12 Benefits of Unscheduled Play for Our Stressed-Out Kids

Last updated on May 28th, 2017 at 12:08 am

kids_jump_logOkay folks, I’m concerned. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing studies involving children and play. “Shocked” and “disturbed” are the two words that describe how I feel when reading those reports.

Every study reaches one sad conclusion: Good old-fashioned play (remember that?) is quickly becoming an endangered pastime for today’s plugged-in, over-scheduled, too supervised kids.

Worse yet, play is not only disappearing from our homes and neighborhoods, but our schools as well. And this comes at the same time when reports show that stress is mounting to new heights in our kids while their mental health has plummeted to a twenty-five year all-time low. A good old fashioned childhood of cloud-gazing, leaf-kicking, and hill rolling is disappearing to be replaced by screens, earplugs, flashcards and tutors.

Facts About Today’s Play-Deprived Kids

  • Since the late 1970s there’s been a 25% drop in our children’s free play and a 50% drop in unstructured outdoor activities
  • Since the late 1970s kids time in organized, adult-supervised sports have doubled and the number of minutes devoted each week to passive leisure, not including watching television, has increased from 30 minutes to more than three hours
  • The average U.S. child is now “plugged-in” to some kind of digital device–not including cell phone and text–71/2 hours a day

The loss of play and even skepticism about its value may be partly due to a more competitive, “no-child left untested era” (don’t get me started on that one…), our increasingly hurried, quicker-pace life style, and the belief we have to schedule our kids with activity after activity to stretch those IQ points. Now Tiger Mom–and every media outlet our there appearing to quote her–is urging every so-called “Western” mom to halt those play dates and any child-chosen activity.

Whatever the reason, today’s kids are playing less and many experts–and the kids–are crying, “Foul!” and with good reason. They are growing up in a play-deprived world. Dozens of studies prove that play is not just a luxury but essential to our children’s healthy development.

12 Scientific Benefits of Play

We’ve always known that “kids and play” are just a natural combo. But new research also shows that letting kids engage in self-directed play has immense value for their social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth. Here are just a few of the proven scientific benefits of letting our kids get messy and doing something besides clicking those darn keypads and video controllers and paper and pencil tasks:

1. Play boosts children’s creativity and imagination

Play gives children the chance to invent, build, expand, explore and develop a whole different part of the brain.

2. Play stretches our children’s attention span

Playing outdoors just 30 minutes a day increases child’s ability to focus and pay attention.

3. Play and rough-housing boost boys’ problem solving abilities

The more elementary school-boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving. (Don’t ya love that one!)

4. Play boosts self-confidence and self-regulation

Kids learn to become masters of their own destiny without an adult directing, pushing, managing or scheduling.

5. Play forges friendships, strengthens social competence and teaches social skills

Undirected (which means an adult isn’t there guiding and directing each moment) play allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, communicate and develop core social skills they need not only now but for the rest of their lives.

6. Play helps kids learn to enjoy just being in their own company, entertain themselves and develop identity

Ease that guilt when your kid says, “I’m bored, Mom!” Our kids must learn to enjoy their own company!

7. Play reduces children’s anxiety and diminishes stress

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that play is also critical for our children’s emotional health because it helps kids work through anxiety and reduce stress.

8. Play creates joyful memories of childhood

Come on, no kid is going to remember the car pools and worksheets but the swings, jumping in leaves, playing leapfrog in the mud, blowing bubbles, building forts–those are the unforgettable childhood moments. Sigh!

9. Play boosts physical health and reduces risk of obesity

Henry Joseph Legere, MD, author of Raising Healthy Eaters points out: “Rises in screen time have led to the rise of a sedentary lifestyle for our children. In 1982, the childhood obesity prevalence in the United States was actually less than 4 percent. By 2004, that number had grown to about 30 percent.”

10. Play expands our kids minds and neurological development

Self-initiated play improve skills such as guessing, figuring, and interpreting is important to brain development and learning. It helps kids learn to self-regulated as well as stretch critical thinking and focusing skills.

11. Play builds new competencies, leadership skills, teaches lifelong hobbies, and develops resilience

“Play is what allows kids to manipulate their environment,” says a report written by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. of the AAP, “And how you manipulate your environment is about how you begin to take control, how you begin to develop your senses, how you view the world.”

12. Play nurtures the parent-child bond

Child-driven play also improves our parent-kid relationship.Play offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to see the world from our children’s eyes as well as strengthen our relationship when we join in.

In fact, playing with our kids is one of the few times when clocks stop and stress fades. There’s no judgments, schedules or time constraints that worry us. It’s just a glorious opportunity to give our kids our full presence, be in their space and enjoy each other’s company, and build those wonderful childhood memories. Keep in mind folks, there’s no rewind button when it comes to childhood!

So parents, why not just this week push pause and tune into your kids’ schedule? I dare you: take a Reality Check and see just how how unstructured, unsupervised time your kid has. While you’re at it, here are a few questions to help you assess if play should be added to the “Endangered Species List” at your home.

REALITY CHECK: Could Your Kids Be ‘Play Deprived’?

  • How much are your kids plugged into some kind of a digital device?
  • How often are your kids glued to that TV or clicking that keypad?
  • How much free time do your kids have that is unscheduled, unplanned, unsupervised?
  • How often do your kids go outdoors to just recompress?
  • Do your kids know how to entertain themselves solo an adult, coach, teacher, or you whether it be indoors or out?
  • Do your kids enjoy the great outdoors?
  • How often (if ever) do your kids see you throwing off your shoes and joining in the unplanned, spontaneous fun with them?
  • Do your kids know outdoor age-appropriate games and have the equipment for those activities whether it be hopscotch, jump rope, Red Rover, I Spy, basketball, freeze-tag, kick the can, skateboarding?
  • Do your kids know how to self-entertain and do activities that would nurture their creativity or imagination on a regular basis?
  • Do you set a rule that when friends come to the house a minimum or no plugged-in devices are allowed?
  • Would your kid say that you encourage them to play unstructured?
  • How do you respond when your kids get messy? (Just asking…but remember letting your kids get messy every now and then is actually a great way to teach them that nobody’s perfect, accidents do happen, and teaches them to enjoy themselves and their own company).

Let’s remember: Play is an essential — not a luxury – for our children’s well-being. Thirty years of solid child development research confirms that play is crucial for our children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth. So check into your kids’ lives and make sure at least a bit of “free time” is a part of their waking hours.

What do you think? Are our kids becoming play-deprived? And if they are, what do you see as the disadvantages?

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Don’t Miss AMC’s Sensory Friendly Screening of Sully Tomorrow

Last updated on September 18th, 2016 at 05:45 pm

New sensory friendly logoAMC Entertainment (AMC) has expanded their Sensory Friendly Films program in partnership with the Autism Society. This Tuesday evening, families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Sully, a film that may appeal to older audiences on the autism spectrum.

As always, the movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

sully-posterDoes it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

AMC and the Autism Society will be showing Sully tomorrow, Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm (local time). Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming Soon: Storks (Sat, 9/24 and Tues, 10/8) and The Magnificent Seven (Tues, 9/27)

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Editor’s note: Although Sully has been chosen by the Autism Society for a Tuesday Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some peril and brief strong language. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

See Kubo and the Two Strings Sensory Friendly at AMC on Sat.

Last updated on September 12th, 2016 at 03:57 pm

New sensory friendly logoAMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Kubo-posterDoes it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Saturday, September 1oth at 10am (local time), families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Kubo and The Two Strings. Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Still to come in August: Sully (Tues, 9/13), Storks (Sat, 9/24) and The Magnificent Seven (Tues, 9/27)

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Editor’s note: Although Kubo and The Two Strings has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your child.

OK to Salt a Child’s Food? I Disagree

Last updated on September 18th, 2016 at 05:44 pm

don't-salt-kids-foodI am a fan of the health and wellness articles in the New York Times (NYT). Their reporting is based on scientific studies and evidence – but the articles are engaging and bring the science down to a more readable level. So, this post is a departure for me, because I disagree with a recent NYT article, by Rachel Rabkin Peachman, on whether it’s ok to salt a child’s food.

The basic argument of the article is that using a little bit of salt on your child’s food isn’t going to add that much sodium – especially compared to how much is hidden in processed foods. And that if adding a bit of salt to healthy but bitter foods, like broccoli, gets kids to eat more of these – then it’s probably worthwhile.

But I strongly disagree.

So What’s the Problem?

First of all, salt intake is MUCH too high in most countries, and this causes serious health issues. In the US, adults and children consume around two to three times more salt than is recommended, most of which is added to foods during processing. The Harvard School of Public Health highlights that these excess salt levels lead to high blood pressure and heart disease – as well as stomach cancer and osteoporosis. Nation-wide salt reduction efforts in the UK, starting in 2003, resulted in a 15% drop in salt consumption and very significant drops in blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.

And these issues are not just adult concerns. Both the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that factors leading to high blood pressure and heart disease begin in childhood. Studies have shown that about 15% of kids already have high blood pressure.

Starting in Childhood is Key

Research shows that most food preferences are developed in childhood and are difficult to shift. I’ve seen this first-hand through my own research dissertation for my Masters in Public Health. My project involved qualitative focus group interviews with employees of companies who offer a home delivery service for fresh produce as part of their wellness program. The people I met with struggled to eat the recommended levels of fruit and vegetables – even if they wanted to. Many cited that not growing up eating a large amount and variety of produce set habits that are tough to break and limited their knowledge about healthier cooking and eating.

Ms Peachman’s article states that children who learn to like bitter vegetables with toppings like salt, will like the veggies even after the salt is taken away. Personally, I VERY much doubt that. The study they cited as evidence didn’t use salt, but rather cream cheese – plus another New York times article published in 2011 points out that babies fed higher levels of sodium prefer salty foods when they are older. Again, both the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend taking the salt shaker off the table – and trying to reduce the sodium kids get through processed food. Kids will learn to prefer less salty food. That’s advice I believe – and how we operate in our house. Now the whole family generally finds that processed and restaurant foods taste too salty.

What to Do Instead?

So, without adding salt, what CAN you do to help kids learn to like certain healthy vegetables that may not be so appealing at first bite? The AAP recommends using other things to alter or boost taste – like herbs, spices and lemon juice.

We do all those in our house. Pepper always gets put on the table, along with Mrs Dash – a salt-free topping. And I use herbs and spices like basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and cumin. I also brown steamed vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, in a frying pan with a bit of butter or olive oil to add to the taste. Another good option is a little bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on veggies – or cooked onions or leeks mixed with veggies like broccoli. See the end of this article for more resources for getting kids to eat veggies.

The point is, there are healthier ways to help kids get used to vegetables – ones that can become lifelong habits without concern.

Tips for Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

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Very Overweight Children: Advice for Parents

Last updated on September 12th, 2016 at 03:59 pm

If your child is very overweight, there’s lots you can do to help them become a healthy size as they grow.

advice for very overweight childrenIf your child is very overweight, there’s lots you can do to help them become a healthy weight as they grow.

Very overweight children tend to grow up to be very overweight adults, which can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Research shows that children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn and are more self-confident.

They’re also less likely to have low self esteem and be bullied.

As a parent, there’s lots you can do to help your child become a healthier weight. Getting them to be more active and eat well is important.

Here’s practical advice to help you.

Listen to your child’s concern about their weight. Overweight children often know they have a weight problem and they need to feel supported and in control of their weight. Let them know that you love them, whatever their weight, and that all you want is for them to be healthy and happy.

Steps for Success

Here are five key ways to help your child achieve a healthy weight. You can read this whole page or click on the links below to go directly to the topic you want to know about:

If your child has a medical condition then the advice in this article may not be relevant and you should check first with their GP (*pediatrician) or hospital doctor.

Be a Good Role Model

One of the best ways to instill good habits in your child is to be a good role model. Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.

Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV, or surfing the internet. Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them that being active is fun.

  • Any changes you make to your child’s diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family. Here are 10 ways to get healthy as a family.
  • If you’re not sure what activities you’d like to try as a family, use this What’s your sport? tool to find out what you’re best suited to.

Get Active

Very overweight children don’t need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they will naturally burn more calories for the same activity.

All children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn’t need to be all at once. Several short 10-minute or even 5-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.

For younger children, it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like “it” and “tag”, riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.

For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.

If your child isn’t used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day. They’re more likely to stick to their new activity levels if you let them choose the type of activity they’re comfortable with.

Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family – and you’ll save money too.

Child-size Portions

Try to avoid feeding your child large portions.

A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they are still hungry.

Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to. And avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.

Beware of high-calorie foods. Calories are a measure of the energy in food and knowing how many calories your child consumes each day and balancing that with the amount of energy they use up in activity will help them reach and stay at a healthy weight.

Eat Healthy Meals

Children, just like adults, should aim to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables everyday. They’re a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Getting 5 A DAY shouldn’t be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child’s 5 A DAY including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried. Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.

Discourage your child from having too many sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals and soft drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.

Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweet drinks for water.

Less Screen Time and More Sleep!

Help your children to avoid sitting and lying around too much, as it makes it more likely for them to put on weight.

Limit the amount of time your child spends on inactive pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.

There’s no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts advise that children should watch no more than two hours of television each day – and remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.

It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It’s been shown that children who don’t have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.

Getting Support

If you’ve received a letter about your child’s weight after they were measured in school you can use the contact number on the letter to speak to a health worker and get more information about what you can do and what support is available in your area (*UK-specific advice).

Your GP (*pediatrician) or practice nurse can give you further advice.

They may also be able to refer you to a local weight management programme for children, such as those run by the Weight Management Centre, MEND and More Life.

These programmes are often free to attend through your local health authority (*in the UK), and typically involve a series of weekly group workshop sessions with other parents and their children.

At these workshops you’ll learn more about the diet and lifestyle changes that can help your child to achieve a healthy weight.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





 

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 08-29-2016 to 09-04-2016

Last updated on September 12th, 2016 at 04:00 pm

twitter thumbIn this week’s Children’s Safety News: Nude selfies: what if they are just an ordinary part of teenage life? https://t.co/4azRj1QyoN

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
5 Ways Political Bullying Can Impact Kids https://t.co/U7YcENr8OF