Let’s face it: we all take things for granted. We forget how fortunate we are. Let’s make November a month of gratitude! Help your children focus on what they are grateful for. Read about it: The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood. Talk about it: share 3 things you’re grateful for at dinner or bedtime. Make a Tree of Thanksgiving.
Planning a picnic with children can be fun and it involves brainstorming and making choices – great skills for life! What sandwiches? Which fruit will travel well? What toys should we bring? Even a picnic in the back yard or in another room is fun for children. Pack water, a blanket, and hand sanitizer– you’re good to go.
For more great skill-building tips, check out In a Nutshell on the AcornDreams homepage.
Why Involve Children in the Activities of Daily Life?
Sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. Toys need to be picked up in a hurry? Table needs to be set? A four-year-old needs to get dressed? Activities for Saturday afternoon need to be planned? In our busy day-to-day lives, if there is a job to do or decision to make, we tend to mull over the options, choose one that seems manageable, and just do it. Quick and easy, right? But when we do it all, we are missing opportunities to involve children in meaningful ways that can help them become more independent, creative, and resilient.
Everyone Needs a Voice in Family Life
When we find ourselves making the decisions, telling children what to do, where to go, what to wear, what to eat, we are inadvertently depriving them of the chance to think for themselves and to voice their opinions. Like adults, kids begin to bristle when they are micromanaged all the time. Even the youngest children benefit when they get to be involved in life’s little decisions.
When given opportunities to express themselves, share their experiences and make decisions, children feel valued and develop a sense of self. This gives them the message that they are an important part of the family. And when they are involved in a way that has meaning to them, when they have a Voice, children become more cooperative and behavior issues decrease. So how can we let children know that we value their ideas and experiences?
We Need to Listen
One way for children to have a Voice is to take a few minutes to let them know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say:
- Listen to how their day was. Prompt them with something specific like “tell me about one person you played with (or talked to or laughed with) today.”
- Ask them to tell you that joke again (even though you’ve heard it 100 times).
- Have them tell you about the picture they made or the block structure they built.
- Ask a silly question like “What super power would you like to have?” or “If you discovered a new planet, what would it be like?” or “If you were the boss of the world, what rules would you make?”
While most adults can listen and do something else at the same time, to a child it feels like you are not tuned in. So when they are talking, be sure to stop what you’re doing and really pay attention. Let them know you are listening by looking at them and responding to what they say.
Involve Children in Decision-Making
Another way to help children have a Voice is to encourage them to share ideas and opinions when decisions must be made or problems need to be solved. Some examples:
- Giving ideas about a family activity (which park to visit, which movie to watch)
- Working through a problem with a sibling by brainstorming possible solutions
- Helping to pick out gifts for relatives or friends celebrating birthdays
- Brainstorming dinner ideas
- Helping to plan a party or celebration
While they may not end up getting the final say, children get the message that their input is valuable and is taken into consideration. Needless to say, certain decisions are not appropriate for children to be involved in such as bedtimes and how much TV is watched. It’s important for children to understand that some things are not negotiable. Giving children a Voice is not the same as letting them ‘rule the roost’. Having a Voice means being involved in the process of child-appropriate decision-making and problem-solving, not necessarily the outcome. Life does not always feel fair, but it is valuable and reassuring for children to learn that there are times when caring parents make the decisions
What Caring Adults Can Do
To help children have a Voice, Dr. Richard Grossman, a psychologist in Brookline Massachusetts, suggests that we keep 3 guidelines in mind:
- Assume that what your child has to say is just as important as what you have to say.
- Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
- Enter their world through play, activities, and discussions; don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.
By letting children know that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we want their active participation in the life of the family, we give them the message that they matter. Research tells us that involving children in a meaningful way helps them become more resilient and ready to take on the challenges that life will certainly throw their way.
Habits Start Forming In Early Childhood
What do juice boxes, toy-fortified kid meals, chocolate-covered granola bars, and single-serving sugar-bomb cereals hawked by cartoon characters have in common? These “grab and go” foods have little nutritional value and are directly marketed to young children. Many parents appreciate quick, easy foods children will eat without a fuss.
Unfortunately, while convenient, this kind of sugary, junky food is one culprit contributing to today’s childhood obesity predicament.
Other factors include: not enough fruits and vegetables, too many sugar-sweetened drinks, too much sedentary time in front of TV and other media, and not enough physical activity.
Won’t Most Children “Grow Out Of” Childhood Obesity?
Twenty-three million (one in three) American children are overweight or obese. We used to believe that overweight children had “baby fat” they would naturally grow out of. We now know that when a young child becomes overweight or obese it is usually very difficult for them to reach and maintain a normal weight. Half of all children who are obese at age six will be obese in adulthood, continuing to face health and other challenges.
According to Robert Wood Johnson’s childhood obesity researchers, today’s children could be the first generation to “live sicker and die younger” than their parents because of childhood obesity.
Overweight or obese children are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems in their childhood years and in adulthood. They feel more stressed and anxious than healthy-weight peers and miss more school.
Early Childhood May Be Key To Preventing Obesity
Many health experts believe that teaching and establishing healthy habits in early childhood holds tremendous promise for reversing the epidemic of obesity. After all, it is easier to initiate good habits than to turn around bad ones!
Important environmental changes that support children’s pathway to healthy weight have emerged in the past few years – like updated USDA nutrition standards for school lunches and snacks, and restrictions on marketing junk food to children.
Many schools, child care settings, and families work hard to provide children healthier food, more opportunities for active play, and limited screen time.
Young Children Develop A Foundation of Healthy Habits
Environmental changes are important, but not enough. Children benefit when they learn to take care of their bodies and make healthy choices.
The 5-2-1-0 Model, recommended by medical experts, provides clear guidelines for teaching children daily habits that promote health and prevent overweight and obesity.
5 – fruits and vegetables
2 – hours or less of screen time (TV, computer, tablets, smart phones, etc.)
1 – hour or more of physical activity
0 – sugar-sweetened drinks
How Can 5-2-1-0 Help Young Children?
The 5-2-1-0 concepts are concrete and specific enough to be taught to young children. Unlike complicated information about proteins, carbohydrates, calories, or food groups, young children “get” that fruits and vegetables are healthy choices! They can understand that screen time is a quiet, stay-still activity, and that children’s bodies get strong through active, run-around play time.
Teaching children to make positive choices every day that align with 5-2-10 practices creates a foundation of healthier habits that can promote good health over their lifetime.
5-2-1-0 Practices and Healthy Choices For Children
5 Fruits & Veggies
Many younger children eat fruits and vegetables. However, as children get older, most eat fewer fruits and vegetables and consume more salty, sugary, fatty foods. By the teen years and adulthood, few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Guiding young children to eat five fruits and vegetables each day – including for snack time– can develop the habit of consciously choosing nutritious foods over less healthy, junk foods.
- Teach children that eating fruits and vegetables will help them be strong and healthy. For ideas about creating fun, healthy snacks for young children, click here.
2 Hours or Less of Screen Time
Despite years of recommendations by pediatricians to limit children’s screen time, American children are clocking up many hours on TV and other media in their homes. Out and about, young children can be found tapping and scrolling on hand-held devices – in grocery carts, car seats, at restaurants, you name it. The amount of time spent with screens only increases as children get older. Screen time is largely sedentary, and replaces more active and creative play that children are likely to pursue when no screens are available.
- Teach children that too much TV and other screen time is not a healthy choice, and that growing bodies need to move around. For a reproducible parent note about the importance of limiting screen time, click here.
1 Hour of Exercise
Most American children get less than half the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Healthy bodies need the muscle development and raised heart rate that comes when children run, jump, dance, and just play. Providing plenty of time and space for active play for young children can establish a habit of exercise that leads to more fit teens and adults.
- Teach children that active play is not only FUN, but it makes their heart healthy and muscles strong! For suggestions about lively, active ways children can play click here.
0 Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Juice
More than sweet treats like cookies or candy, sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in children’s diets. Offering almost no nutritional value, sweetened drinks often replace actual food for children. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is considered a key contributor to weight issues. Even 100% juice – long seen as healthy for children – has the same amount of sugar as soda. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “no more than 4-6 ounces of 100% juice daily.” Many physicians go so far as to say that even 100% juice is not a necessary part of a healthy diet for children. Actual fruit is a more nutritious choice.
- Teach children that water and milk are “anytime” drinks that are good for their bodies. To see some lively Pinterest suggestions for encouraging children to drink more water, click here.
Adults Can Help Young Children Get A Healthy Start
Teaching children what they need to know, in fun and age-appropriate ways, equips them to create a brighter future. Adults CAN make a difference in preventing childhood obesity. Starting in the early years is key.
AcornDreams Healthy Choices Resources
The following easy-to-use tools align with 5-2-1-0 guidelines and can help equip you to teach young children about making healthy choices and recognize them when they do.
- Al’s Healthy Choices children’s book
- Healthy Al, Healthy Me 7-lesson curriculum
- “I Make Healthy Choices” stickers
- Healthy Choices package
- Free resources for home and classroom
If Vitamin N could be sold in stores, it would surely fly off the shelves. Although not found in stores, it IS widely available and usually affordable.
Children Need More Vitamin “Nature”
According to Richard Louv, author of bestselling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, children today do not get enough Vitamin N – a phrase for the health benefits of nature popularized by his books. [ more ]
Put the Play Back Into Playtime
“Get back in the game, buddy!” calls out a dedicated dad when he sees his 4-year old athlete poking twigs in the ground to make a stick house.
Hmmm. Two kinds of play here. Soccer and imaginary twig towns.
Remember “Just Playing?”
Today’s young children certainly play more soccer and t-ball. They jump on bouncers, flap parachutes and scarves together, and clamber through ballpits in “play places.” Our children master video games created just for them and many maneuver a smart phone better than adults! There are fewer twig towns out there these days.
Do children play the same way today as we did when we were kids? [ more ]
Stubborn Refusals and Temper Tantrums Wear Everyone Out
Sometimes children’s emotional storms and “cheerful to tearful” in 10 seconds flat can tire adults out. A tantrum over putting on boots? Wailing when a tower piece won’t fit or sobbing over who was “there first”? It becomes exhausting and frustrating for everyone when children struggle with anger, disappointment, and other “big” feelings.
From an adult perspective, we think, “Really? All this drama over putting on boots? Just put the boots ON!”
Some Children Need to Learn HOW to Calm Down
These struggles look a lot like intentional defiance. However, some children are more emotional by nature than others. And some children need more help learning how to handle big feelings. In the words of one sweet child, “Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a mad, I just can’t get out.”
Good news! Adults can help children master this important life skill. The fieriest four year old can learn to manage her feelings and think before acting. The fiercest five year old can derail a rising temper and choose to stay calm. [ more ]
It’s Never Too Early to Show Children the Joys of Giving
The “Gimme” Attitude
Lots of people love to talk about children being spoiled today, being raised with a sense of entitlement. Usually, we’re talking about other people’s spoiled children but not always.
Did Socrates have specific children in mind when he observed: “The children now love luxury…have bad manners, contempt for authority…disrespect to their elders….” ?
During the busy month of December, many caring adults work very hard to create special traditions and choose perfect gifts that will delight children – who will then appreciate and remember warm holiday experiences. You know, we’re making memories! It’s a lot of work.
What Really Makes Children Happy
How frustrating and disappointing when instead of sweet gratitude and general contentedness, children instead look around for ANOTHER present or are cranky or get overstimulated by our memory-making activities. [ more ]