Search Results for: who needs a prescription for play

Who Needs a Prescription for Play?

I read an article that began by stating “A new paper in the journal Pediatrics summarizes the evidence for letting kids let loose.”  I thought, “Interesting.” The authors of this article went on to encourage pediatricians to write a “prescription for play” for their youngest patients. Why would they write a “prescription for play”? Because play, intrinsically motivated and unstructured fun, is disappearing from the lives of our children…and with it the benefits of play are disappearing from their lives. What are the benefits of play? Here are five benefits discussed in the article.

  • Play promotes brain development. Specifically, play promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for learning and growing healthy connections between neurons in the brain. In other words, play primes the brain for learning.
  • Play reduces obesity and diseases associated with obesity. Running, jumping, and climbing helps children build confidence in their physical ability. It helps them learn the limits of their body as well. Knowing the limits helps them remain safe (Let Them Take a Risk). The physical activity of play helps them develop into physically active and healthy adults. In fact, children who got the most outdoor time were 42% less likely to be overweight.
  • Play contributes to improved behavior and reduced stress. Children resolve traumatic events through play, working through the troubling aspects of the trauma so they can learn to “put it behind them” rather than let it intrude into their present lives. Obviously, this will reduce stress in the child’s life. Moreover, a study in which teachers engaged children in one-on-one play led to improved behavior in the children who engaged in play compared to a control group. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children)
  • Play helps families to bond. Play brings people together. It helps us learn to listen and it teaches us to compromise. Play helps us attune to our children emotionally, mentally, and physically. This attunement allows us to help our children learn to manage their emotions in an effective manner. (Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself)
  • Play contributes to academic success. Play encourages language development, the exploration of ideas, the ability to delay gratification, and spatial relationships. Each of these skills contribute to academic success. Blocks encourage increased knowledge in putting words, ideas, or architectural materials together. Playing store promotes social skills, math, and negotiation skills. Imaginative play promotes storytelling and self-regulation. Physics, social skills, language development, storytelling, arithmetic, geometry, emotional regulation…it can all be found in play. And children learn it faster and better while playing. (Learn more in Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression.)

We could expand on this list of the benefits of play, but you get the idea. Let the children play. I’m not a pediatrician, but I am a “doctor” of psychology. So, if you need a prescription, here it is: “Your child is to engage in imaginative, unstructured play for at least one hour per day.” 

Follow that prescription and your children will flourish…and you could find yourself rejoicing in their growth and maturity!

Who Cares WHEN We Eat Dinner?

You may have read previous blogs I’ve written about the value of family dinner (see The Lost Art of Family Meals, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Dinner, Have Fun, Eat, & What? for a sampling) …or the good news about the benefit of ice cream for breakfast. But this study suggests that the timing of dinner impacts parent and child interactions. The data was taken from the American Time Use Survey in which about 41,000 U.S. families kept detailed time diaries. The data suggests that parents who ate dinner prior to 6:15 interacted more with their children in the time between dinner and bedtime. Specifically, they read with their children 27% longer, played with their children 18% longer, and spent 11% more quality time with their children in the evening than those who ate dinner after 6:15. This remained true even after controlling for family background, socio-demographic factors, and family characteristics.

Overall, dinnertime seems to mark a transition to more family-oriented activities. So, more time after an earlier dinner and before bedtime results in more family quality time spent together. That includes more time reading together and more playing together. And that’s great since reading with our children has been shown to help them develop greater empathy and kindness (Raising Kinder Children). Reading paper books (vs. digital books) to your children at bedtime may encourage collaboration and less controlling behavior (The Digital Bedtime Story). Engaging our children in play has many benefits including brain development, reduced behavior problems, and greater parent-child intimacy among other things (Who Needs a Prescription for Play?). In general, play will make your child a head taller than himself.

Enjoy an early dinner. Then enjoy the extra time with your children and family. Everyone will benefit and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Help Flatten the Curve on THIS Crisis

We have a crisis on our hands…and it has been around much longer than the covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s easier to ignore, easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; but it is a crisis, nonetheless. The percentage of teens (12- to 17-years-old) who suffer at the hands of this crisis has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017! Let me put that into perspective. At the time of this writing (4/20/2020), 792,938 people of all ages have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States. In 2017 alone, 3.2 million adolescents between 12- and 17-years-old in the United States were diagnosed with depression. And that number only represents adolescents, not adults. (see NIMH Major Depression for more statistics). Suicide, a danger for those suffering with depression, has increased 47% between 2000 and 2017. In fact, 6,200 teens and young adults (between 15- and 24-years-old) died by suicide in 2017. (The Parent Resource Program). We have a crisis. But what can we do to stem this crisis? Here are five suggestions. They may sound simplistic, but they can produce results that will save lives.

  1. Nurture a growth mindset in your children. A growth mindset focuses on effort rather than the end result or product. In other words, it focuses on the effort invested rather than the final grade, the trophy, or the grade point average. It teaches that effort is more important than the final grade. In the long run, this will help to build your child’s success mindset and decrease the potential for depression.
  2. Value failure and setbacks as learning opportunities. They are not the end or something to be embarrassed about. In fact, failure is a kind of success. It allows us to learn, make adjustments, and continue to grow. Do your child a favor and love mistakes. Cultivate an environment that celebrates effort and learns from mistakes. 
  3. Help your children discover and pursue intrinsic goals, things they love. Intrinsic goals are those goals a person pursues by their own choosing and for their own enjoyment. So much of our children’s world is made up of external goals, those goals focused on material rewards and other people’s judgments. Grades, teacher expectation, and coaches’ determinations as well as media appraisals of appearance and popularity make up some of the external goals shaping our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a focus on external goals contributes to depression. Help your children discover their intrinsic goals and motivations. Become a student of their strengths and interests. Present opportunities for them to nurture their interests. Encourage their individuality. (For more benefits of learning about your children read Parents are Students…And Guess Who Their Teacher Is.
  4. Let them play. Free play, play without adult direction and supervision, invites children to control their own play through negotiation and compromise. It encourages problem-solving and competence in the pursuit of personal interests. In other words, play is much more than fun and games. Free play nurtures a growth mindset and intrinsic goals as well as teaching person limits and social skills. (Read Who Needs a Prescription for Play to learn more benefits of play.)
  5. Teach your children healthy screen management. Studies suggest that becoming overinvolved with cell phones and social media platforms can contribute to depression. It sucks up time, potentially limiting opportunities to become physically active…and research suggest that just an hour of physical activity decreases the risk of depression by 10%. It casts a false view of life, increasing the fear of missing out. And, the burden of a smartphone is too great for our children to manage. They do not have the maturity level to manage it independently and effectively. We need to teach them how to use their electronic devices wisely, to be a smart consumer of social media so social media does not consume them.

These five steps can help stem the rising tide of depression in our families and our communities. Will you join these efforts to stem the rise, to flatten the curve, of depression among our children and youth?

Don’t Make Children Prisoners…Set Them Free

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I repeated out loud what I had read. Nope…can’t believe my ears either. But it’s true. Prison inmates in an Indiana maximum security facility are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time every day; but a survey completed in 2016 found three-quarters of children in the UK spend less time than those inmates outside each day. Half of the children didn’t even spend an hour outside each day. Twenty percent (that’s 1 in 5) didn’t even play outside at all on an average day! (More in Children Spend Less Time Outside Than Prison Inmates and Three-Quarters of UK Children Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prison Inmates—Survey.) I imagine these numbers are very similar in the US.  In fact, a study in 2018 found that children spend an average of 10.6 hours on outdoor play per week (Study: Despite Known Benefits, Kids Are Playing Less). That is only 1.5 hours per day. Our children spend less time outside than prisoners even though outdoor play helps relieve stress, teach safety, and increase immunity (Who Needs a Prescription for Play).

It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.

One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.)  In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.

The big question I had to ask myself as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do it. 

  • Encourage your children to engage in unstructured, self-directed play with peers. Learn the benefits of such unstructured time in How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.
  • Encourage outdoor play. Outdoor play can accomplish great things. For instance, even risky outdoor play plays a purpose, helping to overcome anxiety…so Let Them Take a Risk.
  • Limit screen time. Limiting screen time can increase levels of happiness and increase our ability to  understand nonverbal communications and recognize emotions in others (See Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness).
  • Provide opportunities for your children to build relationships with trusted adults outside the immediate family. In fact, It Takes a Village to raise a child.

Break your children out of prison…beginning right now!

Clues Learned During the Pandemic for Future Parenting

I remember when the pandemic started. I thought it would last 6-12 months. Boy was I wrong. The longer it drags on, the greater impact it seems to have on our mental health and the mental health of our children. A study published in PLOS ONE, 2021, however, offers some wonderful wisdom for promoting our children’s resilience and mental health during this time. This study recruited 224 participants between the ages of 7 and 15 years from two longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the Greater Seattle area. They gave these youth and their parents a battery of questionnaires assessing social behaviors, psychopathology, and pandemic-related stresses in November of 2020. They gave them a follow-up battery of questionnaires in January or 2021. Because the youth were participants in a larger longitudinal study, the researchers also had access to their social behaviors, psychopathology, and related stresses prior to the pandemic.

In short, the research suggested:

  • The number of pandemic-related stresses they experienced (serious illness or death of a friend or family as well as quarantine, exposures, significant financial changes, social isolation, changes in community involvement, etc.) was positively associated with mental health symptoms and behavioral difficulties.
  • Youth who spent less time on digital devices and consumed less than two hours of news per day exhibited fewer mental health symptoms. In fact, “the strong association between pandemic-related stressors and psychopathology was absent among children with lower amounts of screen time and news media consumption.”
  • Youth who got the recommended amount of sleep and those who had a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders had lower levels of behavioral symptoms.
  • Those youth who spent greater amounts of time in nature exhibited a somewhat lower level of mental health symptoms.

This offers parents some excellent advice about how to help our children navigate the unpredictability created by the pandemic. First, develop a positive daily routine for your family and children. This routine might include a family meal, homework time, play time, various community activities, a regular bedtime and bedtime routine.

Second, limit screen time. Our children (and many of us) can easily find themselves sucked into video games, social media interactions, simply scrolling social media platforms, or binging Netflix. Unfortunately, social media platforms become stressful when we do not limit our involvement. Video games can rob us of other stress reducing activities like face-to-face interactions with family and friends. In fact, studies suggest the more screen time a teen engages in the less happy they become.

Third, limit your children’s exposure to news media about the pandemic. It’s good to get some news about the pandemic, other “world happenings,” and politics. However, it can easily become overwhelming, and our children may not have developed the emotional resources to manage the stress of the overwhelming, nonstop, 24-hour a day barrage of news. Really, how many of us have chosen to limit news intake for the same reason? Teach your children to be wise consumers of news and social media just as you teach them to be a wise consumer of food.

Fourth, get outside. Spend some time in nature. Nature promotes health. It helps to reduce stress and increases happiness.

Finally, establish healthy sleep hygiene. Sleep is crucial to our mental health, especially during times of increased stress.

These five suggestions will help you and your children navigate the times of this pandemic while maintaining emotional health and further developing resilience. Ironically, these five suggestions will also serve to nurture healthy children when the pandemic ends. So, start practicing them now and keep them up when we finally navigate our way to the other side of this troubled time. Even then, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well these five suggestions help your children live happier, healthier lives.

New Year’s Resolutions to Strengthen Your Family

The time has arrived to reflect on the year gone by and our hopes for the coming year. If you’re like me, you might decide upon some goals for the coming year. This year, I would like to suggest 12 goals that, though challenging, will strengthen your family and fill your life with greater joy. You can pick one or pick them all. The most important aspect of choosing is to enjoy the reward of a more intimate family.

  • Resolve to listen intently and deeply to your spouse and children.
  • Resolve to go on a date night with your spouse at least one time a month. (You don’t even have to leave the house for these date nights.)
  • Resolve to set aside 20 minutes a day to talk with your spouse about your lives and the life of your family—not the controversial things of politics or the drudgery of daily “to-do’s” and planning, but of your hopes and dreams, things you’d like to do together, or fun things that happened during the day.
  • Resolve to tell your spouse and each child “thank you” at least one time a day.
  • Resolve to play, laugh, and smile every day with your family.
  • Resolve to write each child and your spouse a letter of gratitude and appreciation this year.
  • Resolve to read a marriage or parenting book with your spouse and put the ideas into practice.
  • Resolve to attend a marriage workshop.
  • Resolve to learn the stats for your children and your spouse.
  • Resolve to learn about a topic or activity that interests your spouse or one of your children so you can discover ways to support them in their passions.
  • Resolve to look for daily opportunities to serve your spouse and children. This could be as simple as getting them a glass of water when they’re thirsty or something as complex as completing a chore they normally do.
  • Resolve to say “no” more often to things of lesser importance (surfing the web, video games, a TV show) so you can prioritize spending time conversing with your family or engaging in activities with your family.
  • Pick a hobby or activity that your child enjoys and engage in that activity with your child at least one time a week.

That’s actually a “baker’s dozen” resolutions from which you can choose. Each one will strengthen your marriage and/or your family. Pick one. Pick two. Pick them all. Whichever you choose, resolve to strengthen your family this year.

A New Year…A New Opportunity

It is a new year and a new opportunity to fill your family with honor, grace, and celebration.

We honor what we value so honor your family. Fill your home with honor by sharing words and actions that express value and love to each family member. Honor fills our homes when our actions reveal how much we value and appreciation each family member. Acts of kindness and service honor by communicating the “full extent of our love.”  Words that acknowledge strengths and effort, words that express gratitude, and words that communicate admiration express honor to all who hear them. These words of honor pour a sense of value and worth into our family members.

A home filled with grace becomes a safe haven, a place where each person knows they will find acceptance with no strings attached. Grace apologizes for wrongs committed and forgives generously. Grace disciplines in love, teaching us to live a healthy life emotionally, physically, and mentally.  Grace reveals love in the sacrifice of “my” desires to meet the needs of my family. Grace keeps us available, attentive, and emotionally connected to one another.

A home filled with celebration flows out of a home filled with honor and grace. When honor and grace undergird our interactions, we can “let our hair down,” reveal ourselves fully, and know one another intimately. We can laugh freely and play with abandon. Overall, celebration fosters an abundant life, refreshes our perspective of others, and restores intimacy. Filling our family with celebration intimacy and culminates in a renewed vitality for life.

Take the opportunity provided by a new year to fill your home with honor, grace, and celebration. You can find many ideas for sharing honor, grace, & celebration under the Family Bank of Honor. You will love it and your family will love it…for years to come.

10 Daily Activities to Bond with Your Child

A strong parent-child relationship is associated with children who have better school performance, fewer behavior problems, and healthier peer social interactions. The positive parent-child relationship contributing to these outcomes is based on trust and connection within the relationship. Fortunately, parents can nurture this trusting parent-child relationship through small, daily interactions. Here are 10 daily actions you can take to build a great parent-child relationship of trust and connection.

  1. Keep mornings positive. Be aware of what your children need in the morning to start the day well. They may prefer a quiet morning or a morning with music. They may want a big breakfast or just a small one. Graciously provide those things that promote a good start to their positive day. Smile. Stay calm. If you go to work or your children go to school, hug them and tell them you love them as you go your separate ways. You can Start Your Children’s Day with a Memory Boost by simply promoting a positive mood.
  2. Play with your children 20 minutes every day. Follow their lead as you play. You might play a board game or a card game, catch a ball, play basketball, go for a walk…any type of play your children enjoy. If you need a prescription for play, here it is.
  3. “Catch your children being good” and acknowledge it out loud with a simple description of what you see (“You’re playing so nicely with your brother.”) or a “Thank you.” Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed doing good at least three times a day.
  4. Eat dinner together. Make dinner time a time of friendly conversation, talking about the day or dreams of the future. Keep  the conversation friendly and save the “debates” for another time. And remember, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned at Dinner.
  5. Read to your children. Snuggle up and read a book together. As they learn to read, let them read to you. When they’ve “outgrown” the snuggle-and-read-together time (if we ever do), share information and discussion about the books you are both reading.
  6. Sing. Sing to your young child. Sing with your child. Sing along with the radio. Make up a song. Just “sing, sing a song, Sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things not bad. Sing of happy not sad. Sing, sing a song, Make it simple, to last your whole life long Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.” (Sorry, got carried away.)
  7. Allow 10-15 minutes at bedtime for your child to talk about their day and all its “ups and downs,” joys and struggles. Give them your full attention as they tell you about the feelings and activities of their day.
  8. Provide a way for your children to contribute to the home every day. This may be as simple as matching socks. Or it may involve setting the table, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms—anything they have the ability to do alone, or with you and still a significant contribution to your home life. Put Your Children to Work for Goodness’ Sake.
  9. Show physical affection to your children every day. Give a hug, a high-five, a “side-hug,” or a playful, gentle slap on the shoulder. Share healthy physical affection multiple times a day.
  10. Pray with your children. Ask them how you can pray for them and let them hear you do so. Tell them how they can pray for you. You might even write down your prayers and review them every month to see how God is working in response to your prayers.

Ten ways to strengthen your relationship with your children. Build them into your daily life and watch your relationship to your child grow. You’ll be glad you did.