Avoiding Food Traps

​Food traps are situations and places that make it difficult to eat right. We all have them. The following tips may help your family avoid some of the most common traps.


Vacations: When on a trip, don’t take a vacation from healthy eating and exercise.Plan your meals. Will all your meals be from restaurants? If so, can you split entrees and desserts to keep portions from getting too large? Can you avoid fast food? Can you bring along your own healthy snacks? Stay active. Schedule time for physical activities such as taking a walk or swimming in the hotel pool.

Holidays: It’s easy to overeat during holidays. But you don’t need to fear or avoid them. Approach the holidays with extra care. Don’t lose sight of what you and your child are eating. Plan to have healthy foods and snacks on hand. Bring a fruit or veggie tray with you when you go to friends and family. Celebrate for the day, not an entire month! Be sure to return to healthy eating the next day.

Other Family Gatherings: In some cultures, when extended families get together, it can turn into a food feast, from morning to night. Eat smaller portions. Avoid overeating whenever you get together with family. Try taking small portions instead. Get family support. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can have an enormous effect on your child’s health. Let them know that you’d like their help in keeping your child on the road to good health.


The biggest time for snacking is after school. Kids come home wound up, stressed out, or simply bored, so they reach for food.

  • Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, or fruit snacks.
  • You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.
  • Keep your child entertained. Help your child come up with other things to do instead of eating, such as playing outside, dancing, painting a picture, flying a kite, or taking a walk with you.
  • Make sure your child eats 3 well-balanced meals a day. This will help cut down on the number of times he or she needs a snack.


Finding time every day to be physically active can be very difficult. However, if you plan ahead, there are ways to fit it in.

  • Make a plan. Sit down with your child and plan in advance for those days when it seems impossible to find even 15 minutes for physical activity. Have a plan B ready that your child can do after dark, such as exercising to a workout video.
  • Make easy dinners. If you run out of time to make dinner, don’t run to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Remember, dinners don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as a sandwich, bowl of soup, piece of fruit, and glass of milk.

Remember, your job is to provide good nutrition to your child and family and encourage regular physical activity. Stay positive and focus on how well your child is doing in all areas of life. It can help keep nutrition and activity change moving along.

Written by Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. Source: Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


5 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids

When it comes to raising an adventurous eater, it is not just about coaxing kids to eat their veggies. Bringing up a child who can enjoy a cantaloupe as much as a cupcake takes patience and persistence, but it does not have to feel like a chore.

Kids may need to have frequent joyful experiences involving food to overcome the anxiety they may have around tasting the unfamiliar. Over time, cooking with your children can help build that confidence—and provide rich sensory experiences.

Here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your children while raising an adventurous eater along the way.

  • Engage other senses. For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods when cooking using other senses besides taste. This helps to build positive associations with food. Kneading dough, rinsing vegetables, and tearing lettuce all involve touching food and being comfortable with texture. The complex flavors we experience when eating food come from both taste sensations from the tongue AND smelling with the nose. While cooking with new ingredients, some children may feel too overwhelmed to taste. If this happens, you can try suggesting smelling a food first; this may provide a bridge to tasting in the future.
  • Use cooking to raise smart kids. There are so many lessons that can be taught while cooking. Math concepts like counting, measurement, and fractions naturally unfold when navigating a recipe with kids. Explaining how food changes with temperature or how certain foods can help our body be healthy provide great lessons in science. While cooking with your child, practice new vocabulary as you describe how food looks, feels, and tastes. Following a recipe from start to finish helps build the skills for planning and completing projects.
  • Make cooking part of the family culture. The family meal can start in the kitchen as you cook together. Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your kids find new, seasonal recipes to add to your repertoire and family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing health over the convenience of processed food are great ways to lead by example and help your children buy into a culture of wellness. Building daily and seasonal traditions around cooking together helps strengthen your family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Keep it safe. Teach kids the importance of staying safe while cooking by showing them how to hold kitchen tools safely, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat, and how to turn appliances on and off safely. Always supervise children when cooking to ensure they are sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks. The best way to keep cooking safe is to know your child’s abilities and his or her stage of development. A four-year-old child, for example, may not be ready to sauté vegetables over a hot pan, but may have the fine motor skills to rinse fruits or tear salad leaves. Keeping safety in mind, it is not difficult to get kids—even toddlers—involved in the kitchen.
  • Ask for input. Children feel more included in mealtime when they are asked to be a part of meal preparation. Collaborate with your kids when selecting recipes for main dishes or sides. Let them help you make the shopping list and find groceries in the store or farmers market. When cooking together, let children offer a critique of the foods you are preparing. Together you can decide what ingredients you should add to enhance the flavor. Talk about how people enjoy different tastes, and share your preferences with each other. Letting children be “in charge” of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime.

Over many years, cooking as a family will help develop a happy, adventurous eater with some pretty valuable life skills—and plenty of happy memories in the kitchen. With enough practice, your child will someday be able to cook YOU a delicious meal!

Written by Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH, FAAP. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016)

Healthy Teeth and Your Child’s Diet

Besides regular toothbrushing, your child’s diet will play a key role in his dental health.

Why Sugar is the Big Villain
The longer and more frequently his teeth are exposed to sugar, the greater the risk of cavities. “Sticky sugar” foods such as sticky caramel, toffee, gum, and dried fruit—particularly when it stays in his mouth and bathes his teeth in sugar for hours—could do serious damage.

  • Make sure to always brush your child’s teeth after a sugary food item.
  • Do not allow young children to have any sugar-containing liquid in a sippy cup for a prolonged period. See How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Baby.

How to Cut Down on Sweets
Almost everyone naturally enjoys sweets, and your child is no different. Like other human beings, she was born with a taste for sugar, and she’s already quite sensitive to different concentrations of sweetness. Offer her a yam and a baked potato, and she’ll take the yam every time. Give her a choice between the yam and a cookie, and the cookie will win.

Rest assured, it’s not your fault if she makes a beeline for the candy and ice cream when you’d rather she take a piece of cheese. But it is your responsibility to limit her access to sweets and to provide a diet made up primarily of more nutritious foods that promote growth, not tooth decay.

TV Advertising
Television advertising, incidentally, can be a serious obstacle to your child’s good nutrition. Some studies show that children who watch over twenty-two hours of TV per week (over three hours of screen time a day) have a greater tendency to become obese. Children are extremely receptive to ads for sugary cereals and sweets, especially after they’ve visited other homes where these foods are served. Obesity is a growing problem among children in America. For this reason, you need to be aware of your young child’s eating habits, at home and away, and monitor them to make sure she’s eating as healthy as possible.

At Home
To combat outside influences, keep your own home as healthy as possible. Stock up on low-sodium, low-sugar, and low-fat products. Eventually he’ll become accustomed to healthful foods, which may make him less susceptible to the temptation of the more sugary, salty, or greasy ones.

Source: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 6th Edition (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?

​From infants and toddlers to school-aged kids and teens, parents want to know how many hours of sleep are recommended. While it’s true that sleep needs vary from one person to another, there are some very reasonable, science-based guidelines to help you determine whether your child is getting the sleep he or she needs to grow, learn, and play.

Childhood Sleep Guidelines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) provides some helpful guidelines regarding just how much sleep children need at different stages in their development. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect total sleep hours in a 24-hour period. So if your son or daughter still naps, you’ll need to take that into account when you add up his or her typical sleep hours.

Do those numbers surprise you?

So, are you sending your child off to bed early enough? If those numbers are surprising to you, you’re not alone. Working and single parents, especially, are often forced to get by on 5, 6, or even fewer hours of sleep each night. This is likely impacting your own social and mental functioning, as well as increasing your risk for other health problems. It might be tempting to think that your children can also get by with less sleep than they need, or that they should be able to cope fairly well with a few skipped hours here and there. However, all children thrive on a regular bedtime routine. Regular sleep deprivation often leads to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems—irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression. Children who get enough sleep have a healthier immune system, and better school performance, behavior, memory, and mental health.

Healthy Sleep Habits

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the AASM guidelines and encourages parents to make sure their children develop good sleep habits right from the start.

  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority. Understand the importance of getting enough sleep and how sleep affects the overall health of you and your children. Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example. Staying up all night with your teen to edit his or her paper or pulling an all-nighter for work yourself isn’t really sending the right message. Making sleep a priority for yourself shows your children that it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle—like eating right and exercising regularly.
  • Keep to a regular daily routine. The same waking time, meal times, nap time, and play times will help your child feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime. For young children, it helps to start early with a bedtime routine such as brush, book, bed. Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your child get to sleep wherever you may be.
  • Be active during the day. Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air. See Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations for more information.
  • Monitor screen time. The AAP recommends keeping all screens—TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and phones out of children’s bedrooms, especially at night. To prevent sleep disruption, turn off all screens at least 60 minutes/1 hour before bedtime. Create a Family Media Use Plan and set boundaries about use before bedtime.​
  • Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Dim the lights prior to bedtime and control the temperature in the home. Don’t fill up your child’s bed with toys. Keep your child’s bed a place to sleep, rather than a place to play. One or two things—a favorite doll or bear, a security blanket—are okay and can help ease separation anxiety. See Suitable Sleeping Sites for more information specifically for babies under 12 months of age.
  • Realize that teens require more sleep, not less. sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. At the same time, most high schools require students to get to school earlier and earlier. The AAP has been advocating for middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. It is important that parents and local school boards work together to implement high school start times that allow teens to get the healthy sleep they need. See the AAP policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, for more information.
  • Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula. Water is okay. Anything other than water in the bottle can cause baby bottle tooth decay. Feed or nurse your baby, and then put him or her down to sleep.
  • Don’t start giving solids before about 6 months of age. Starting solid food sooner will not help your baby sleep through the night. In fact, if you give your baby solids before their system can digest them, he or she may sleep worse because of a tummy ache.
  • Avoid overscheduling. In addition to homework, many children today have scheduled evening activities (i.e., sports games, lessons, appointments, etc.) that pose challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. Take time to wind down and give your children the downtime that they need.
  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, sleep apnea, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher or child care provider about your child’s alertness during the day. Sleep problems may manifest in the daytime, too. A child with not enough, or poor quality sleep may have difficulty paying attention or “zoning out” in school. Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be made aware of any reports of your child falling asleep in school, as well as any learning or behavior problems.
  • Talk to your child’s pediatrician about sleep. Discuss your child’s sleep habits and problems with your pediatrician, as most sleep problems are easily treated. He or she may ask you to keep a sleep log or have additional suggestions to improving your child’s sleep habits.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events


After any disaster, parents and other adults struggle with what they should say and share with children and what not to say or share with them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the crisis and present it in a way that their child can accommodate, adjust to, and cope with.

Where to Start – All Ages
No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.

Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.

Avoiding Graphic Details & Exposure to Media
In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.

With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.

Children will generally follow good advice, but you have to give them some latitude to make decisions about what they’re ready for. You can block them from seeing the newspaper that comes to the door, for example, but not the one on the newsstand. Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.

Talking to Very Young Children
The reality is that even children as young as 4 years old will hear about major crisis events. It’s best that they hear about it from a parent or caregiver, as opposed to another child or in the media.

Even the youngest child needs accurate information, but you don’t want to be too vague. Simply saying, “Something happened in a faraway town and some people got hurt,” doesn’t tell the child enough about what happened. The child may not understand why this is so different from people getting hurt every day and why so much is being said about it. The underlying message for a parent to convey is, “It’s okay if these things bother you. We are here to support each other.”

Talking to Gradeschool Children & Teens
After asking your child what they have heard and if they have questions about what occurred during a school shooting, community bombing, natural disaster, or even a disaster in an international country, a parent can say something such as:

“Yes. In [city], [state]” (and here you might need to give some context, depending on whether it’s nearby or far away, for example, ‘That’s a city/state that’s pretty far from/close to here’), there was disaster and many people were hurt. The police and the government are doing their jobs so they can try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

A parent can follow-up as needed based on the child’s reactions and questions.

Talking to Children with Developmental Delays or Disabilities
Parents who have a child with a developmental delay or disability should gear their responses to their child’s developmental level or abilities, rather than their physical, age. If you have a teenage child whose level of intellectual functioning is more similar to a 7-year-old, for instance, gear your response toward her developmental level. Start by giving less information. Provide details or information in the most appropriate and clear way you can.

Talking to Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
What’s helpful to a child with an ASD may be different. For instance, the child may find less comfort in cuddling than some other children. Parents should try something else that does calm and comfort their child on other occasions. Ask yourself, “Given who my child is, his personality, temperament, and developmental abilities, what might work for him?”

Signs a Child Might Not Be Coping Well
If children don’t have a chance to practice healthy coping, a parent may see signs that they’re having difficulty adjusting. Some of things to look for are:

  • Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances.
  • Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual.
  • Changes in behavior: Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol, or substance use.
  • Emotional problems: Children may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and might need extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional or counselor.

Don’t wait for the signs. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going.

Adapted from an eHealthMD interview with David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and member of the AAP Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

The Flu 101

​Flu is the short term for influenza. It is an illness caused by a respiratory virus. The infection can spread rapidly through communities as the virus is passed person to person. When someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, the influenza virus gets into the air, and people nearby, including children, can inhale it. The virus also can be spread when your child touches a contaminated hard surface, such as a door handle, and then places his hand or fingers in his nose/mouth or rubs his eye.

Flu Season
The flu season usually starts in the fall and ends in the spring. When there is an outbreak or epidemic, usually during the winter months, the illness tends to be most pronounced in preschool or school-aged children. Adult caregivers are easily exposed and can come down with the disease. The virus usually is transmitted in the first several days of the illness.

Flu Symptoms
All flu viruses cause a respiratory illness that can last a week or more. Flu symptoms include:

  • A sudden fever (usually above 101°F or 38.3°C)
  • Chills and body shakes
  • Headache, body aches, and being a lot more tired than usual
  • Sore throat
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Some children may throw up (vomit) and have loose stools (diarrhea).

After the first few days of these symptoms, a sore throat, stuffy nose, and continuing cough become most evident. The flu can last a week or even longer. A child with a common cold usually has only a low-grade fever, a runny nose, and only a small amount of coughing. Children with the flu—or adults, for that matter—usually feel much sicker, achier, and more miserable.

Healthy people, especially children, get over the flu in about a week or two, without any lingering problems. However, you might suspect a complication if your child says that his ear hurts or that he feels pressure in his face and head or if his cough and fever will not go away, talk with your child’s doctor.

Children with Chronic Health Conditions
Children who appear to have the greatest risk of complications from the flu are those with an underlying chronic medical condition, such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, an immune system problem, diabetes mellitus, some blood diseases, or malignancy. As these children may have more severe disease or complications, they should, when possible, avoid other children with the flu or flu-like symptoms. Their pediatrician may suggest additional precautions that should be taken. If your child has flu-like symptoms along with any difficulty breathing, seek medical attention right away. There can be serious complications, even death, from the flu, but thanks to the flu vaccine these are less common.

Flu Treatment
For all children who don’t feel well with the flu, lots of tender loving care is in order. Children may benefit from extra rest and drinking lots of fluids.

If your child is uncomfortable because of a fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen in doses recommended by your pediatrician for his age and weight will help him feel better. Ibuprofen is approved for use in children six months of age and older; however, it should never be given to children who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously.

It is extremely important never to give aspirin to a child who has the flu or is suspected of having the flu. Aspirin during bouts of influenza is associated with an increased risk of developing Reye syndrome.

Flu Prevention
Everyone should get the flu vaccine each year to update their protection. It is the best way to prevent getting the flu. Safe vaccines are made each year and the best time to get the flu vaccine is the late summer/early fall or as soon as it is on hand in your community. Vaccination is especially important for:

  • Children, including infants born preterm, who are 6 months to 5 years of age,
  • Children of any age with chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of complications from the flu
  • Children of American Indian/Alaskan Native heritage
  • All contacts and care providers of children with high risk conditions and children younger than 5 years (especially newborns and infants younger than 6 months because these young infants are not able to receive their own vaccination)
  • All health care personnel
  • All women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently delivered, or are breastfeeding during the flu season

The flu virus spreads easily through the air with coughing and sneezing, and through touching things like doorknobs or toys and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Flu Vaccine
Only the Inactivated (killed) vaccine, also called the “flu shot”, given by injection into the muscle, should be used for influenza vaccination this season.

There are two types of inactivated flu vaccine based on the number of flu virus strains it contains: A trivalent (3 strains = two A and one B viruses) and a quadrivalent (4 strains = two A and two B viruses) vaccine. There is no preference for the use of either of these formulations. Any of these vaccines should be given as available in your area.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that an influenza vaccine be given annually to all children starting at six months of age. Children 6 month through 8 years old may need two doses of the vaccine given at least four weeks apart. Children 9 years of age and older only need one dose.

Flu vaccines are especially important for children at high risk for complications from the flu such as those with a chronic disease such as asthma, heart disease, decreased immune system function due to a primary condition or from medications such as steroids, renal disease, or diabetes mellitus.

All eligible children may receive the inactivated flu shot. All also adults should receive the flu vaccine yearly; this is especially important for adults who live in the same household as someone who has a high risk for flu complications or who care for children under the age of five.

Side Effects
The flu vaccine has few side effects, the most common being fever and redness, soreness or swelling at the injection site.

Although flu vaccines are produced using eggs, influenza vaccines have been shown to have minimal egg protein so that all children with presumed or confirmed egg allergy may still safely receive the flu vaccine unless they have had an allergic reaction specifically to the flu vaccine before. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions.

Antiviral medications are available by prescription to treat an influenza infection. Your pediatrician can help decide whether or not to treat the flu with an antiviral medicine. Antiviral medications work best if started within the first 1 to 2 days of showing signs of the flu. However, in some children with increased risk for influenza complications, treatment could be started later.

Call your pediatrician within 24 hours of the first flu symptom to ask about antiviral medications if your child:

  • Has an underlying health problem like asthma, diabetes, sickle cell disease, or cerebral palsy
  • Is younger than 6 month old.
  • Is younger than 5 years old, especially if less than 2 years old

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Making Fitness a Way of Life

Some school-aged children can’t wait to get home from school, stake out a place on the couch, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening watching TV. Physical activity is just not on their radar screens, at least not by choice.

Stopping the Slippery Slope of Childhood Obesity
Not surprisingly, children who fit this profile may be on a slippery slope to a life of obesity. There are a lot of them. Several years ago, when a group of children 6 to 12 years old participated in programs of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, only 50% of girls and 64% of boys could walk or run a mile in less than 10 minutes. If that same study were conducted today, when the obesity epidemic seems to be gaining momentum, those statistics might be even more troubling.

Making Exercise Into a Lifelong Habit
During your child’s school-age years, your goal should be not only to get your child moving, but to turn exercise into a lifelong habit. There are plenty of opportunities for your child to keep active.

Getting Involved in Organized Sports
In most communities, children in this age group can choose to get involved in a number of organized sports, including:

  • Little League
  • Youth soccer
  • A martial arts class
  • Community basketball
  • Hockey
  • Football leagues

Team sports are fun and the perfect fit for many children, and they can help them manage their weight.

But, Sports Aren’t For Everyone…

However, group activities like these aren’t for everyone. Some obese children feel self-conscious about participating in team sports and are much more comfortable getting their exercise in unstructured settings. For them, free play on the playground, ice skating, in-line skating, bowling, or even running through sprinklers is good exercise.

Let your child choose something that he finds enjoyable, and once he discovers it, encourage him to make it a regular part of life. At the same time, limit TV watching or time spent on the computer or playing video games to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. Studies have shown that the more time children devote to watching TV, the more likely they are to consume foods like pizza, salty snacks, and soda that contribute to weight gain.

If Your Child Insists He Doesn’t Want to Do Any Physical Activity
Explain that it’s important and might even be fun to find a new activity. Try to find activities that fit the family’s budget and time commitments and have him choose among several alternatives.

How to Involve Friends & Family in Fitness Activities
Some children might prefer to go with a friend or parent. Be creative and emphasize participation, not competition. To help your school-aged youngster become physically active, recruit the entire family to participate. Let your overweight child know that all of you, parents and siblings alike, are in his corner, and even if he has rarely exercised before, he can start now with the entire family’s support.

  • Go for family bike rides (with everyone wearing a helmet)
  • Swim together at the Y
  • Take brisk walks
  • Learn to cross-country ski
  • Sign up for golf lessons
  • Do activities of daily living together, such as household chores
  • Spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning the house or raking leaves

No matter what you choose, regular activity not only burns calories, but also strengthens your child’s cardiovascular system, builds strong bones and muscles, and increases flexibility. It can also diffuse stress, help him learn teamwork and sportsmanship, boost his self-esteem, and improve his overall sense of well-being.

Source: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Teens: Creating Your Personal Stress-Management Plan

Here is a 10-point plan to help you manage stress. All of these ideas can lower stress without doing any harm. None are quick fixes, but they will lead you toward a healthy and successful life. The plan is divided into 4 parts.

  • Tackling the problem
  • Taking care of my body
  • Dealing with emotions
  • Making the world better

When you read over the plan, you’ll notice that you can come up with a bunch of ideas for each point. PLEASE don’t think you should try them all.

This plan is supposed to help you reduce stress, not give you more. Try out some ideas, then stick to one or two for each point.

You might notice that this plan is almost like building a college or work résumé. This is the sane way to build a résumé; you are doing it to manage your life and remain happy and prepared for success, not to cram in activities to impress someone else. It will ensure you’re healthy and balanced, and that’s very attractive to colleges and employers.

Part 1: Tackling the Problem

Point 1: Identify and Then Address the Problem.
First decide if a problem is a real tiger or just feels like one. If it can’t hurt you, chances are that it can be better handled with clear thinking. This means turning off those thoughts that make you interpret the situation as a disaster.

  • A lot of people cope by ignoring problems. This doesn’t make them go away; usually they just get worse.
  • People who cope by trying to fix problems tend to be emotionally healthier.
  • When it comes to studying or chores, it is best to get the work done first. Because work or studying produces stress, many people put it off and choose to do fun things first. The problem with that is they’re not really having fun because they’re worrying about the work they’re ignoring. And of course, the longer they put it off, the more they worry. The cycle is endless.
  • Fights with parents and friends don’t go away unless you deal with what upset you in the first place, or unless everyone apologizes and decides to forgive each other.

Three ideas can help you manage a lot of work.

  • Break the work into small pieces. Then do one small piece at a time, rather than look at the whole huge mess. As you finish each piece, the work becomes less overwhelming.
  • Make lists of what you need to do. This will help you sleep because your head won’t spin with worry about whether you can do everything. At the end of the day, you’ll have less to worry about as you check off the things you have finished. You will look at the same huge amount of work and realize you can handle it.
  • Timelines can help with big projects.

Point 2: Avoid Stress When Possible.
Sometimes we know exactly when we are headed for trouble. Avoiding trouble from a distance is easier than dealing with it up close. You know the people who might be a bad influence on you, the places where you’re likely to get in trouble, and the things that upset you. Choose not to be around those people, places, and things that mess you up.

Point 3: Let Some Things Go.
It’s important to try to fix problems, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to change a problem. For example, you can’t change the weather, so don’t waste your energy worrying about it. You can’t change the fact that teachers give tests, so just study instead of complaining about how unfair they are. You can’t change the fact that your parents need to know where you go, so prove that you’re responsible and deserve more freedoms. People who waste their energy worrying about things they can’t change don’t have enough energy left over to fix the things they can. Also learn when not to take things personally. You feel badly for no reason when you take something personally that really has little to do with you.

Part 2: Taking Care of My Body

Point 4: The Power of Exercise.
Exercise is the most important part of a plan to manage stress. When you are stressed, your body is saying, “Run!” So do it. Exercise every day to control stress and build a strong, healthy body. You may think you don’t have time to exercise when you are most stressed, but that is exactly when you need it the most. If you are stressed about an assignment but too nervous to sit down and study—exercise! You will be able to think better after you have used up those stress hormones. Some people exercise before school so they can focus and learn better.

Point 5: Active Relaxation.
You can flip the switch from being stressed to relaxed if you know how to fool your body. Because your body can only use the relaxed or emergency nervous system at any one time, you can turn on the relaxed system. You do this by doing the opposite of what your body does when it is stressed. Here are 2 ideas.

  1. Breathe deeply and slowly. Try the 4–8 breathing technique. Lie on your back and place your hands on your belly with your fingers loose. Deep breaths first fill the belly, then the chest, then the mouth; the breath expands the belly and your hands pull gently apart. Take a full breath while counting to 4. Then hold that breath for about twice as long, or an 8 count. Slowly let it out to the count of 8, or even longer if you can. This will relax your body after a few breaths, but just as importantly, it requires your full concentration. Your mind is too focused on breathing to focus on worries. Do this 10 times and you will feel much more relaxed. Yoga, martial arts, and meditation also teach great breathing skills. When you get good at this, you can even do this in a chair during a test and nobody will know.
  2. Put your body in a relaxed position.
    • Your body knows when you’re nervous. If you sit down to take a test and your legs are shaking, you are saying, “I want to run!” Remember, you can’t concentrate and run at the same time, so you are making it harder to take the test. Instead, take those deep breaths, lean back, and tell your body there is no emergency.
    • When you’re angry, the natural thing to do is stand up and face someone shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-chest. You do this without even thinking, but this subconsciously tells the other person that you’re angry and ready to fight. It also may prevent you from thinking clearly. Do the opposite of what you would do if you were really going to fight—sit down, take deep slow breaths, and tell your body there is no danger. Then use your brain to get out of the situation.

Point 6: Eat Well.
Everyone knows good nutrition makes you healthier. Only some people realize that it also keeps you alert through the day and your mood steady. People who eat mostly junk food have highs and lows in their energy level, which harms their ability to reduce stress. Instead of eating greasy or sugary foods, eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—they keep you focused for a longer time.

Point 7: Sleep Well.
Most kids don’t get the sleep they need to grow and think clearly. Tired people can’t learn as well and can be impatient and irritable. Here are some ideas to improve your sleep.

  • Go to about the same time every night.
  • Exercise 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Your body falls asleep most easily when it has cooled down. If you exercise right before bed, you will be overheated and won’t sleep well. A hot shower 1 hour before bedtime also helps your body relax to fall asleep.
  • Use your bed only to sleep. Don’t solve your problems in bed. When you think about all the things that bother you, you have trouble falling asleep and wake up in the middle of the night to worry more. Instead, have another spot to think, like a worry chair. Give yourself plenty of time to think things through, make a list if you need to, and then set it aside! Go to bed to sleep.
  • Don’t do homework, watch television, read, or use the phone while in bed.

Part 3: Dealing With Emotions

Point 8: Take Instant Vacations.
Sometimes the best way to de-stress is to take your mind away to a more relaxing place.

  • Visualize. Have a favorite place where you can imagine yourself relaxing. The place should be beautiful and calm. When you’re stressed, sit down, lean back, take deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your calm place.
  • Take time out for yourself. Everyone deserves time for themselves—a bath or something that allows time to think and de-stress. Try a warm bath with your ears just underwater. Listen to yourself take deep, slow breaths. Take your pulse and count as your heart rate goes down.
  • Enjoy hobbies or creative art as an instant vacation.
  • Look at the beauty around you and get pleasure from the small things you may have stopped noticing.
  • Take mini-vacations. Sometimes we forget that the park around the corner is a great place to hang out. A walk outside can be a mini-vacation if you choose to forget your worries.
  • Reading a good book is an escape from reality. You have to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells—you are somewhere else for a while.

Point 9: Release Emotional Tension.
Sometimes feelings become so overwhelming that we cram them all away in an imaginary box and think we’ll deal with them later. But later, there’s so much stuff in the box that there is too much to deal with. This can make your head feel as if it is spinning. Sometimes you get angry or frustrated without even knowing why. You just know there is too much stuff going on in your head. It’s good to pick just one problem to work on and forget the rest for the moment. When we decide to deal with only one problem at a time, it’s much less scary to open the box.

Here are some ideas to release your thoughts or worries one at a time.

  • Creativity. People who have a way to express themselves don’t need to hold it inside. Creative outlets like art, music, poetry, singing, dance, and rap are powerful ways to let your feelings out.
  • Talking. Every young person deserves a responsible adult to talk to and some friends to trust. Hopefully, you can talk to your parents. If you do not want to tell your parents everything, make sure to find an adult who’ll listen and whom you can ask for advice.
  • Journaling. Write it out!
  • Prayer. Many young people find prayer or meditation helpful.
  • Laughing or crying. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions fully.

Part 4: Making the World Better

Point 10: Contribute to the World.
Young people who work to make the world better have a sense of purpose, feel good about themselves, and handle their own problems better. It’s important to understand that you really can make a difference in other people’s lives. The role of teenagers is to recognize the mistakes adults have made and build a better world.

My Personal Stress Plan

Now that you have read about the kind of things a person can do to reduce stress, you may be ready to create a plan for yourself. Click Here to download My Personal Stress Plan (PDF)

Editor’s Note: This article is written specifically for young people from 12 to 18 years of age. Your teen will get the most out of this article if he or she also reads For Teens: A Personal Guide for Managing Stress and downloads My Personal Stress Plan.

SOURCE: Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, 3rd Edition (Copyright © 2015 Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, and Martha M. Jablow). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Your Family Rituals

Every family should have activities that they enjoy together and that become a regular, predictable, and integral part of their lives. Some can be serious pur­suits, like attending community functions or religious services as a family; oth­ers can be more lighthearted, like going fishing. Whatever they are, they can help bond a family together. These are some rituals that many families have made parts of their lives:

Important Conversations
Communication between parents and children should be a top priority in your family. Set aside time to talk, discussing the day’s and the week’s activities, sharing feelings and really listening to one an­other.

Respect the privacy of each of your youngsters as they begin to assert their independence during these middle years; they may have certain problems and difficulties they may not want to divulge to their brothers and sisters. You should be able to have a one-on-one conversation with each child without all the other children listening to it. If you honor his wishes for confidentiality, this can build trust between you.

Some families establish a weekly time for a family meeting. When everyone is present, family issues, relationships, plans, and experiences are discussed, and everyone from the youngest to the oldest gets a chance to be heard and to participate.

Recreation and Cultural Activities
Family recreation is an important way to strengthen the family. Sports (participation and spectator), games, movies, and walks in the park are good ways to increase cohesiveness and reduce stress.

Cultural activities can be valuable too. Visits to museums, libraries, plays, musicals, and concerts can expand the family’s horizons and deepen appreci­ation for the arts.

Shopping trips can provide regular opportunities for parents and children to spend time together. Whether you are grocery shopping or buying birthday gifts, these excursions can be fun and exciting for youngsters in mid­dle childhood. Let your children make lists, find items in the store, carry the bags to the car, and unpack them once you return home. Allowing your child some choices and assigning some meaningful responsibilities can help build his self-confidence.

Reading and Singing Aloud
Reading and singing aloud as a family promotes feelings of closeness and an appreciation for music and books. Parents should find out what stories their children like to read, and what music they like to lis­ten to. It is lots of fun to take turns reading aloud, and to let the children hear the stories and songs you enjoyed when you were growing up.

Holiday Traditions
These are another source of fun family activities. By learning about the history, significance, and rituals of a particular holiday, chil­dren will feel a greater sense of involvement in the holiday preparations and celebrations.

Spiritual Pursuits
For many families, religion plays an important role in pro­viding a moral tradition, a set of values, and a network of friends and neigh­bors who can provide support. Attending services is something family members can do together.

You do not necessarily need to go to a church, synagogue, or other place of worship regularly, however, to share moral values with your children and help them develop a sense of their history and the continuity of the family. Many families develop a strong spiritual life without the formal structure of orga­nized religion.

Source: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

New Year’s Resolutions

Did your children and teens make New Year’s Resolutions this year? Kids and teens sometimes need to make these promises to themselves, and you, in order to organize their goals for the coming year.

Click here to listen to pediatrician David Hill, MD, FAAP, discuss how parents can help their children to make and keep smart New Year’s resolutions to be active and stay healthy.