How to Get Kids to Play Outside

With the weather improving, it is the perfect time to encourage children to get outside for some exercise and get them away from their electronics for awhile. It may be hard to imagine that it takes a lot of effort to encourage children to play outside, but currently children are spending an average 40-60 hours a week in front of a screen, and that kind of heavy exposure can have negative effects.

Problems Resulting from Decrease in Free Play

Free play is considered so important to the cognitive development of children that it is deemed a “right of every child” by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. However, the amount of time children spend playing has gone down drastically in recent years. The combination of heavy academic pressures and hectic family lifestyles has resulted in a significant decrease in playtime for children—and even less playtime that doesn’t occur in front of a screen.

Lack of playtime leads to a decrease in creative thinking and expression, which can cause students to be more stressed and anxious. Additionally, decreasing amount of time spent in outdoor play as well as decreased recess time in schools is resulting in higher levels of obesity, more instances of depression, and a lower ability to be successful socially.

Tips for Encouraging Outdoor Play

Encouraging free play, especially free play outdoors, is something that can easily be integrated into your family’s routine. Here are a few ways to do so:

Restrict Electronics

Ask your kids to put away all electronics for a certain amount of time each day, such as after school and before dinner. Or, only allow electronics after certain tasks have been completed, such as a certain amount of free play outdoors.

Participate with Them

Your kids will follow your lead, and encouraging them to participate in outdoor activities with you is the perfect way to keep them active. Suggest a morning or evening walk, a bike ride, playing “Simon Says” or “Follow the Leader” around the yard, play catch, or if possible invest in a swing set or other toys that encourage outdoor play.

Give Them a Space that is Theirs

Kids love having a space that is all their own. Encourage them to build an outdoor fort, or even consider a tree house to give them a secret, fun place that is only theirs.

Encourage Outdoor Crafts

If your kids are interested in arts and crafts, find ways to incorporate them into outdoor activities. Let kids use chalk to draw pictures on the sidewalk, teach them how to make bird feeders, or keep scrapbooks of leaves.

Involve Kids in Outdoor Chores

Whether this includes dog walking, raking leaves, pulling weeds, planting flowers, or mowing the lawn, keeping kids accountable for outdoor chores will keep them active and responsible.

Add Water!

For those upcoming hot summer days, grab the kids some water guns, a sprinkler, water balloons, or other gadgets so they can play in the water without dealing with the hassle of a public pool.

There are many options for outdoor games for kids, and encouraging them to participate in outdoor play is better for everyone. They’ll be happier and healthier physically, mentally, and socially.

4 Amazing Benefits of Organized Sports for Kids

If your child has expressed interest in a sport, finding a league or school team for them to participate in can spark a passion for physical activity that lasts a lifetime. One of the best ways to encourage children to exercise is to show them how it can be enjoyable, and one way to do that is through organized sports. Participating on a team provides a myriad of health benefits for children. See how organized sports for kids can make a huge difference in their lives.

Habit Building

When a child shows interest in a sport(s), make it a goal to play that sport/those sports with him/her at least once a week. The repetition will help build a healthy habit, and when your child is ready to play on a team, the transition will be easy. These same healthy habits can also help keep children engaged and out of trouble as they get older.

Social Skills Improvement

In team sports, a group of people comes together to achieve a common goal. This is a great way to teach children cooperation and teamwork.When a child discovers how to put the needs of others before their own, it increases their ability to socialize, both on and off the field. They learn to identify their peers’ strengths as well as their own. The more a child plays a team sport, the more they see the value in sharing the spotlight.

Raising Self-Esteem

Childhood can be full of fun experiences, but children also face stressful social situations on a daily basis. When the stress becomes too much to deal with, it can lead to a child having lower self-esteem. Organized sports can help build a child’s confidence, boosting his/her sense of self-worth, which translates to a happier life overall.

Managing Disappointments 

When a child’s team suffers a loss, his/her natural instinct is likely to be sad and the child may cast blame on their teammates. A good children’s sports coach understands that a loss is an opportunity for children to learn about the value of a setback. When things don’t go their way, children need to learn how to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to improve the outcome next time. Practices following a loss can serve as a time to improve upon mistakes and help a child grow in his/her sport. In addition, losses can help kids appreciate a team win even more, and know the importance of good sportsmanship as they themselves know what it feels like to lose.

If your child just can’t seem to sit still, talk to them about what sports may interest them. Even if they mention a sport that you have no experience playing yourself, give them a chance to experience that type of competition for themselves. They will reap the rewards of a physical activity in a way that is fun and encouraging.

Exercise is a great way to improve heart health. Check out our blog post “Improving Heart Health for Kids: 3 Things Parents Should Know” to learn about other ways you can give your child a healthier heart. Physical activity is just part of the heart health equation, so discover what else matters today!

Healthy Digital Media Exposure for Kids: How to Regulate Screen Time

In a world that is consumed by technology, it can be difficult to determine what’s considered healthy digital media exposure for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously set a general time limit of no more than two hours in front of the television for kids over the age of two, and none for children under two. However, television is no longer the only way that children are being exposed to time in front of a screen.

So, how do you regulate your screen time for children? Guiding your children to use digital media responsibly at a young age is important. Here are a few things to consider.

Defining Screen Time

With technology being used for educational purposes more than ever before, the AAP has defined screen time as “time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes.” This means that other forms of screen time exposure such as online homework are not applicable.

Issues with Too Much Screen Time

By age two, children can reap benefits from certain types of screen time exposure such as music or stories. In addition, there are now many educational programs and applications in digital media. However, these things should not be replacing things like playtime or reading a physical book as opposed to using a tablet. To aid in development, children need unstructured time doing things like playing outside with friends or siblings. Over time, too much screen time exposure for kids can lead to things such as obesity, irregular sleep schedules, disconnect between parents and children, behavior issues, or loss of social skills.

Regulating Screen Time Exposure by Age

Age makes a large difference in determining appropriate screen time exposure for kids. As your child grows, digital media will become more accessible to them, so teaching them to use digital media responsibly is important.

0-18 Months

Ideally, infants should not receive any screen time. The more face to face interaction a baby has with his/her parents aids in brain development and creating healthy parent-child relations.

18 months-5 years

This is a safe age to introduce your child to digital media. However, make sure you use it with them to regulate what they are watching and to ensure they are not being exposed for more than one hour a day. PBS is a good place to start for TV programs because of entertaining and educational shows like Sesame Street. These shows are made for children, are at a real-life pace, and do not have advertisements, limiting the potential for over stimulation.

Other positive channels of digital media exposure for kids at this age are applications used for video messaging. This correlates their digital media experience with adult interaction, which promotes healthy brain development.

6 years and older

Once your child reaches this age, it is up to the parents’ discretion to regulate what they feel is a healthy amount of screen time and digital media exposure.

According to the AAP, a healthy day for a child includes school, homework, approximately one hour of physical activity, time for family and friends, and sleep. If there is time left over, that can be screen time. However, it is important that screen time does not replace other productive activities.

As parents, you are role models for your children’s media behavior. Keep them engaged and excited about activities outside of screen time; encourage reading a book, social activities, and other options that prevent direct media use. Turn off cell phones and laptops at night, discourage screens one hour before bedtime, and make time for media-free activities together.

At the end of the day, the type of media your child is exposed to is more important than the amount of time spent on screens. Use media with your children to teach them about what they are seeing and how to responsibly use it. Remember, not all digital media is detrimental to your child; the amount of digital media available allows for creativity, interaction, and other productive forms of education. Teaching healthy habits for your child’s screen time will help him/her continue to maintain responsibility as exposure to digital media increases.

Caring Matters: Encouraging Empathy in Children

Empathy is a characteristic that we admire in others, but rarely do we think about how it forms in children. Empathy is extremely complex, and it’s difficult to determine exactly when a person becomes empathetic in his/her life. Further complicating the matter is the fact that even adults have differing degrees of empathy, and some people are better at understanding and relating to people’s feelings than others.

One generally accepted fact is that empathy is a trait that should be encouraged, and teaching it to your children is an important responsibility for parents. Encouraging empathy in children helps them adapt to social situations, which is especially important in school settings. Check out our tips to help your child become more empathetic as he or she grows older.

Provide Support

When children’s emotional needs are met at home, they are more likely to show empathy for their peers. As a parent, you should remind your child that you will always be there when he or she needs emotional support. Offer constructive feedback when your child is feeling down, so he or she knows they can always depend on you for helpful advice when something goes wrong. This will teach your child to bounce back from distress quickly, which is essential if they want to provide emotional support to anyone else. When you help to problem solve in an empathetic way, your children will feel safer in any situation, including those where others need support.

Be a Role Model

Parents that show empathy for others on a daily basis are more likely to have children who act the same way. Whenever you notice an opportunity to show empathy to someone else, and your children are around, take advantage of the opportunity for an important life lesson. After you show empathetic behavior toward someone else, talk to your child about why it’s important to act that way. A good situation to demonstrate empathy is noticing someone who looks lost, and offering directions so he or she can get where they need to go. Children are likely to remember that act of kindness and incorporate it into their own behavior.

Remind Children of Commonalities 

Research indicates that children are better able to empathize with others when they feel like they share something in common. This sense of familiarity helps children see themselves in another person’s shoes, so it serves as a helpful stepping-stone in teaching empathy towards everyone. If you’re watching the news and there is a story about people who are suffering, emphasize the things your child has in common with those people. Maybe they live in the same area, have the same hair color, or went to the same school — whatever you decide to point out, make it clear that the way other people feel matters.

Use Storytelling

Seeing things from another perspective might seem easy to you, but for a child it is a completely new concept. Books, movies, and TV shows provide an opportunity to talk your child about how fictional characters would experience the world if they were real. When you’re watching a program or reading a book, ask your child what he or she thinks characters are thinking and feeling in specific situations. Follow up by asking why he or she thinks that: is it the character’s words, expressions, actions, or something else? Share what you think the characters are experiencing and why you think that to compare your observations. You might be surprised with your children’s empathetic progress over time as you try this activity.

Keep Trying 

If your child is struggling to show signs of empathy, it’s important to be patient. Some children take a while to understand the importance of empathy, but nearly all children grasp the concept at some point between the ages of five and seven. Stay persistent when teaching empathy, because one lapse in your own behavior could set a bad example for your kids. When your children understand how other people experience emotions, it’s typically easier for them to make friends and get along with others on a daily basis. Instill these values early, and your children are sure to be better off in the long run.

Kids and Caffeine: Tips and Suggestions for Safe Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a stimulant many of us rely onto help us wake up in the morning, for an afternoon pick-me-up, or even to get a little extra energy before exercise. However, like most things, caffeine intake should be monitored to avoid potential harmful effects. This is even more crucial for children.

Can Kids Have Caffeine?

Ideally, children under the age of 12 should not be consuming caffeine at all since it is a drug that affects the functions of your body. But there are safe levels of caffeine that can be consumed based on the age of your child:

Kids aged 4 to 6 years old can consume roughly 45 milligrams a day
Kids aged 7 to 9 can consume roughly 62.5 milligrams a day
Kids aged 10 to 12 can consume roughly 85 milligrams a day

While it is unlikely parents are allowing young children to consume coffee, soda or energy drinks regularly, it is important to know that these are not the only sources of caffeine a child may consume. It is important to keep track of how much caffeine your child is consuming, and watch for harmful caffeine side effects.

Hide and Seek with Caffeine

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to list caffeine on nutrition labels, caffeine can sneak its way into you or your children’s food or drinks without you noticing. While attempts at stricter regulations for caffeine labeling have been made over the years, products that contain natural caffeine still do not have to note it on the label. Here are some caffeinated foods and drinks to keep an eye out for.

Diet Soda

Diet soda is typically sought after due to the decrease in sugar. However, diet sodas tend to carry more caffeine than regular soda. Just a 12-ounce Diet Coke can have around 45 milligrams of caffeine.


Cocoa beans have natural caffeine, so while it is present, you won’t find it listed on the label. It is important to pay attention to chocolate your child is eating, especially dark chocolate, which tends to be more caffeinated. One ounce of milk chocolate can have approximately 4 milligrams, while one ounce of dark chocolate can have roughly 20 milligrams. This includes hot chocolate as well, which can have 5 milligrams per every eight or so ounces.

Over-the-Counter Medicine

Many over- the- counter medicines have caffeine in them since it is a nervous system stimulant which stimulates the brain to relieve ailments such as headaches, and cold or allergy symptoms like itchiness or drowsiness. However, for children 12 and under, over-the-counter medications containing caffeine have not been proven safe.

Be sure to consult with a pediatric provider on the safest over-the-counter medications for your child.

Effects of Caffeine on Kids

Even in moderate doses, caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, dehydration and the slowed absorption of calcium into the bones. Drinks that have caffeine also tend to have a large amount of sugar, which can lead to additional health problems.

Caffeine is absorbed into every tissue in the body, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine is a diuretic, which can cause dehydration, headaches, dizziness and an increase in thirst.

Additionally, caffeine affects appetite and moods. Some may see a positive mood change followed by a major crash later. Children can suffer massive mood swings or an increase in anxiety levels.

What Can Parents Do?

It is important for parents to educate themselves on the effects of caffeine, pay close attention to the amount of caffeine their children consume and where it comes from, and to observe how it affects them. Encourage your child to drink water. Do your best to offer beverages with sugar and caffeine in moderation.

Improving Heart Health for Kids: 3 Things Parents Should Know

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Although symptoms usually appear later in life, the factors that lead to the illness begin much earlier — even experiences during infancy can contribute to heart disease. Children don’t always understand the risks of heart disease, so it’s up to parents to minimize a child’s chances of getting it. While hereditary factors are impossible to change, there are lifestyle choices that make a difference in heart health for kids. Help your child live a healthy life and do what’s best for their heart.

Get Creative with Activities

An active lifestyle can improve heart health, so it’s important to get your kids moving. The trick is to give kids activities they actually want to participate in, rather than ones that make them feel like they’re doing something just to stay healthy. As children are naturally curious, consider taking them somewhere they’ve never been before like a park, playground, or swimming pool. This will encourage your children to use their imagination, as they stay active and have fun. Don’t be afraid to join in — heart health is just as important for adults as it is for children.

Make Nutrition a Priority

Like any muscle, the heart requires a balanced and healthy diet to function correctly. Unfortunately, children are often picky eaters who don’t enjoy the foods that are best for their health. One way to change unhealthy eating behaviors is to start small — slowly introduce healthy foods into a child’s diet so they don’t feel overwhelmed by a plate full of greens. You could swap whole wheat for white bread, fruit for candy, and carrots for chips. Take it one step at a time and lead by example. After all, if you’re not eating healthy, your children have a real excuse not to consume nutritious foods themselves.

Ensure a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Getting a full night’s sleep doesn’t just make a child feel better in the morning; it can help their heart in the long run. The most important part of a sleep schedule is that your kids stick to it every day of the week. This might not be so difficult on weekdays when school and homework make your child feel tired, but children sometimes want to stay up late on the weekends. Stay firm with bedtimes and eventually your children will know that going to bed at a certain hour is non-negotiable. You might feel bad making them hit the hay early, but remember that you are simply improving their heart health one night at a time. Teens require around 9 hours of sleep every night, and younger children need even more, so be sure they are getting the right amount to stay healthy.

Every kid deserves a healthy heart, so do what you can to keep things pumping smoothly. The steps you take today are sure to have a positive effect later in your child’s life. When you improve a child’s diet, exercise, or sleep schedule, you are giving them the gift of a healthier heart. Even if they don’t understand it today, they will be grateful they grow up. If you’re wondering how to get started improving your child’s heart health, check out our blog post “Benefits of Cooking for Your Kids” to tackle nutrition first. There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal, so make dinner more delicious and nutritious every day of the week.

Chores: When Are Your Kids Old Enough for Responsibilities?

The answer is as soon as they can walk.

Now, don’t panic; that doesn’t mean your eighteen-month-old should be shoveling snow. However, as soon as your child is old enough to walk and talk, they are able to participate in some small personal chores that encourage independence, even at a young age.
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When you’re searching for a medication for your child, you might wonder how to choose from the many over-the-counter options. The drug aisle can feel overwhelming, with shelf after shelf filled with brightly colored packaging claiming to work wonders. It is important that parents understand the drugs they give their children so that they can recover from an illness as quickly, painlessly and safely as possible. When it comes to medicine you can buy without a visit to a provider, here are some things to look out for:
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Staying Safe Outdoors This Winter

Since young children are less likely to recognize when they are cold, or need to take a break from the frigid temps, it’s up to parents and caretakers to keep them safe during the winter months. Check out these important tips to ensure your kids stay are protected so they don’t miss out on any winter fun!
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