Looking Beyond the Label: Family Health & Nutrition

When you are shopping for food and snacks for your family, do you see words like “pure” and “natural” and “contains real fruit” and toss it in the cart, thinking it’s a healthy choice?

Don’t be so quick to judge a package by it’s label! Many of these appealing descriptions are simply misleading, and it’s always advisable to get out  your reading glasses and try to decipher the list of ingredients on the back of the package (they do put some of those lists in tiny letters, don’t they?!).

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While the labels usually don’t outright lie, they can use tricky terms that stretch the truth more than you’d believe. As a parent it’s especially important to ignore the hype and be aware of the following trendy terms:

  • Pure: Well, you don’t want contaminated food, do you? But “pure” actually has no regulated meaning in food labeling and doesn’t tell you about things in the package that perhaps should not be there.
  • Natural: It sounds so appealing, but is probably the least trustworthy term. Consumers think it means that this food is as good as freshly picked off the tree… but it really says nothing about the nutritional quality or safety of the food.
  • Made From… The food may have started out with whatever is printed on the label, but who knows to what extent the food is then diluted, processed, or hydrogenated. It may be quite far removed from the actual food it is originally “made from.”
  • Made with real fruit/veges: The law does not require the label to say how much real fruit is in the product. So you may have a tiny percentage of fruit in a product that is mostly sugar.
  • Made with whole grains: Check the list of ingredients and you may be surprised to see that the product contain mostly refined flour with just a small amount of whole wheat added.
  • Fat Free: Suppose a food is labeled 95 percent “fat-free.” This means that five percent of the total weight of the food is fat, (which may not seem like much), yet a single gram of fat contains nine calories – compared to four calories in a gram of protein or carbohydrates. Five grams of fat in 100 grams of dark-meat turkey represents one-fourth of the calories in that serving.
  • Enriched: This often means that after doing something to the food that removed many of it’s nutrients, another process was required to put some of the good stuff back in. For example, enriched white bread is not as healthy as its whole wheat counterpart.
  • Smoked: This term legally describes the flavor of the food. So while you might imagine your food being smoked in an old-fashioned smokehouse, it could actually be artificially or chemically smoked, or just contain smoked flavoring.
  • Fruit drinks: These may contain little or no real fruit juice, and might be mostly sugar and water. If it says “high in vitamin C,” it may have added vitamins but still be a long way from real orange juice.
  • Organically grown, organic, pesticide-free, all natural, and no artificial ingredients: None of these terms say much about the nutritional value or safety of the product. Trust only labels that say “certified organically grown, which means that the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in soil free of these substances.

For more information on family nutrition and being label-savvy, visit AskDrSears.com, or click on one of the following links!

Respect: Will you Kids Know What This Word Means?

When I was little, my  grandfather used to sing a song from an old musical that went something like this: “Kids, what’s the matter with kids today? La da dee da… Kids, disrespectful, disobedient oafs!” Well, if that’s how kids were in his day, how do we even begin on the subject of respect today? I’m trying hard to instill it into own darling five year old, but she’s still has her moments– issuing ultimatums, disregarding “pleases” and “thank you’s,” and being rude to neighbors– kids and parents alike.  Don’t get me wrong, she can be sweet and polite when she wants to be, but how do we change that to being polite and respectful all the time?

Nicole Caccavo Kear (Parents.com: The Return of Respect) writes:  “Respect. Thanks to Aretha, we all know how to spell it. But sadly, in today’s world (where rudeness is so pervasive that even our president gets heckled while making a speech), we no longer expect that everyone will show respect for others. The good news is that we can teach our kids this critical value — and in doing so, we’ll end up imparting crucial lessons in kindness, consideration, honesty, open-mindedness, and gratitude as well.”

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Victoria Kindle Hodson, coauthor of Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, says that the most effective way to teach kids respectful behavior is to model it yourself. This means that as tired and frustrated as we are, we cannot resort to shouting, name-calling, sarcasm, or rudeness with our kids. Stay calm, explain why their behavior is unacceptable, and issue consequences when necessary.

In addition to being a role model, here are some other guidelines for teaching respect and good manners.

Demand Good Manners

Even if young kids are just going through the motions of acting polite (saying “please” and “thank you” on cue, etc) they will grow up to learn that acting polite isn’t merely a formality. Teach them when to say “excuse me” and “I’m sorry,” greeting others properly with a “hello” or “goodbye,” and how to act in special situations (ie: library, restaurant, toy store). With time, this type of proper behavior will become second nature. Reinforce good manners with praise and note why their acts of consideration matter: “Thank you for including Sam in your game. It makes him happy to be included.”

Don’t Tolerate Rudeness

Back talk and other bratty behavior are so common these days that it’s easier to just ignore it than deal with it.  But a child who’s allowed to speak rudely to his family will also think it’s okay to sass others; therefore you must respond immediately.  When your child is upset, help him express himself by making “I” statements (as in “I feel frustrated!”) rather than ones that start with “You” (as in “You are stupid!”). Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings (“You seem very angry. Do you want to tell me what happened?”) Giving your child a positive way to express his emotions, while letting him know that it’s not OK to insult others or scream at them. You may find that it takes a lot of work to help your young child get a handle on her temper, but keep on reminding and instructing.

Don’t forget to lead the way by being a good example: You too should apologizige when it’s appropriate, and urge your kids to do the same.

Teach Listening Skills

Showing respect means giving others your time and attention. Important rules your kids should learn about being a good listener are: Removing distractions and making eye contact, waiting their turn to speak and not interrupting, and of course being courteous. So teach your child to look up from their games and focus on you when you’re talking. Practice role-playing different types of conversations. They’ll catch on!

Establishing Rules

House rules teach kids that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they’ve got to be considerate of others. It also helps them adjust to school and beyond, where they must follow certain rules. Instilling a regard for authority in your little ones starts at home.

First off, sit down and explain the house rules to them. Write them up (or draw pictures) and post them on the fridge. Explain why these rules matter. (“It’s important to go to bed on time because your body needs enough sleep to be happy and healthy the next day!”) Then let them know what will happen if the rules are broken, and be prepared to follow through with those consequences if necessary.

Encourage Open-mindedness; Embrace Diversity

We all know kids who will make fun of those who are different than they. Teaching kids to be open-minded means understanding that everyone is differerent but still worthy of our respect. Even if we don’t hit it off with someone immediate, we should taking the time to get to know them and see where they’re coming from. People who may seem totally different at first may turn out to have many things in common with us! (“Rhonda wears a headscarf, but she loves to draw just like you! David prays in a synagogue on Saturdays, but he enjoys rollerblading too!”)  And, even if they don’t like someone else, it’s not OK to be rude or unkind. This will open up their futures in terms of meeting exciting people, experiencing interesting things, and learning new things.  It also shows them that sometimes it’s OK to “agree to disagree” and go on with our own lives peaceably.

Respect Stuff, Too!

Kids to who learn to treat belongings with respect are also developing the values of consideration and responsibility. Some ways to drive the point home:

Explain value. Let kids understand why things are worth what they are. If he tramples the neighbor’s flower garden, don’t just scold or punish, explain how much time and effort she put into planing, watering, and tending her plants, and how they beautify our surroundings.

Less is more. Kids don’t need tons of toys. The more they have, the less they will appreciate when they get something new. Instead, let them work towards earning something they like (for example, making a point chart) or find new ways of playing with things they already have.

Make it clear. If you let them play with something valuable, spell out the rules first. My daughter loves to snap pictures with our camera, but I tell her she must hold it with two hands, stand in one place, etc…

Adapted from Parents.com. Original article published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine. Read the complete article here.

Training Children to Eat Well

What to feed an infant is pretty straightforward, and toddlers tend to eat whatever you give them, but as they grow up you may discover the frustrating phenomenon of picky eating. Nancy Piho, author of “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, warns: “It’s not always pretty!”

No, it’s not. Sometimes, it gets quite ugly.

As the proud (and somewhat harried) mother of a 3 year old and a 5 year old, it seems the only acceptable food choices are the Familiar and the Full-of-Sugar. Definitely not seeing any octopus in my future.

What is the secret to turning out the “good eaters?” Nancy Piho says that the key is to put firm and healthful eating habits in place from the beginning, and then stick to them, even when the going gets tough. Easier said than done? I don’t know, I’ll have to try it out on child number three.

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photo: Dr. Ann Wigmore

But it’s never too late to try instilling good habits. Ms. Piho presents 8 good eating tips to implement in your home:

1. Sit down! Now is the time to teach your kids that meals play an important role in their day. Make breakfast, lunch and dinner a definite sit-down-to-eat occasion, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

2. Doesn’t this look good? Talk it up! Comment on the yummy smells from the oven, or how pretty and juicy the steak looks. Young children “eat with their eyes” just like adults do.

3. It’s a dinner, not a diner! That means, no short order cooking! From their earliest eating days, children can and should eat what everyone else at the table is eating.

4. Focus on the whole meal. If you’re serving chicken, peas and rice for dinner, then your child should have chicken, peas and rice on their plate, too. What if they scarf down the rice and want more? Make them wait until they have a bite or two of the rest of the items in the meal.

5. Spice it up. Don’t be afraid to let your child sample spicier dishes, like those found in Indian or Mexican cuisines. If it’s really too hot, stir a little milk or sour cream into their portion, so that they still get the flavor of the dish without the full effect of the heat.

6. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If at first they dislike spinach or Brussels sprouts or broccoli, try, try again. Researchers have found that up to 15 separate introductions of a food may be required before a child will be accepting of it. Wait several days or weeks, but don’t drop the offending item out of the menu entirely.

7. Pour out the juice. Kiddie beverages all have one thing in common: they are sweet to the taste. Don’t start your little one off believing that drinks have to be sweet to taste good. Stick to plain milk and water.

8. And nix the other kiddie products. If it’s a food product made for and marketed to kids, chances are it’s going to be inferior in taste and flavor to comparable adult products. Avoid these and you will be way ahead in the game of preventing picky eating.

In-law problems? Teenagers in the house? Annoyed with your spouse? Sex life need a pick-up? Find more good family advice on  Hitched.com.

Learning from Tragedy: Babies and Cough Meds

You may have heard about about the tragic death of 4-month old Daniel Richadson. A healthy baby with a cough, his aunt, who was babysitting, gave him some over-the-counter cough medicine (namely Robitussin) to try and sooth him. The baby stopped breathing and died shortly afterward.

If there’s anything good that can come of this awful accident, it should be to make parents and caretakers aware of the effects of medication they give their small children. As of 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned parents not to give over-the-counter cold medicine to children younger than 2 without first asking a doctor.

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image: Drug Free Homes

The CDC further states: “Cough and cold medicines do not cure the common cold. Although cough and cold medicines may be used to treat the symptoms of the common cold in older children, they should not be used in children less than 4 years old. Too much cough and cold medicine can cause serious harm or even deaths in children.”

Parents should also be aware of the dangers of unnecessary antibiotic use. The CDC warns: “Antibiotics can kill bacteria but not viruses. Most colds, coughs, flu, sore throats, and runny noses are caused by viruses. Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure viral infections, keep others from catching the illness, or help your child feel better. Although antibiotics are good drugs for certain types of infections, they… cause they most emergency visits for adverse drug events.”

Tips for Parents from the CDC

  • Don’t give children medicine that is packaged for adults unless told to told so by a physician.
  • Don’t use cough and cold products for children under 4 unless told to do so by a physician.
  • Read all information on the package label and follow directions. Don’t give a child medicine more often or in greater amounts than the package says!
  • Use only the measuring device that is included with the prduct. A kitchen spoon is not a good measuring device for giving medicine to children.
  • If a measuring device is not included with the product, purchase one at a pharmacy or ask the pharmacist for one.
  • Check the active ingredients in the prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Make sure you do not give your child two medicines that have the same active ingredient. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you don’t understand the instructions or how to use the dosing device, do not use the medicine. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor of you have questions or are confused.
  • Do not ask for antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.
  • If you child is prescribed an antibiotic, make sure s/he takes all the medicine as prescribed, even if they feel better. Do not save antibiotic medicine “for later.”
So what can you do to help a baby or young child find relief from a cold, cough, runny nose, and congestion?
Dr. Sear’s Natural Treatments for Coughs, Runny Nose, and Congestion:
  • Steam cleaning. Give your child steam, steam, and more steam. For infants and young children, turn the bathroom into a steam room with the door closed and the shower on full hot. Sit in there for 10 or 15 minutes. For older children, use a facial steamer or pot of hot water (carefully!). The steam will help loosen the nose and chest congestion, and help your child cough it up or blow it out. Do this steam cleaning every morning and before bed, as well as during the day if possible.
  • Clap the chest and back. While you sit in the bathroom steaming, clap on your child’s chest and back (where the lungs are) firmly (harder than burping) with an open hand. This helps shake the mucus loose so your child can cough it up better.
  • Sleep upright. If possible, allow your child to sleep in a slightly upright position. This allows for easier breathing during sleep.
  • Nose hose. For older children, it is crucial to have them blow their nose several times during a steam cleaning, as well as frequently throughout the day. Getting out all the junk will help prevent this from turning into a bacterial infection. An alternative to steaming is to use nasal decongestant spray to loosen up the nasal congestion before blowing it out. For infants too young to blow their nose, you can suction them out using a blue rubber bulb syringe.
  • Hot steam vaporizer. Use a hot steam vaporizer in the bedroom at night (not a cool mist humidifier). This warm, humid environment can help keep noses and chests clear at night. Be sure to air the room out well during the day because mold can start to grow in the room due to the warmth and humidity.
  • Eucalyptus and lavender oil. Add only one drop of each of these to a facial steamer, pot of hot water or some vaporizers. They can help clear up the congestion faster.
  • Vapor rubs on the chest. Occasionally, these can cause wheezing because the vapors may be too strong for some children, but overall they will work well. It is safe to try, but do observe your child to make sure it doesn’t cause wheezing.
  • Drink twice as much liquid. This will help to thin secretions and prevent dehydration.

Easing the Back-to-School Butterflies

In some families, it’s hard to say who’s more nervous about the first day of school– the kids or the parents!  New beginnings are exciting but kids and their parents may also feel apprehensive, especially if your child is attending a new school. You know that these jitters will pass, but doing a little advanced preparation will help put everyone at ease. These 10 tips from Hitched will help make the first day of school easier.

1. Scout it out. Before school starts, take a walk or drive by the school and let your child see the route you both will be traveling each morning and afternoon. Point out the school office, the library and any other areas of the school that you can see from the street. Try guessing which classroom your child may be in and talk about what he or she may be learning this upcoming school year.

2. Start a trend of going to bed earlier every day of the week. It will be easier to fall asleep the night before the first day of school if your child has already established a habit of an earlier bedtime.

3. Visit the school website. Spend some time with your child reviewing the cafeteria menu, supply list, teacher roster and anything and everything else that may catch your child’s attention.

4. Make friends. If your child will be new to the school, call the school office a few weeks ahead and request a phone call or visit from a host family. Invite the family over for a casual dinner or dessert so your child will know a familiar face before the first day of school.

5. Don’t skip the open house. Attending this informative event is essential in order to learn what will be expected from you as parents, as well as your child, this upcoming year.

6. Get your child’s school clothes ready a week prior to the first day of school. Whether your child wears a uniform or regular clothing, have their clothes clean, ironed and ready to go. Every second counts on such a hectic morning.

7. No loitering on the first day. Walk your child to the door, help them locate their desk and lunch cubby, kiss them on the cheek and say goodbye. Avoid the urge to circle back and peer through the window to see how your child is doing. It makes it much harder on your child to say goodbye the second time around.

8. Help your child find the restroom. It’s important for a child to know where key locations are and the bathroom is top on this list.

9. Make a special breakfast. Plan a special “First Day of School” menu with your child and offer a selection of healthy choices. Set the table the night before and sit down together to eat breakfast. Attempting to slow down the pace on a busy morning will relax your child and give them time to ask you questions or discuss fears.

10. Assure your child that everyone gets a little nervous on the first day of school. Talk about what other children are probably feeling and how the feeling will pass very soon. Remind them that you will see them in the afternoon and how you will look forward to hearing all about their day.

For more great advice on life, family, kids and marriage, visit Hitched.

Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.

feature photo from Your New Favorite Song

Getting Kids Excited about a New Baby

Younger toddlers won’t have a clue about a baby “growing in your tummy.” Because they can’t see it, they won’t be able to understand much of the explanation. Even when you are in your ninth month, big as a house, your older baby won’t take much notice of the bulge, except to realize that it is harder for her to sit on your lap.

Being pregnant with young children in tow can be both challenging and exhausting. Involving your kids in your pregnancy makes things a bit easier and is often fun. Here are some ways to involve everyone in the “family pregnancy” and prepare them for life with a newborn.

Arrange Baby Time

Make to be around very young babies. This lets your children see what they look like, hear how they sound, observe you holding one now and then, notice that they need comforting, and learn about nursing.

Baby Talk

Small kids: Once your belly is really big, eight months maybe, talk about the new baby. Your toddler will feel more secure if you refer to it as “Suzy’s new baby.” Let her feel kicks, help her talk or sing to baby, and stroke your belly.

Bigger kids: Tell older toddlers and preschoolers about the baby early on in the pregnancy. The older the child, the sooner you can tell him; very young children may be confused or disappointed when the baby fails to arrive the next day. With an older toddler or preschooler, try all of the toddler suggestions above, and in addition, use the diagrams in books on birth to talk about how the baby is growing, month by month. You’ll be surprised by questions like “What part did baby grow today, mom?”

Read Books about Babies

Show her simple children’s books about new babies. Show pictures of when she was a tiny baby and tell her about all the things you did for her. Say things like “Mommies hold tiny babies a lot because they need that.”

Explain Your  Moods

Depending on the age and level of understanding, tell your child why you are feeling so tired, grouchy, short-fused, impatient, and whatever else you feel while pregnant: You might say, “Baby needs a lot of energy to grow, and that’s why mom is tired and sleeps a lot…” Or, “The hormones baby needs to grow make mommy feel funny…”

Talk about the  Future

For example, let them know babies cry (some cry a lot) and they like it when you talk to them and make funny faces. Explain to them “You can help me change the diaper, bathe baby and dress baby. Babies can’t do anything for themselves for a long time, and they can’t play games until they grow bigger. They need to be held a whole lot, just like I held you when you were little.”

Hands on Demo

Usually by the fifth or sixth month, older children can feel their baby brother or sister move. During the time of the day when your baby moves the most, sit down and invite your children to feel the show. Let them guess which body part they are feeling.

Stock photo

image: The Johns Hopkins Gazette

Baby Bonding

Invite your children to talk to and about the baby. If you already know the gender and have chosen a name, you can encourage them to use it when referring to the baby. Or you can welcome the baby nicknames your child invents. Babies can hear around 23 weeks of age, so this is a good time for the kids to start talking to the baby so he or she will get to know them. After about three months of this, their voices will be very familiar to the baby still in utero, and bonding will already be under way. Studies show that babies tend to turn toward voices they recognize right after birth.

Little Helping Hands

Realize that it’s impossible to give other family members the same degree of attention they are used to while you’re pregnant. Sooner or later the children will realize that they must share mom with another tiny taker in the family. Fortunately, pregnancy provides you with plenty of time to prepare your older children for what life will be like after the baby arrives. Getting them used to helping you while baby brother or sister is still inside is actually another good tool for bonding. The children will have invested their time and energy already even before baby comes, and the baby will have more personal value to them.

Adapted from 10 WAYS TO INVOLVE CHILDREN WITH YOUR PREGNANCY

feature image: The Johns Hopkins Gazette

Home-made Playdough: Easy, Cheap, and Fun!

My kids just love playdough, and I like it because it provides hours of wholesome entertainment.  They like rolling it, making shapes, cutting it with scissors, smearing it on the wall, even tasting it. The problem with playdough (aside from the little crumbs that seem to get everywhere) is that all too soon it’s dried out or used up, and it’s time to go out and buy more.

While buying play-doh is not terribly expensive (just a few dollars for 4 colors), it does seem slightly wasteful to keep dishing out money for something that you could so easily make at home. Besides, your kids will love making their own playdough, and creating their own colors too. Plus, if your toddler decides to take a bite of that playdough pizza you just made, the ingredients are perfectly safe (although not too tasty)!

This easy recipe is from iVillage. We tried it at home yesterday and it worked perfectly! (Our food-coloring was kind of weak, so see if you can pick up some real strong colors next time you go to the grocery store! But we do have some nice pastel-colored playdough now.)

Step 2: Color It Up

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • food coloring
  • glitter (optional)
  • Directions:
    1. Mix together the salt, flour, and water in a big bowl. The dough is ready when it has a non-sticky, firmer-than-mushy consistency.
    2. If it’s too sticky, add some flour and salt.  If its too firm, add some water.
    3. Divide the dough into as many portions as you like. Add food coloring (a few drops should be enough) and knead it in. You can use this as an opportunity to teach your kids about mixing colors (red + yellow = orange)! Mix in glitter too, if you like.
    4. Store the dough in a plastic container or sealable bag
    Have fun!!

    A Glass of Wine for Better Behaved Kids?

    A study published last month from BJOG (an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology) reported a link between women who drank moderately in the early months of pregnancy, and the behavior of their children years later. And what do you think they found? Well, they discovered that women who had 2-6 drinks per week early in their pregnancy tended to have children with more positive behavior than women who didn’t drink at all.

    How’d they come up with that? And does it mean anything?

    They enlisted 2900 women to provide data at 18 and 34 weeks of gestation on weekly alcohol intake: no drinking, occasional drinking (up to one standard drink per week), light drinking (2–6 standard drinks per week), moderate drinking (7–10 standard drinks per week), and heavy drinking (11 or more standard drinks per week).

    Then, their children were followed up at ages 2, 5, 8, 10 and 14 years, using a standard checklist to measure behavior.

    “This positive behavior meant that the children of light and moderate drinkers had less emotional and behavioral problems through childhood and adolescence,” Dr. Monique Robinson, from Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth, Western Australia, told Reuters Health.

    If this report has you jumping out of your chair to pour yourself a glass of wine, you might want to stop and think about it for a moment. Good behavior is great, but the study addresses nothing relating to cognitive abilities or general health. It also seems to me that measuring something like “positive behavior” is incredibly subjective.

    As one eloquent commenter at iVillage said:  “Maybe they are less emotional because the brain cells are dead.”

    Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a pattern of mental and physical defects which develops in some unborn babies when the mother drinks excessive alcohol during pregnancy.  Fetal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the Western world.  The current recommendation of both the US Surgeon General and the UK Department of Health is not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.  (Wikipedia)

    Remember, while an occasional glass of wine may or may not have an affect on your unborn child, no amount of alcohol is proven safe for consumption during pregnancy. Sacrificing your baby’s mental and physical health for good behavior seems very silly indeed.

    Being outside is good for kids’ eyes!

    When my kids spend too much time in the house, they start bickering, making a mess, and getting on my nerves. Just taking them out for a change of scenery, to play in the backyard of nearby park, is a simple solution that instantly improves everyone’s mood. I sit on the side and enjoy the fresh air, while the kids run around, play with the neighborhood children, and get some exercise. But I came across an article in The Epoch Times informing me that spending time outdoors has yet another benefit for your kids.

    In a study, Australian researchers found evidence that children who spent the most time outdoors were the least likely to suffer from myopia, also called nearsightedness or shortsightedness, which has become increasingly common in recent decades. 12-year old children who spent less than 1.6 hours outdoors every day and more than 3.1 hours in near-work activity (reading, doing homework, drawing, etc) had double to triple the likelihood of being nearsighted, compared to kids who spent the most time outside and the least time in close-up work.

    “Our evidence suggests that the key factor is being outdoors, and that it does not matter if that time is spent in having a picnic or in playing sport,” Dr. Kathryn A. Rose told Reuters Health. “Both will protect a child’s eyes from growing excessively, which is the major cause of myopia.”

    Researchers don’t know yet exactly why being outside is protective, But it is likely that the high levels of sunlight releases retinal dopamine, which is known to be able to block eye growth. Myopia is caused when the eyeball grows too long.

    The more time they spend outdoors, the less likely they are to develop myopia, even if your kids spend long hours in school or at home doing close-up work.  So now you have yet one more reason to shoo the kids outside to play!

    image from treehugger.com.

    Parenting in the Slow Lane

    It may be due to the economic slump, but moms and dads around America are slowing down and learning to take it easy when it comes to their kids schedules.  Money is a bit tight for many families, and instead of going to amusement parks, eating out, and taking flute lessons, more kids are exploring their backyards, haivng tea parties, and planning play dates with friends.

    A few years ago, a good parent was one that filled her kids’ free time with enriching activities, shuttling them between school, ballet, soccer practice, and music appreciation class.  “But these days she’s more likely to be applauded for taking a slower, more laid-back approach to parenting,” explains The Mommy Files. “Yes, it’s actually cool to shun Suzuki method violin classes, to laze around the house in PJs on weekends, and to tell the teacher that she’s giving your child too much homework. We seem to be in the midst of a new parenting movement, which the mommy bloggers are calling “slow parenting.”

    The idea of downtime is gaining popularity.  Like all movements, this one had a beginning, and a man named Carl Honoré is “the father of the slow parenting movement.” He’s the author of the best-selling book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, and his more recent Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. The Mommy Files tells the story behind the movement:

    Honoré got the idea for Under Pressure at an evening event at his 7-year-old son’s school. A teacher told him his son was a gifted artist. That night he trawled Google, hunting down art courses and tutors to nurture his son’s gift. Visions of raising the next Picasso swam through Honoré’s head–until he approached his son the next morning.

    “‘Daddy, I don’t want a tutor, I just want to draw,’ my son announced on the way to school,” says Honoré, who lives in London with his wife and two children. “‘Why do grown-ups always have to take over everything?’ his son asked. The question stung like a belt on the backside. You know, I thought, he’s right. I am trying to take over. I’m turning into one of those pushy parents you read about in the newspapers. So I started thinking about how easy it is to get carried away as a parent, and to end up hijacking your children’s lives.”

    Now the dad is a spokesperson for the movement, traveling the world to speak on panels at universities and appear on TV shows. “Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home,” he often tells people. “Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy.”

    We might have to thank millions of layoffs and shrunken bank accounts for this new parenting trend. Raising children right now is all about free play or neighborhood activities like going to the park and the library, wearing hand-me-downs, reading books, and spending more quality time together in a peaceful, stress-free environment. And parents who have been laid off or switched to part time are finding that they enjoy the extra time that they can spend with their kids, cook wholesome meals, and keep up with the housework.

    As story in the Boston Globe puts it: “Many moms find that budget cuts that at first seem like deprivations instead have unexpected rewards.”

    Parents are spending less money on their kids, which includes buying less toys, and this has its up-side too. Time for free play seems to be the main advantage. When kids spend more time just hanging around the house, they get a chance to create, discover, and interact with other kids.  The lack of structure teaches kids to entertain themselves, become problem solvers, and use their imaginations.  Just don’t waste these precious opportunities by plunking your kids down in front of the TV, as tempting as that might be.

    Christine Carter, who studies the sociology of happiness in children as the executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, says the past decades of children spending more time in front of the TV and in piano lessons than running around freely in the backyard has actually altered their cognitive and emotional development. She says children’s capacity for self-regulation–their ability to control their emotions and behavior and to resist impulses–is much worse than it was 60 years ago. “In one study, today’s 5-year-olds had the self-regulation capability of a 3-year-old in the 1940s, and today’s 7-year-old barely approached the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” she says.

    So forget the frenzied schedule of extracurricular activities, play dates, and trips to the mall. You don’t need to fly around to amusement parks, zoos, museums, and gymobrees. This afternoon, get out the story books and spend an hour just sitting on the couch reading. Maybe you can bake a batch of cookies and let your kids decorate them with sprinkles and chocolate chips.  Or put on their bathing suits and let them run through the sprinlers. For 15 “Good Old Fashioned Playtime” ideas, visit Real Simple. There’s an abundance of ways to keep your kids busy and happy right where you are. And it’s good for you and for them, too!

    Image from the epoch times.com

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