potentially benefit from a medication like CBD oil are likely taking a variety of other medications, which can have the potential to dangerously interact with supplements we know little about. Also, like most supplements (and drugs of abuse), CBD products may not monitored by the FDA (although this may be changing), so one can never be certain about potency, other ingredients, etc. Is it worth the risk?

If you have questions about CBD, or are currently taking CBD, make sure to discuss with your health care provider. 

The post CBD Oil: What’s all the Rage? appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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Even before the last piece of pumpkin pie has been consumed (and let’s be honest – these days, it’s more like – before the last piece of Halloween candy is handed out), it seems like holiday preparations are underway. But the reality of the holidays can be very different than the marshmallow world singers croon about.

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

There’s no doubt that the giving spirit of the season can lead to feeling financial pressure. The gift wish lists kids have written out are often filled with expensive items like video game consoles, tablets and more. But, rather than compromise your household budget, how do you help kids understand what’s realistic while still ensuring it’s another holiday for the memory books.

Start by talking with kids to help them understand what’s truly important. Be honest and explain what it means to spend within your family’s means. If you’ve been saving money especially for gift purchases, let kids know that too so they realize the planning and resources involved. You can also encourage a discussion about “needs” and “wants.” It can seem counter to the holiday spirit of spending and giving, but what’s really important is helping kids understand financial responsibility. It’s an important lesson that will benefit them throughout their lives.

You can also take the time to talk about families who don’t have the resources to provide gifts for their kids and look for ways to help. Whether it’s a community program like Toys for Tots, or volunteering at a local shelter, you can help your kids develop a greater awareness of their world and empower them to help.

Traditions

If you’re looking for ways to help bring meaning to the holidays, how about starting some family traditions. Whether it’s making crafts together, creating homemade holiday presents, or just sitting down as a family for game night, there are lots of ways you and your family can enjoy the best of the season.

Chicken Soup for the Cold

When you’re dashing through snow and managing work, social obligations, holiday concerts and even traveling to family, it can wear your body down. Ensure you and your kids are getting the rest that they need and as much as possible, help your littlest ones stick to as normal a routine as you can. Well-rested bodies can fight off colds and manage stress much more effectively.

Remember to encourage everyone in the family to wash hands early and often. It is the number one best defense against cold and flu germs.

If you or your child end up getting sick, there’s no need to leave the house. You can have a Care Anywhere video visit with a provider using your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Holiday Blues

It’s not uncommon to feel down this time of year. All of the festivity and hype can actually lead to feelings of loneliness. Some may even be managing seasonal depression brought on by the shorter days. If you are feeling blue, talk with a trusted individual about it and watch for signs in your kids – are they withdrawn, sleeping a lot or not enough – if they’re acting ‘out of sorts’ try talking with them about it.

If you find you’re always down in the fall and winter months, perhaps it’s hard to concentrate or you either can’t sleep or feel like you could sleep all the time, and the feelings last at least two weeks or longer, consider talking with your primary care physician about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Put that Cookie Down

Surrounded by endless buffet tables filled with delicious goodies, or visiting with relatives, it can be easy to graze all evening long or indulge “just this once.” Have a plan in advance – make sure your family eats regular meals and don’t arrive at a party or gathering hungry. When you see the spread of food, encourage your kids to select one or two items so they don’t feel deprived.

And don’t forget that drinks have calories too. That latte, hot chocolate, eggnog or other holiday drink may have more calories than you realize (some can be 500+). Moderation is key. Help your kids find a balance when it comes to all of the delicious foods and learn how to incorporate them in an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

Embrace the Best of the Season

Enjoy time with family by finding activities to do together like walking through the woods, going sledding, maybe even snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Take the time together and enjoy a break from the fast paced world. The best part of any season is spending time together as a family.

The post Managing the Stress of the Holidays appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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Holiday shopping is once again upon us—as your kids make their lists and write their letters to Santa, could the type of gifts they receive affect their brain development, not to mention how home life will be for everyone in the months ahead?

“Yes”, says Dr. Marcia Slattery, UW Health Professor of Child/Adolescent Psychiatry and Pediatrics. “A child’s brain goes through massive developmental changes throughout childhood and adolescence, and the type and variety of experiences a child has can influence the pathways and connections in the brain”.

Parents should keep this in mind as they set out on the challenge of holiday shopping for their children. The goal: selecting gifts that are fun, enjoyable AND promote healthy brain development.

A Well-Balanced Shopping List

Consider approaching your holiday shopping list similar to how you approach your family’s grocery list. We’re all familiar with the four food groups of protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy that make up the daily “healthy plate” to maximize our child’s physical growth and health.

The same is true for brain development. A child’s brain needs a balanced “diet” of different types of activities and experiences to grow strong and be flexible in the face of changing situations. Daily physical activity, creativity/hobbies, learning/cognitive challenges, and social interactions with family members and with peers activates and exercises different parts of the brain. When done on a consistent basis, these different types of activities are like “cross training” for the brain to strengthen growth and flexibility of connections. Stronger connections and flexibility optimizes learning, problem solving, emotional development and social skills, and many other brain functions we need to successfully navigate day to day experiences and challenges.

Now imaging relying on your child to make the grocery list and fill the cart—for most kids, their priorities and favorites would include things such as chips, candy, sweets, etc, while conveniently ignoring the fruits/vegetable isle!

So too will your child’s wish list and letter to Santa likely be weighted for what they want –and you guessed it—for many this will include NEEDING to have the latest electronics ranging from smart phones to tablets to gaming systems/games, to name a few; and fewer requests to include other categories for a balance “diet” of activities for healthy brain development.

Here’s where it’s important for parents to take the lead and consider ahead of time what variety of gifts will be both enjoyable and healthy for their kids. Be thoughtful about including different types of gifts to promote a variety of activities, games, etc to insure a wide range of experiences for your child.

What to consider? Consider gifts for physical exercise including both indoor and outdoor activities, for strength, coordination/flexibility, and cardiovascular health. Consider gifts that encourage creativity outside of screens e.g. artwork, building, hobbies/crafts that not only tap into a child’s creativity, but also require fine motor skills with fingers/hands, eye/hand coordination, and learning/problem solving. Consider games and activities that require in-person communication, outside of on-line gaming and social media, e.g. board games to play with peers and family members to promote the development of critical social skills to enhance more consistent communication at home between parents and kids, and between peers for the development of friendships.

Educate your kids to the importance of a healthy lifestyle for healthy brain and body development, and have them include ideas for things they’d like in the categories of physical, creative and social activities—have them include these ideas in their wish list/letter to Santa.

Plan Before Gifting Electronics

And yes, electronics can have a place under the tree as well, although parents are encouraged to be very thoughtful ahead of time about what electronics will be introduced, and how they will be monitored and limited. Increasing studies show the negative effect of overuse and over-focus on electronics, at the expense of other activities, on kids—increased likelihood of problems with attention/focus and learning; increased irritability and emotional/behavioral outbursts; anxiety, aggressive behavior, and problems learning important in-person communication/social skills. Limitless electronics can also contribute to more arguments/tension at home, and resistance to complete other responsibilities like homework and family expectations.

Seek out information and be knowledgeable about whatever device/game you’re giving to your child including things such as parental ratings, blocking sites, managing internet use at home, and monitoring use/content. Parents should agree upon rules for use of electronics BEFORE giving them to their children including when they can and cannot be used e.g. not at meals, not in the bedroom at night; where they can be used e.g. open area of the home; and total daily time for use. Parents who have different rules/expectations for electronics use provide a set up for kids to find ways to bend limits, and sets a course for excessive use. Consider having a family media plan as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics that clearly outlines rules of using electronics in the home each day, and post if for everyone to easily see.

Review the rules/guidelines for use with your children when they receive their electronic gifts, and implement them consistently, starting on the day they receive them. Adding more electronics privileges in a thoughtful manner that includes discussion ahead of time with your kids will be worlds easier than trying to take privileges away later.

Think of electronics use, especially for younger children, like “dessert” at your dinner table—only after eating important healthy foods, and then in small portions. Even kids can acknowledge that only eating dessert wouldn’t be good for them!  Teach them the same approach to electronics use—only after having the essential daily “portions” of physical exercise, creativity/learning, and social engagement with family and peers, in addition to day to day expectations including schoolwork, and home responsibilities. Engage teens in discussion of electronics use as well, including setting clear guidelines of use, expectations of incorporating other activities, and consistent completion of day to day responsibilities.

Finally, holiday shopping for kids is also an important time for parents to review their own activities each day, and set goals for positive physical and cognitive/emotional health. The good news is that adult brains also continue to benefit from exercise, and are more healthy when we find ways to increase flexibility and challenge in our thinking—increasing studies also suggest this is important to decrease risk of illnesses such as dementia.

Do as I Say, AND as I Do

Parents also need to remember that they are among their child’s most influential teachers in life. Modeling is a powerful tool to teach kids important lessons for a healthy lifestyle. Emphasizing healthy lifestyle choices, including limits on daily electronics use, and incorporating physical, creative, and social components in each day, can be a powerful lifelong lesson for kids to learn and experience as a family.

The holidays and the New Year are opportune times for parents to adopt a lifestyle approach of “do as I say, and as I do” instead of the all too familiar “do as I say but not as I do.” Make it a goal to balance your “diet” of activities/experiences with your children–the payoffs are abundant in setting the course for a lifetime of balance, health, more open communication, and meaningful relationships.

Good luck shopping! What will your shopping list include?

The post Holiday Shopping Tips: Happy Kids and Healthy Brains appeared first on Growing Up Healthy.

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