The BIG importance of the Everyday things.

As parents we are constantly playing offense as we respond to the joys and trials of parenting in real-time: illnesses, injuries, school placement, peer issues. Things change and we adapt on a daily, or even hourly, basis. That is why it is so helpful to have a defensive plan for three of the most important areas for your family’s overall health and wellness: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Treating sleep, nutrition, and exercise as a priority for yourself and your child will help keep you all in the best possible shape to be able to respond to life’s unexpected hurdles.

Sleep is the most important factor in a person’s overall health. Disrupted sleep is one of the first signs something is not going well with our bodies. Disrupted sleep also has the most impact on every other system of the body. It impacts our mental health, our cardiovascular health, and our metabolic health. If a child is suddenly experiencing unusual behaviors, irritability, or health symptoms, I encourage parents to look at their child’s sleep pattern for clues, as sleep disturbances is so often the cause of many of our ailments.

Nutrition is also extremely important as it too impacts your bodies overall health and ability to fight off illness and disease. It is important to consider ahead of time how your family will talk about eating healthy and how you will work to ensure your family has a healthy, balanced meal plan. In today’s fast-paced world, we often substitute convenience for health, and having a plan in place that ensures you don’t have to be thinking about this everyday will help save you time in the long run. Children may naturally be disinclined to eat certain foods. They are more sensitive to consistency and flavors than we are as adults. The key is to keep introducing a variety of foods to your child. Like all things, they will get better with practice and expand the repertoire of enjoyable foods (how many times did you have to try brussels sprouts before you started to like them?). A common refrain of nutritionists is that a child has to be exposed to a new flavor at least 30 times if you want them to learn to like it. Of course, in addition to variety, we want to ensure our children are not being overexposed to processed foods, and things with high sugar and salt contents. Young children do not fatigue in their ability to tolerate sweet and salty the same way adults do (their internal sensors that tell them they have “had enough” just aren’t developed yet), so they require parents to let them know when they have had too much of a good thing. As adults, we need to know how much is too much, so we can teach them good portion control as well.

Exercise is the last piece to the puzzle. Unlike nutrition, where children really need our help to learn what is healthy, we can really follow our child’s lead when it comes to exercise. Children’s need to run and play and explore will meet their bodies’ need for exercise. It is our job to save space and time for them to be able to meet their natural demand for vigorous movement. We need to protect school recess and physical education. We need to make sure that we save time each day to let our children run and explore. We are often the obstacle to children getting enough exercise as we build lives that are increasingly over-scheduled.

Taking time to think about these three issues and to ensure your family is maintaining a lifestyle where sleep, nutrition, and exercise are valued priorities will ensure that you are able to impart your family beliefs in these areas on to your children. These are areas that, if protected and valued, will make it easier for your child to face the world and its daily hurdles.

Technology and Children

I have two teenagers at home, and even though I consider myself a savvy user of electronics, they will be far better versed than me in all things technology. That said, I frequently wonder what this means for children today. From simple questions about screen time to more complex questions about social media use, video games and the wide array of available content on the internet. As is always true, our children are growing up in a different technology landscape than we did. These new technology variables do not have a blue print or “how-to” guide for parents. They simply have not been around long enough. What I can tell you isn’t new, adults lamenting that the changing landscape around our children may be bad for them. It is natural to worry. It is extremely natural to worry about the unknown. That is what “technology” is for each new generation of parents, a set of unknown variable that we can not look back to our own childhood to for answers. Given the click-bait nature of our media culture, many outlets will use this natural parental worry to “sell” us the “answers” we are desperately seeking. Which is exactly how I chose my recent reading list.

I just finished a fascinating read call “Media Moms and Digital Dads” by Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D.. The book attempts to consolidate all the ways technology touches our children’s lives today alongside the current research available on child development and the impact of said technology. I found her presentation of the research and her analysis and insight into how we can use that research to make parenting choices very helpful. Below are my take-aways from reading this book:

  1. Parents love their children and want to make the “best” choices they can to ensure they grow to be healthy, happy adults.

  2. Technology appears, from the research, to have net positive effects on growth, learning and social outcomes. While there are some things of which to be mindful (e.g., Facebook and Instagram have shown to have some mild negative effects on self-esteem) there are also many positive aspects (e.g., facilitating learning and group work, video games enhancing spatial awareness and math skills, enhancing social relationships). Articles lamenting about the negative effects of technology are often not congruent with the current research, or are over-magnifying less-likely negative outcomes.

  3. Parents worry about unknown variables in parenting with unclear “right” and “wrong” answers. Technology, with its ever-evolving landscape is an area where EVERY generation is working with a new set of variables and therefor we feel like we can’t always “learn” from our own past experiences. As Dr. Uhls points out, at one point parents were worried that novels would be the downfall of our youth (when the technology of the day was mass-produced printing).

  4. We are not reinventing any developmental wheel. While technology may be changing, what we know about how children learn and grow and the developmental continuum hasn’t changed. We can use what we know to be true to inform our decisions about these things that are changing around us.

  5. The important thing, it seems, is to really know your child and apply what you know about your child to technology as you make parenting decisions. Which I think is true for all areas of learning. If your child is a risk-taker, they will be more risky online. If your child is prone to addictive behavior (getting really obsessed with given activities), they will be more likely to do this with technology. If your child hides things from you, they will be more likely to do this with technology (with greater stakes).

SO IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW YOUR CHILD AND THEN MAKE DECISIONS THAT ARE RIGHT FOR HIM OR HER. THERE IS NO ONE-RULE FITS ALL FOR TECHNOLOGY. I would argue that is true for all areas of growth and learning. The goal is to really learn who your child is, as their own unique little being, and use that knowledge to help guide them on their path to learning and growth.

Free Play is good for everyone!

Yesterday I was at a training on boundaries and harassment in the work place. Normally, this type of training would not have much overlap with information I would find useful to share with you in our school blog, however, I was fascinated when the discussion started with the presenter saying to a room full of adults (mostly ministers) that free-play is necessary throughout life in order to maintain personal happiness and fulfillment. I couldn’t agree more.

The need to engage in enjoyable, sometimes unstructured, self-directed activities is as basic and required as any of our other needs. What activities we choose for “free-play” usually change as we get older—but the need is still there. It is easy to get swept up in lots of other things when you are a parent. We protect our children’s needs as a priority. We may even place our children’s wants on a list above our own personal needs. Yesterday was a reminder to me how important it is to meet our needs, in order to be the best adult role-models for our children. One of those needs, even for adults, is free-play. It might be reading a book, going to your Orange Theory class, attending a concert, or dancing in your living room. Whatever it is, add it to your calendar and make sure your children see you taking care of your needs too!